Note: The following appears in the August 2019 issue of Orange: The Experience.
The 2019 season marks the 10th year of the Mike Noonan era at Clemson University. Featuring a team chock-full of returners, the outlook for the 2019 men’s soccer team is one rooted in confidence. The Tigers boast a mix of experience on the attacking side of the ball and that, coupled with established leadership and new blood on the defensive side, sets Clemson up for a potential postseason berth for the fifth time in the past six years.
Following an up-and-down 2018 campaign, the Tigers used the spring season to build team chemistry and get back to the fundamentals.
“Throughout the course of the spring, we refocused ourselves on what is important for Clemson soccer,” said Head Coach Mike Noonan. “Everyone is back and working hard with the strength coaches. There’s definitely some excitement around the team.”
The attacking force for Clemson will look very familiar, as the entire offensive core returns to the pitch this season. From a team that combined to score 23 goals and post 15 assists a year ago, all but three goals and five assists return for the 2019 campaign. Led by seniors Adrian Nunez and Tanner Dieterich, who combined for 10 goals a season ago, the Tigers will look to use their poise and experience on the attacking front to capitalize on opportunities and put away goals throughout the season.
“Adrian’s work ethic is amazing,” said Noonan. “He’s a dynamic player with an ability to find ways to score but, just like any rising senior, we will look for more consistency from him on the offensive side of the ball.”
The backline saw the departure of a pair of starters in Patrick Bunk-Andersen and Andrew Burnikel at the end of last season, with the two having played in 17 and 16 games, respectively. Despite the personnel loss, the 2019 roster features five returning defensemen and adds three newcomers to the backline rotation. Leading the defense this year will be Dieterich, who is one of just two returning players to have started all 17 matches a season ago. Returners Malick Mbaye and Justin Malou, along with January enrollee Oskar Agren are all expected to make significant contributions on defense this year, as well.
In goal, rising sophomore George Marks logged nearly 500 minutes on the field last season and looks to expand on the valuable experience acquired during his freshman campaign. Marks’ 1.10 goals-against average led the 2018 Clemson squad, while his .625 save percentage was tied with Jonny Sutherland for best on the squad.
Graduate student Nolan Lennon saw action in one match last season, helping the Tigers to a 5-2 victory over Furman. Lennon, along with Dieterich, will serve as a captain during the 2019 season after demonstrating leadership both on and off the pitch throughout his Clemson career.
With the addition of eight newcomers, seven freshmen and one transfer, to the 2019 roster, Clemson will take the pitch in the fall with a significant amount of depth.
“This freshman class in particular will add a competitive element in practice that will raise our level,” said Noonan. “The team is very competitive and might be one of the deepest teams I’ve had while at Clemson.”
That depth will pay dividends as the Tigers power through a tough 2019 schedule. The Tigers will square off with eight NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago, with five of their opponents finishing in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 last year. Clemson holds an overall series lead against 11 of their opponents and looks to take the series lead against ACC foes Duke and Syracuse.
Clemson opens the season with a battle against in-state rival South Carolina. The Palmetto Series match will be the 48th meeting between the two programs, with Clemson emerging victorious in 29 of the 48 contests, including the past five matches. The 2019 slate continues with a slew of non-conference and conference contests throughout the fall.
“There are no easy games,” said Noonan, “All of our ACC games are critical, as the league is so competitive, and every single game feels like it is worth double points.”
The Tigers will face a strong slate of ACC opponents throughout the season, with six of the eight opponents on the conference slate being repeat opponents from the 2018 campaign. Noonan’s squad will look to avenge losses to Boston College, Louisville, Notre Dame and Wake Forest. The ACC promises again to be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, as six of the eight teams on Clemson’s schedule closed their 2018 regular seasons either ranked within the top 25 or receiving votes.
The excitement for Clemson is happening off the pitch, too, as the athletic department will unveil plans for a new men’s and women’s soccer facility in the coming months. The new facility will be located by the soccer practice fields and will house team locker rooms and coaches’ offices, among other player-focused areas. Those interested in naming rights, or supporting the new facility, are encouraged to contact the IPTAY offices at 1-800-CLEMSON.
“This new facility has been a long time coming and is a huge step for our program,” said Noonan. “We always want to keep things current and updated for our student-athletes, and this new project is something to be excited about.”
The men’s soccer team kicks off the 2019 season on Aug. 30, when the Tigers host South Carolina at 7 p.m. at Historic Riggs Field. Season tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by visiting clemsontigers.com/tickets or by calling 1-800-CLEMSON.