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2009 Clemson Men’s Soccer Outlook

Aug. 27, 2009

Optimism is high around the Clemson men’s soccer program as the Tigers return 10 starters from last year’s team.

Although the Tigers finished the 2008 season with a 7-9-2 record overall, they were only one of two teams in the country to have defeated the National Champion and the National Runner up last season.

Clemson defeated fourth-ranked and eventual National Champion Maryland 5-3 on October 3rd as Michael Brooks scored four goals and assisted on the other Tiger goal. This was the most goals that a Maryland team had allowed since the Terrapins lost to North Carolina 5-1 on October 7, 2000.

The Tigers defeated seventh-ranked North Carolina 3-2 in overtime on October 25th as Nathan Thornton scored two goals to lead Clemson on to victory.

Last season, five of Clemson’s nine losses were by one goal.

Once more, the Tigers return 15 letterwinners from last year’s squad while only losing seven.

The Tigers will play a 17-match regular season before the annual ACC Tournament to be played once again in Cary, NC on November 10-15. This year’s schedule will have the Tigers playing seven 2008 NCAA Tournament teams including the NCAA College Cup runner up North Carolina Tar Heels and NCAA College Cup Champion Maryland Terrapins.

“It is without a doubt the most difficult schedule we have played since I have been at Clemson,” said Head Coach Phil Hindson. “It will be a challenge for both the players and staff.”

GOALKEEPERS Known for its outstanding goalkeeping tradition over the years, Clemson returns one of the nation’s best, Joseph Bendik.

In 2008, he was named second-team All-ACC and third-team All-South. Bendik, a senior, has a 1.41 career goals allowed average. He has 196 career saves and led the ACC in most saves per game with a 5.11 average. He has started 41 matches throughout his career and is expected to lead the Tigers in 2009.

J.D. Spearman, a sophomore, returns to this position as well. With his outstanding shot stopping ability and vast improvements throughout the spring, Spearman will only add to the outstanding goalkeeping standard at Clemson.

Kamran Khyltash, a 6’2″ goalkeeper from Orange, CA will begin his freshman season competing with Bendik and Spearman for playing time using his size and ability on crosses to add depth to the goalkeeping position. He will join both Bendik and Spearman to create a cohesive and competitive unit.

“We have a strong group of goalkeepers who will compete for the starting position,” said Hindson. “We are solid at this position.”

DEFENSE Clemson has a strong core of defensive players returning as seniors Greg Eckhardt and David Newton will anchor the backline. Eckhardt, a member of the United States Under-20 National Team, will be expected to play a variety of roles throughout the season using his experience and versatility to help the Tiger defense. Eckhardt has started 53 career matches and will be expected to lead by example in 2009.

David Newton, a 5th year senior, has started 37 matches throughout his career. In 2008, Newton was named second-team All-ACC and third-team All-South and will once again be a mainstay in the Tigers defense as the 6’4″ captain will be called upon to provide stability and consistency to the Tigers’ backline.

Riley Sumpter, a sophomore from Atlanta, GA will look to compete for the left back position after a solid freshman year. Sumpter spent significant time on the left side throughout the spring and is a realistic option for the fall. His technical ability and aggressive match mentality allows him to play either outside back or in midfield effectively.

Also returning in 2009 is Francklin Blaise, a sophomore from Miami, FL who started all 18 matches for the Tigers as a freshman in 2008. A former United States Under-20 National Team member, Blaise will be called upon to help anchor the center of defense with his ability in the air and outstanding athleticism. In 2008, Blaise was named to the All-ACC freshman team.

David Newton in the center of defense in the spring of 2009. He will be called upon for his speed, ability in the air, and tenacious defensive qualities to help anchor the Tiger defense.

Bo Godwin, a redshirt freshman from Decatur, AL has made significant strides throughout the 2009 spring season and has defined himself as one of the best 1vs1 defenders on the squad. His intelligence and work ethic will allow him to compete for one of the outside back positions, while his versatility and ability in the air will also allow him to be a viable candidate in midfield as well.

Several members of the incoming freshmen class will also add depth to the Tiger defense as Josh Shutter (Sinking Spring, PA), Eric Fletcher (Norcross, GA), Travis Dennis (Bowie, MD), Wesley Nelson (Austin, TX), and Wole Kekere-Ekun will all look to contribute. Shutter, a 6’3″ defender, will add size, athleticism, and ability in the air to the Tiger defense and will be called upon for his long throw.

