The seniors on the South Carolina men's soccer team will remember their last regular season match at Stone Stadium as an electrifying win.
Facing conference opponent Old Dominion on Senior Night on Sunday, the Gamecocks came out victorious, 3-2, behind a game-winning goal from Justin Sukow in the 82nd minute.
Old Dominion scored an early goal in the second minute, but the South Carolina defense continued to press high and win 50-50 balls. The Big Blue shut down the Gamecocks once again after taking advantage of a penalty kick in the 22nd minute.The fight continued for both teams to carry the ball and keep it out of the final third.
Patience soon became the key for the Gamecocks.
Luca Mayr broke away with a huge one-on-one opportunity with Old Dominion's keeper, which resulted in a goal in the 42nd minute.
That momentum helped create an opportunity for Benjamin Gilligan to score just minutes before the half, tying the match 2-2.
The Gamecocks were able to come back near the end of the match and capitalize on their mistakes. With a little under eight minutes left in regulation, Sukow scored the game-winner near the post off an assist from Aidan O’Brien.
“It’s a big win for us for a number of reasons,” said head coach Mark Berson. “First of all, in Conference-USA, we need the points to help us as far as getting into the conference tournament and it’s important as far as building momentum going into the [University of Alabama Birmingham] game.”
The seniors — Chandler Corley, Trygve Ellingstad, Spencer Meschter, William Pyle and Christoffer Wallander Ianev — will remember their last match at Stone Stadium as a come-from-behind thriller.
“I didn’t think really much going into the game, I thought it was just going to be another game,” reflected Pyle. “Once I got out here, I kind of realized that it’s really my last game and that everything was kind of really emphasized a bit more.”
Pyle said that this match was very special for him. He said he tried not to think about anything during the match, and just wanted every throw and decision come to him naturally, which ultimately helped secure South Carolina’s win.
“I think, although I didn’t make a lot of saves, I think I did well on crosses, also had good time management skills," Pyle said. "I think that really helped us at the end.”
When Pyle transferred to South Carolina as a freshman from UNC Greensboro, he wore a yellow jersey. The same yellow jersey he began his career in, he wore during his final moments playing on the Stone Stadium field.
For Wallander Ianev, winning Sunday's match was monumental, especially after having a tough season. Being a defender doesn't restrict Wallander Ianev from assisting goals, which allowed him to help defeat Old Dominion both defensively and offensively.
“My main contribution was just to get an assist," Wallander Ianev said. "That is what I try to do every game. I have five assists ... of course, as a defender defense comes first, but I love attacking too.”
Wallander Ianev said he owes his soccer talents to Berson, who “passed down good information” for him to develop and grow as a player. His goal is to stay in the U.S. and play more upon graduation. If not, he said he might try to play in Europe.
Both of these seniors said they hope to win against UAB and advance in the Conference-USA tournament to take their season even further.
“It’s a tough thing to see them go and this be the last game on this field for them, but we are really proud of all they accomplished here," Berson said.
Berson said he is beyond proud of the effort that his team put into successfully defeating Old Dominion and regaining the confidence it needed going into the next match against UAB.
“Old Dominion's a very good team. I don't know how many times they've given up three goals this year, but it hasn’t been many,” Berson said. “So for us to come back and do that, when we had to do it was really big and really proud of our guys.”
The Gamecocks face UAB on the road at 7 p.m. on Friday.