Aug. 24, 2005
South Carolina head soccer coach Mark Berson and Gamecock players participated in USC’s Fall Sports Press Conference on Wednesday afternoon. Berson addressed the media on the upcoming season and the Gamecocks’ transition to Conference USA.
Head Coach Mark Berson
“We’ve had a very good preseason. Our guys have worked real hard. I’m very pleased with the fitness level the guys came back with. I think we have a very solid group.
“We’ve had a couple of disappointing injuries. Sebastian Lindholm, our leading scorer last year, re-injured an ACL over the summer. He was hurt the Tuesday night before our NCAA (Tournament) opening game last year. He had that re-constructed and worked very, very hard all last spring and then this summer, re-injured it and had to have it re-repaired at home. He’ll be out this year.
“Our No. 3 leading scorer Ryan Deter injured his foot. He has had to sit out for eight weeks, and I think we’re about three weeks from him coming back. We’ll certainly miss him in the opening part of the season and we look forward to getting him back in the lineup.
“We lost a great goalkeeper in Brad Guzan. He has been starting at 19 years of age in the MLS. We’re going to be a little short back there. Right now, the leading candidate for the job is Mike Gustavson, a freshman from South Aiken High School. We could have, in our opening match this season, a freshman with no collegiate experience starting and replacing arguably the best goalkeeper in the country. Clearly, we have a little work to make up there, but Mike and the other goalkeepers are working very hard.
“Up front, as I said, we do have some losses to injury and we need to have some other guys step up. Ayo Akinsete is a junior who has had a very good preseason and some of younger players will have to get in there and contribute a little bit.”
“We head into Conference USA, and that’s a very exciting proposition for this soccer team. I cannot tell you how pleased and excited we are to enter Conference USA as an affiliate member. Kentucky, interestingly enough from the SEC, Florida International, and South Carolina have joined as affiliate only members. There are 10 teams in the league. Last year, the Big Ten had six teams in the NCAA Tournament, the ACC had six teams in the NCAA Tournament and Conference USA, as it is configured right now, had six teams in the NCAA Tournament. By any stretch, on RPI or anything, this is one of the elite power conferences in college soccer. We’re really, really pleased to be on board and participating.
“South Carolina and East Carolina will be travel partners, as will FIU and Central Florida, UAB and Memphis, Tulsa and SMU, Kentucky and Marshall. The six teams in the tournament is one thing, but believe me, Kentucky and UAB were bubble teams also. There are really eight teams that are quality teams.
“At the end of the regular season, of the 10 teams, eight go to the conference tournament. The conference tournament is hosted by the top four. Obviously, our goal is to win the regular season tournament. We were picked fourth in the preseason. When I saw that at first, I said `That’s not so good.’ When I looked at some of the teams we were picked ahead of, I said, `I don’t know how they picked us ahead of those guys.’ I think it’s a pretty legitimate pick for us. I think it’s very unique because Conference USA itself was just reconfigured. We’re not coming in as affiliate to a league that has been established. The whole league has been re-shuffled. There are six or seven teams in that league that are brand new to it. We’re all going to be learning a lot about each other. One thing I can tell you is that the quality of play is going to be excellent. We’re going to see some quality teams here in Columbia and on the road.
“We scrimmaged last week up at Furman. We scrimmage again on Saturday (Aug. 27) at home against Coastal Carolina. We open at Clemson on Friday night (Sept. 2). It’s sort of a busy weekend I guess. There’s a football game Thursday and a football game Saturday. Sandwiched between that, we open our season.
“I’ve had a lot of questions about why we’re opening with Clemson. Basically, the adding of teams in the ACC, they really only had the first two weekends of the year to play us. They really weren’t interested in playing us midweek, and we’re not interested in playing them midweek between our conference games. It looks like from here on our, the first two weekend will be where that game is going to fall. We’re excited to open the season. We certainly open it with a bang.”
Senior Eric Szeszycki
On joining Conference USA:
“I think it brings a lot more to the table. It gives us a better opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament. Overall, our competition is going to be better, bringing in new teams like SMU, Tulsa, Memphis, which are top-notch teams.
“Coming in, it does make it a little harder (as an independent). You go and play each game and try to do your best. It’s much more exciting to play in a conference tournament and competing for a title. There’s more to look forward to besides just competing in the NCAA Tournament, which is always a good thing.