Fletcher, a 6’0″ defender, is a solid ball winner who has versatility and size. He can play anywhere across the backline and could see some time in midfield as well. Travis Dennis is an athletic defender with speed and ability to join the attack. He can play anywhere on the left side and will look to play an attacking role from the defense. Wole Kekere-Ekun, a 6’3″ defender, will look to play as a central defender with great size, speed, and athleticism. Kekere-Ekun will join Newton and Blaise as an option in the center of defense.

“In this position, we will have a good balance of size and speed,” said Hindson. “We have a talented group and a lot of experience in the back.”

MIDFIELD Hassan Ibrahim, a senior from Fairhope, AL returns to the Tigers after having started 11 matches as a junior in 2008. He is the Tigers’ leading returning scorer, as he had four goals and four assists for 12 points last season. He will be expected to contribute heavily to the Tigers’ offensive scheme, as his speed and technical ability will cause problems for opposing defenses.

Connor Barbaree is one of the most technically gifted players in the ACC after an outstanding freshman year. In his first season as a Tiger, Barbaree played in 17 matches and started 13 finishing the season with three assists. His mature intelligence on the field and smooth ability on the ball will allow him to anchor the Tiger midfield while posing threats to opposing teams. A lot will be expected of him in 2009.

Nick Burton, a sophomore from Atlanta, GA returns after starting 10 matches as a freshman. He had three goals and three assists for nine points and will be called upon to repeat his outstanding freshman year performance. Burton continues to display a wide range of versatility as his technical ability, creativity, and speed allow him to play anywhere in midfield or up front.

Keegan Priest is a returning sophomore who saw significant time in 2008 having started nine matches and playing in 15. He finished the season with two goals and four assists including the game-winning goal against Wofford in Spartanburg, SC. A clever player with outstanding technical ability and vision, Priest will be expected to contribute once again to the success of the Tiger midfield in 2009.

Eric Cava returns to the Tigers as the squad’s most versatile player. Having played in nearly every position throughout his freshman and sophomore years, Cava saw action in 18 matches in 2008 while starting 14. He added five assists in his sophomore campaign bringing his overall total to 10 for his career. Cava’s explosive power and sheer speed will allow him to compete for any position on the field and will help provide great depth to all positions.

Incoming freshman Marco Alcocer (Plugerville, TX) will be expected to use his technical ability and experience from his years with the Lonestar Soccer Club to compete for a midfield position this season. Throughout the recruiting process, Alcocer has continued to show great promise as an effective central midfield player and will add savvy, technique, and depth to the Tiger midfield.

“The midfield area provides a versatile group of players who can compete for playing time in various positions,” said Hindson.

FORWARDS The Tigers anticipate a more effective offense this season utilizing a unique blend of experienced attacking players and promising newcomers. Returning from 2008 is senior Nathan Thornton from Spring, TX. Thornton finished his junior year with three goals and one assist for seven points. He has nine goals and four assists for his career and was named to the Soccer America National Team-of-the-Week on October 25th after scoring two goals in the Tigers’ 3-2 upset win over seventh ranked UNC-Chapel Hill.

Joining Thornton as an attacking option will be newcomer Mike Mattson, a 6’2″ senior forward transfer from the University of Central Florida. Mattson will serve as a target forward for the Tigers and will be expected to contribute right away as his experience and outstanding ability with his back to the goal should be among the best in the conference.

Junior Tommy Drake will be expected to have a breakout year and will look to contribute significantly to the Tigers’ offensive plan. Drake started 14 matches in 2008 and he finished the year with one goal and two assists. He has six goals and five assists for 17 career points and will look to compete for a starting role on the flank or in midfield. Drake’s tremendous speed and finishing ability should allow him to compete among the best in the conference, as he was an All-ACC Freshman team performer in 2007.

Newcomer Austin Savage joined the Tigers in January of 2009 and lived up to every expectation as a prolific goal scorer out of high school. Savage combines extreme pace, calm finishing ability, and creativity in the box allowing him to take on opposing defenses and score goals at any moment. Savage comes to Clemson from Summerville, SC and is expected to compete for playing time right away.

Brannon Blanke is another quality attacking option for the Tigers from Castle Hayne, NC. Like Savage, Blanke is considered a prolific goal scorer out of high school having broken the North Carolina High School State record for goals scored. Blanke has received numerous accolades throughout his high school career in honor of his ability to score goals and he is expected to contribute to the success of the Tigers in much the same way for the years to come.

Alexander Darsinos joins the Tigers after spending much of his junior year in high school in Greece. The talented attacking player is very versatile and will compete immediately for playing time.

“There is a lot of competition for places which will make preseason very interesting,” said Hindson.