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Captain’s Corner No. 4

Oct. 10, 2000

Senior midfielder Mike Potempa has agreed to give fans an inside look at Clemson Men’s Soccer with his journal, Captain’s Corner. Be sure to check out ClemsonTigers.com to see what the Hunt Valley, Md. native has to say about the Tiger soccer team throughout the year.

The South Carolina Game

I have been a part of many rivalries throughout my life…as I’m sure almost everyone involved in a competitive environment has. However, what you and I define as a rivalry may be completely different as the competitive nature that lies within us varies from person to person. Now you may be thinking about someone who you could never beat at some point in your life, or your high school rivalry that always attracted huge crowds, or maybe even what you see on television when you watch Duke play North Carolina in basketball every year.

Without a doubt, I’m sure that those are all rivalries that provided many good times for all of those involved, irrespective of the result. From a personal standpoint, and I’m sure that I can speak for all of those who attend Clemson University, South Carolina is our nemesis. I was brought into this tradition my freshman year as people were always comparing our campus with South Carolina’s, our facilities, our academics and athletics to theirs. It doesn’t matter what the records of our football teams are throughout the year, the Clemson/USC game is always sold out, always bombarded by the media, and always a tool for the students to use as bragging rights as to who has the best school in the state.

Of course it is a bit ridiculous to say who has the better school or who is better overall by a simple game or statistic, but it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that if you’re a Tiger, you want to beat USC at all costs. If you’re a Gamecock, nothing gives you more satisfaction than beating Clemson. This being said there will always be a certain respect for the opposing school, which I think is admirable.

Some may feel as though the rivalry borders on hate, but I believe that the two schools simply bring out the competitive nature in everyone who has an affiliation with either institution. In my mind, I guess what I am trying to say is that the Clemson/USC tradition is one that not too many people around the country can say that they have been a part of. I can honestly say, however, that I’ve never experienced anything like it. I just wish that more people had a chance to see what an intense rivalry it truly is.

Our senior class has never lost to them. Freshman year, we played them at our place in the regular season and at their place in the post-season. Both times, we won. Sophomore year, we played them at their place and beat them 2-0. Junior year, it was back at Clemson and we scored off of a great goal from Ian Fuller to beat them, once again, 1-0. This year would be different.

They were number four in the country, and we were number eight. They had beaten Maryland, Virginia, and tied Wake Forest which were all extremely good results against ACC teams. We had beaten Brown, Cal State Fullerton, and were improving at a rapid rate ever since the Duke game. They were 8-1-1 and we were 7-2. It had all the makings of a great game…two teams who were having good years, a rivalry that traditionally resulted in a 90 minute war, and about 5,000 screaming fans (a good number of Clemson fans as well…thanks to all of those who came to support us).

We traveled down to Columbia the night before and stayed at a hotel overnight so everyone could get a good night sleep. After football games, it has been a problem in the past to get a good night’s rest with all of the parties and celebrations after we win.

Everyone seemed to be anxiously anticipating the game the next day as some of us talked about what had happened in prior years, how we thought the game would turn out, and just basically getting mentally prepared. It was a big game for us. Knocking off the fourth ranked team in the country, on the road, especially at USC, would be a tremendous result. However, we knew that they would be coming at us from the opening whistle and wouldn’t let down until the end.

Our warm-up wasn’t as sharp as it usually is for some reason. I think it was because of the nervousness some guys were feeling, and the adjustments to the conditions we had to make as the field was faster than what we were used to at Riggs and the weather was surprisingly chilly.

We knew that they had some crafty midfielders, a good defense, some dangerous players up front and a great goalkeeper. They had gotten their success thus far from sitting in on teams, counter attacking quickly and making the most out of their opportunities. So we knew that we had to be patient, work the ball around the back, and not force anything up the middle. We needed to get some early crosses, split their defense which we practiced on all week, and finish our opportunities. We also knew that if we could keep them in their end for most of the game, it would be to our advantage in that they would lose their composure and result in us getting the majority of possessions.

The opening minutes were rocky. The game really had no rhythm to it as both teams were testing each other out. There were also a number of fouls as each team tried to establish a presence. Once things got settled down, both teams had opportunities. We missed from eight yards out, they made Douglas make some saves. Henry (their goalkeeper) also made a couple of great saves.

