The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: South Carolina men's soccer earns 1-0 victory over Georgia Southern in conference opener

South Carolina opened Sun Belt with a 1-0 victory over Georgia Southern on Saturday, Sept. 24 2022. Photos captured by Alley James.

South Carolina men’s soccer extended its home winning streak to five games by winning its conference opener 1-0 against Georgia Southern on Saturday afternoon at Stone Stadium.

The Gamecocks created many goal-scoring opportunities throughout the match — registering 15 shots to Georgia Southern’s eight — and were rewarded with the game-deciding goal early in the second half.

Head coach Tony Annan said it was important to win the team’s first Sun Belt match to establish positive, sustainable momentum throughout the campaign.

“Any result’s important. Whether it’s Sun Belt conference (or non-conference), everything’s important to our team and to our locker room, but to start the conference with three points is huge,” Annan said. “It’s a really good thing to jump off and try to get some momentum going.”

South Carolina established control of the match from the opening whistle, maintaining possession for much of the first half and recovering the ball almost immediately in the few times the team lost it. Georgia Southern generated some opportunities early in the match from counterattacks, but the Gamecocks went into the halftime break with a 10-4 shot advantage. Both squads registered one shot on goal apiece.

Junior forward Adam Luckhurst, who scored twice in Tuesday’s match against Queens University of Charlotte, and junior midfielder Peter Clement led the Gamecocks' offense in the first half, combining for seven of the team’s 10 shots. Luckhurst’s free kick in the 30th minute was the most dangerous opportunity of the half for either side, but the shot was saved comfortably by freshman goalkeeper Dagoberto Romero.

Annan emphasized patience and composure in his message to the team during halftime to ensure it would continue creating chances in the game’s final 45 minutes.

“I told them ... ‘I feel like we’ll score with the possession we’ve got and the chances we’re creating, so don’t panic, and don’t start doing things we don’t need to do. Just continue to play and continue to move the ball and try and find the gaps,' and we did,” Annan said.

After starting the second half with two shots in the opening six minutes, the Gamecocks finally found their breakthrough in the 58th minute. Luckhurst took a shot from distance that Romero parried into the path of freshman midfielder Cristiano Bruletti, who buried the rebound into the back of the net.

“Obviously it’s difficult when a team puts 11 players behind the ball. You have to be patient, and it’s very easy to get frustrated quickly,” Bruletti said. “It’s easy to lose the momentum of the game, but we did really well to stay patient and just try to work them a little bit, and finally we caught them at a transition moment when they were open, and I just happened to be there at the right time, and I was able to put it in.”

After the goal, momentum slowly began shifting Georgia Southern’s way, but South Carolina’s defense came to the rescue and stifled the Eagles’ offense. Freshman midfielder Hilary Odhiambo had a chance to score an equalizer for the visitors, but freshman goalkeeper Ben Alexander made a big save to deflect the ball over the crossbar.

Annan said the back line’s ability to hold firm and earn its second clean sheet of the season was an indication of its development throughout the season.

“It’s important for team-building and for obviously momentum,” Annan said. “Shutouts are really important, so Ben made a big save there that kept us in the game late, and that’s progress for me. Keeping clean sheets at home is always a bonus.”

Since losing 1-0 to Clemson earlier in the season, the Gamecocks have earned five consecutive victories at home, outscoring opponents 11-4. Annan credited the team’s work ethic as an important factor in the team’s recent success at Stone Stadium.

“Guys, the team, the work rate, the grit and the fight that they’ve got in them has enabled us to put together five wins in a row at home, which was a very big goal at the beginning of the season about not losing at home,” Annan said. “I’m so proud of them because they’re a young group who will be improving ... but right now, they’ve got to fight, they've got the fight in them and it’s really nice to see.”

South Carolina (5-3-1 overall, 1-0-0 Sun Belt) will continue conference play on the road in its next match against West Virginia on Saturday, Oct. 1. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.