Aug. 23, 2016
Memories are created any time South Carolina squares off with its in-state rival, Clemson. South Carolina men’s soccer head coach Mark Berson, as well as his former players, could write volumes about the excitement that takes place when the two teams collide on the pitch. New memories will be created when the two teams square off inside Stone Stadium Friday night at 7 p.m.
“There are not many players in college soccer across the country that get to play in a game like that,” Berson said of the annual rivalry. “When we go to Clemson, you know it’s a big game for Clemson. The feeling and the environment there is different for that game. It’s the same thing when they come here. The feeling and the atmosphere in that stadium is different for that game. To my knowledge, those rivalries don’t exist in the ACC, the Big 10 or any of the other big conferences. It’s a rivalry that has brought out tremendous competition from both teams.”
“Like any rivalry, it’s a game where you want to beat them more than anybody else during the year,” said former Gamecock Chris Crosby (1989-92).
“The Carolina/Clemson rivalry is so unique,” added former Gamecock Blake Brettschneider (2007-2010). “It was a crazy environment. It was always more of a boxing match than it was a soccer game, probably. It was definitely something to get excited for.”
Historically, Clemson leads the overall series in men’s soccer 25-17-1. Berson came to the University of South Carolina to start the program in 1978, and he noted that it was the rivalry between the two schools that probably helped get the Gamecocks’ soccer program started.
“Back in the 70’s, Clemson had a team, and they were successful,” Berson said. “A lot of people in the state wanted to see the sport grow. Our challenge was to immediately get up to speed from zero to a highly competitive level and get this rivalry going.”
In the early years, Clemson’s already well-established program won the first nine games of the series, but since then, the Gamecocks have rallied to go 17-16-1 against their rivals. Overall, 10 of the meetings have gone to overtime. The last six meetings have been an even split with each team winning on its home field. Clemson won last year on its home pitch 3-0 and advanced to the national title game at the end of the season. One of the more impressive streaks for South Carolina came from 2007-2010 when the Gamecocks won with four consecutive shutouts against the Tigers.
“That’s something they will never be able to take away from us,” Brettschneider said. “We never gave up a goal and never lost to them, so those are some good memories for sure. My freshman year, I had the goal in overtime to win it. I think I scored three times against them in four games, but they were always close games. It’s a small piece of our time at Carolina, but considering the rivalry, it’s a nice thing to have on your resume, so to speak.”
The rivalry, and what it means to both sides, is pretty special.Blake Brettschneider (2007-2010)
The two teams have met five times in the NCAA Tournament, with South Carolina holding a 3-2 edge in the postseason. After only two years as a varsity sport, Berson and the Gamecocks reached the postseason and lost at Clemson 1-0 in the NCAA Tournament First Round in 1979. The two teams met again in the 1985 postseason at Clemson in the second round of the tournament with the Gamecocks winning (1-0) on penalty kicks for their first ever win against the instate rival.
“That was big,” Berson smiled.
In 1990, the Gamecocks travelled to the Upstate for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and South Carolina blanked the Tigers 3-0.
“I do remember that game distinctly,” Crosby said. “They had one of the leading goal scorers in the country that year, and I had the responsibility of marking him that day. We played great that day and dominated the whole game.”
In 1993, the Gamecocks made it three in a row in the postseason against the Tigers, pulling out at 3-2 win at Clemson in another second-round matchup. Clemson would return the favor in the 1997 second round match at Stone Stadium, as the Tigers pulled off a 1-0 overtime win.
Even the regular season matchups take on a postseason flare. In an early 1990s matchup, there was some confusion that conflicted with South Carolina’s warm up time in a game at Clemson’s Riggs Field. So the next year, when the Tigers came to Columbia in the fall of 1992, Berson had his team warm up on the baseball field and ran on to the pitch for the first time just moments before kickoff.
“There was a kind of a mishap the year before,” Crosby chuckled. “I guess you could call it ‘gamesmanship’ by the folks up there, where we couldn’t get on the field for warm ups. So the next year, I guess we sort of gave it back to them. We warmed up in an alternate location, so they were probably wondering where the heck we were.”
“We came blasting though the gate and lined up for the national anthem,” Berson recalled. “We scored in the first six seconds, and I think our captain, Chris Crosby, got kicked out at 56 seconds for a two-footed tackle. So if you were one minute late, that’s what you missed. Clemson had a really great team that year, and we had a really great team that year. We won that game, even though we played a man down most of the match.”
Fans get it, too. The top 10 list of the largest crowds at Stone Stadium for men’s soccer is dominated by dates when a familiar orange-clad opponent comes to town, including a record 6,157 in attendance for the 2010 meeting, which the Gamecocks won 2-0.
“It’s been a great series,” Berson said. “They certainly had the better of it in the early part, and it’s kind of stabilized. We’ve had a good run. It means a lot to our players. Because both programs have done well nationally, it’s been a big national game, so it’s something everyone looks forward to each year.”
Berson was born in Connecticut and attended the University of North Carolina, but it didn’t take him long to understand the significance of the rivalry.
“You learn that it’s a big deal when you first get here,” Berson said. “The old saying about ‘throwing the records out when we meet’ is pretty valid. It doesn’t matter where each team is in that moment in their development that year. They’re both going to need to play their hardest and their very best in that game. That’s the epitome for what you want in athletics; to be forced to give your best because if you don’t, you won’t have a chance to win.
“When you grow up in this state, it’s going to mean a little bit more to you. You probably grow up always wanting to play in this game, whether you’re a soccer player, basketball player, football player, or baseball player.”
“The rivalry, and what it means to both sides, is pretty special,” Brettschneider said. “It’s still a source for pride for me.”
NOTE: The first 1,500 South Carolina students in attendance will receive a free “Thunderstick” sponsored by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.