The Daily Gamecock

Men's soccer looks to begin 2015 season strong

After an interesting preseason, the men’s soccer team opens up the 2015 regular season against Mercer, a team that went 14-7 in the 2014 season. Mercer comes into the game ranked 86th in the nation while South Carolina owns the 54th spot. On Friday, the two teams will revisit last years matchup — a matchup that ended in a 2-0 win for the Gamecocks.

Unpredictable Preseasons

The Gamecocks come into the game holding a 2-0-1 record in preseason play. Wins came against 200th-ranked Gardner-Webb out of the Big South Conference and No. 43 Furman out of the Southern Conference, while the one tie was against No. 39 Winthrop, also out of the Big South Conference. In preseason play, Mercer went 1-1 with a win against 196th-ranked Belmont and a loss coming against No. 144 Evansville.

While some would argue preseason anything — games or rankings — mean nothing, it is worth noting how the teams are doing heading into the regular season. The Gamecocks have played well, winning against a team they should beat and squeaking one by a higher-ranked team. Even the tie was impressive, as South Carolina outperformed Winthrop, a team thought to compete for the Big South title this year.

On the other hand, Mercer has a win against a team they should definitely beat (Belmont) and dropped a match against a team they dominated all game, losing to Evansville despite outshooting them 18-9.

Turner Riding Momentum 

Junior Kurtis Turner has been a key component in the Gamecock's offensive scheme, and thus far, he has delivered. Logging three goals in 221 minutes, the Englishman has performed well in the preseason. He has put five of nine shots on target, a percentage unrivaled by anyone else on the team thus far. He showed his potential against Furman, netting both the goals in a 2-1 victory. While one of them was a simple tap in from 10 yards out, he was ready for the pass and a strike.

Turner has been able to push up thanks to his more forward midfield position but also drop back when the opponent threatens. To put it simply, the Gamecocks cannot afford to have Turner take the first regular season game off if they want to continue what they have been doing on offense in the preseason.

Defense Wins Championships (And Games)

Each team lost a valuable part of their defense from last year. For the Gamecocks, Mahamoudou Kaba graduated after starting every game last year and was a large physical presence in the middle of pitch. He was all over the place, whether he was running up the field to push the pace or covering the box on a corner kick. Now, the Gamecocks will rely on a group of upperclassman leaders. 

Juniors Ive Burnett and Matt McManis and senior Reid Grayson anchor the lineup for the Gamecocks, and so far, they have impressed by only giving up two goals. Mercer's loss comes in a similar fashion as Ashani Samuels expended his four years of eligibility. Samuels started every game for Mercer, and he will be a hard one to replace. Currently, Mercer’s lineup has consisted of senior Mark Riggins, junior Ian Antley and sophomores Airrion Blackstock and Gabe Tucker— a much younger back line than South Carolina's. They have also given up four goals to less comparable teams, even though they have won the shots on goal stat in both games. Whichever defense shows up on Friday will win the game.

The game is Friday at 7 p.m. in Stone Stadium. Weather looks relatively clear with a potential light shower early in the evening.