2018 Men's Soccer Season Preview
Position by position breakdown of the Gamecocks
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Expectations are high for South Carolina men’s soccer heading into the 2018 season, as it seeks to return to the NCAA Tournament after back-to-back appearances in 2015 and 2016. Head coach Mark Berson returns an experienced crop of players with 14 letterwinners and eight starters from 2017 in the fold for the upcoming season.
“The moment 2017 ended, we were ready to begin work on 2018,” head coach Mark Berson said. “We took a hard look at every aspect of our team to determine how we could improve. We scored a lot of goals last year against some good teams, but our inability to make them stand up cost us at times. We came away with two major objectives – number one, we need to be a better defensive team. Number two, we need to adopt a tougher, blue-collar mentality. We challenged our team in the winter workouts and spring season and they responded. I know this mentality will continue into the fall. This year’s team will feature a number of new players and a good blend of experienced returners.”
Carolina has a talented group of players back offensively, led by Preseason All-Conference USA selection Luca Mayr. The junior striker from Steyr, Austria, led the team in points (18), goals (6) and assists (6) on the way to earning First Team All-C-USA honors in 2017. Sophomore forward Justin Sukow posted an excellent first season in Garnet and Black, tallying 12 points (5G, 2A) and leading the team with three game-winners, which ranked in C-USA. He was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team after starting all 17 matches. In total, Carolina returns 53 of its 66 offensive points from a year ago, including 19 goals and 15 assists.
“The Gamecock strike force will be led by Luca (Mayr), Justin (Sukow) and Ben Gilligan,” said Berson. “Senior Bjorn Gudjonsson returns after being injured last year, and he has been a proven goal-scorer in the past. Tucker Monheimer and freshman Andrew Halloran and Seth Wiebusch will also compete for positions up top.”
Gudjonsson led the team with eight goals scored in 2016 en route to Second Team All-C-USA honors. Monheimer scored a pair of goals in the team’s 4-2 exhibition win versus Gardner-Webb in late August.
In the midfield, the Gamecocks will be led by team captain and three-year starter Peyton Ericson. The Duluth, Ga., native has earned all-conference honors twice in his three seasons at Carolina. He scored his first career goal last season in the team’s 1-1 draw at Charlotte. Ericson will be joined in the central midfield by a talented transfer in Kyle Gurreri. The sophomore from Totowa, N.J., was a top-30 recruit in high school and played on the U17 U.S. Men’s National Team.
“The midfield has a good blend of newcomers with returners and should be a real strength for this team,” said Berson. “Peyton (Ericson), Mitchell Myers and Petter Soelberg all have extensive game experience. Kyle and Drew Johnson will bring more experience to the team along with returners Aidan O’Brien and Jared Gulden. Freshman Maceon Ureta and Nick Guido, along with returner Smith Dawsey, will also strengthen the position.”
Defensively, the Gamecocks return outside back Aleksander Bjerke Christensson and center back Matt Morgan, who both played every minute of every match in 2017. Center back Andre Streete also brings an abundance of experience with 28 starts in 34 career games played. Frano Buhovac, a 6-foot-5-inch JUCO transfer, is expected to play a key role for Carolina’s defense in the middle.
“The back line will be led by Frano (Buhovac), who enrolled early in January, as well as Andre (Streete) and another senior, Paul Quildies. Alek (Bjerke Christensson) returns as a starter at outside back who played every match last year, as did Matt (Morgan). Newcomers Eli Bebout, Josh Corning and Andrew Johnson will also have a chance to make an immediate impact in the back.”
Bebout and Corning started both of the team’s exhibition matches leading up to the 2018 regular season. Corning, a local product from Chapin, S.C., assisted on the team’s only goal in the Gamecocks’ 1-1 draw with No. 10 Duke on Aug. 15.
The goalkeeper position will be up for grabs, as three-starter Will Pyle graduated last December after a standout career in Garnet and Black.
“Our goalkeeper position is wide-open by virtue of the departure of Will. Sophomore Justin Bauer and senior Ian McGrane both return. They each were impressive in spring practices, and both played in the Premier Developmental League this summer. Freshman Ryan Billichuk has an opportunity to come in and compete for the position. Whoever emerges the starter will lack game experience, but we have full confidence in all three players.”
McGrane and Billichuk each split time during the team’s two friendly matches. McGrane posted a clean sheet in 90 minutes of work with three saves. Bilichuk tallied 7 saves with two goals allowed in 90 minutes of play.
Carolina faces another tough schedule in 2018, opening the season with two of its first three matches against top-15 teams as they face No. 11 Clemson (Aug. 31) and No. 13 Georgetown (Aug. 24). Seven opponents played in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Of the Gamecocks’ 17 regular season matches, 11 of them will be at home in front of the nation’s best fans. Carolina finished third in the country in national attendance average in 2017 at 2,900 fans per game, marking its fourth-consecutive season in the top-10 for average attendance.