It was building up to be everything that it usually is….a 90 minute battle. At the end of the first half, I felt comfortable where we were.

They had a couple opportunities, but not many clear-cut chances (one that I can recall), and we had missed our opportunities as well. Gooch and Ricki were getting forward, Nate was causing them problems on the left side, Mark and Fabio were combining, and Ian had come in and totally changed the game as he was able to hold the ball for us, lay it off quickly which made it easier to switch the point of attack. If there is one thing that I think we could have done better, it was switch the point of attack quicker.

They were, like we anticipated, sitting in and were extremely organized in getting numbers around the ball. However, they left the weak side wide open, which I think we could have done a better job exploiting and would have created even more chances for us.

The second half, we were against the wind. It was a subtle wind, but it made a difference, as they were able to put more pressure on us than they did in the first half. They played more direct and tried to rely on the guys up front to beat us for speed. We did a good job of playing on the floor and getting forward quickly. When you play against the wind it is extremely hard to play direct because the ball gets caught up so easily. The way you play through that is by playing on the ground, building out of the back, and getting mobility up front with dynamic runs, overlaps, and combinations from your midfielders to get chances.

Once again, both teams got chances. It was back and forth…although there was about 15 minutes where we were under a lot of pressure and Douglas had to make some great saves. It also got a lot more physical as people were getting stuck in, battling for balls in the air, and really going at each other. Perhaps our best chance came in the last 10-seconds when Nate played a great ball to split their defenders to Lisi who crossed it into their six for Kenny to run on to. He did get a shot off but Henry made an unbelievable save to keep them in it.

The first overtime followed the pattern of what had happened so far. Both teams were flying at each other, we were against the wind again, and it got really physical. They had their best chance of the day when they hit the bar from 12-yards, out but it was cleared by Pablo. Chase, who had come into the game at the start of the second half, played extremely well, and won his one vs. one dual with Ryan Daly who was dangerous a few times. We moved Ricki up top to give us some pace and hard work, which did provide them with a lot of problems and caused them to lose their composure at times.

Overall things were going well and Pablo and I had the feeling that no matter what they were throwing at us, they wouldn’t score. They haven’t scored in four years and they weren’t about to in overtime for the golden goal.

The second overtime wasn’t as eventful as the first. We were with the wind and had more opportunities with Pablo’s throw-ins, and some fouls at the top of the box. We also had more of the possessions throughout the second overtime as they sat in and seemed to be playing for the tie. Nate had a cross to Lisi that was picked off just as Mark was about to get to it, which could have been the golden goal and provided the result we were looking for. They also had a chance or two, but couldn’t capitalize either. After two corners and two long throw-ins for us, the final whistle sounded and the result was 0-0.

From and entertainment point of view, even if you weren’t a big soccer fan, the game was exciting and proved to carry on the classic tradition of USC/Clemson soccer. Even though we weren’t satisfied with the fact that we couldn’t beat them for the fifth time in four years, a draw on the road to the number-four team in the country didn’t hurt us in terms of post-season standings. It is always tough to play at the graveyard, but we didn’t give up and I’m pleased to say that we tried to win the game right up until the last whistle. It could have been extremely easy to say that we just wanted to play for the tie, but we played to win for 120 minutes. I would also be doing the team an injustice if I didn’t say that it was truly a team effort in that each and every person who got on the field, gave it their all and worked for each other.

Like I said earlier, it would have been nice to beat them at their place for our seniors, but in the long run, it is a result that won’t hurt us and could actually help us in the end…we’ll have to see.

Now its time to regroup for Wednesday night against Georgia State. Although we did play well in Columbia, that game is over. We can’t choose to be complacent with the result, but rather build from the hard work and character that we showed and grow as a team. We have to continue to improve and work even harder so the next time we find ourselves in a situation similar to what we went through at South Carolina, we come out of that game with the golden goal and a victory under our belts.

For all of you who came to support us, thanks for making it a memorable game for me personally, for our seniors, and for laying the foundation out for our freshmen who got a chance to see what it is like to be a part of one of the greatest competitive rivalries in collegiate sports.

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