Conference USA (C-USA) has officially announced that all of the conference's fall team sports, except football, have been postponed until the spring. By postponing the seasons, the athletes maintain eligibility for whatever the NCAA tournament will be in spring 2021.
“We value the opportunity for our schools to compete at the highest level and play for championships,” C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said in a press release.
Since South Carolina is a part of the SEC, this does not affect a majority of the school's athletic programs, but men's soccer is an exception. The Gamecocks have competed in C-USA men's soccer since 2005, which means the team is scheduled to compete in the spring 2021 season.
The team announced that it will be playing a limited schedule in the fall beginning with a home matchup against Georgia Southern on Sept. 19. The team currently has five matches scheduled for the fall, including an Oct. 1 game with Clemson.
Head coach Mark Berson said these fall matches are “not exhibitions; these are games that count.”
Berson said the Gamecocks are one of the “21 teams out of 206” men's soccer teams to play this fall and said he believes that will give them a “big leg up in the spring.”
Berson said he has a “nice blend of returning guys and new guys” heading into his final season before retirement. The coach announced plans in January to retire after this season, which will be his 43rd with the Gamecocks.
There are some questions about whether or not he will go through with his retirement plans following this unorthodox year. Berson said he is “taking every day as it comes” and he will “see how things roll.”
Regardless of when his retirement actually is, the Gamecocks will have the coach at the helm for this season.
Berson has been the only head coach of the Gamecock men's soccer team and is currently "the winningest active coach in the country," according to GamecocksOnline.
Despite a middling 7-9-2 record in 2019, the Gamecocks found success in Columbia, posting a 7-2-2 record at home. The 0-7-0 record on the road will have to be addressed, but the success at Stone Stadium is something to build off.
Sophomore forward Brian Banahan "burst on the scene last year," according to Berson, leading the team with six goals on the year. He returns for his sophomore season, but the team will need some other offensive production this upcoming season to replace senior midfielder Luca Mayr and senior forward Tucker Monheimer, both of whom graduated.
Banahan and his fellow sophomore class impressed the coaching staff last season so much that Berson said the “strength of this group is in our younger two classes.”
While it was too early into practice to know who would see the majority of touches at goalkeeper, assistant coach Tyler Kettering said in an interview with Gamecocks Online that the group shows “experience, leadership, confidence.”
The group features redshirt sophomore Ryan Bilichuk and redshirt senior Nick Brady, the latter of whom saw time last season. Redshirt junior Justin Bauer has also impressed in camp, leaving Berson with “three really capable guys" at the position, he said.
The depth at goalkeeper is not unique for this team: Berson said this squad has "depth everywhere."
That depth will be needed in the South Carolina's opening day matchup against Georgia Southern, who tied the Gamecocks 1-1 in its contest last season. Berson said his team is “expecting a tough game” from the Eagles.
That game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19, at Stone Stadium with limited seating.