Coastal controls CofC, 3-0

Coastal controls CofC, 3-0
Justin Portillo creates space.

Justin Portillo creates space.

PATRIOTS POINT: OK, let’s get one point out of the way before we get to anything else. The now 13th-ranked Coastal Carolina Chanticleers’ team that drove down from Conway on Tuesday is a top-shelf college soccer unit, and here’s hoping that the College of Charleston and Coastal make this match an annual affair.

And here’s one way to appreciate that quality: At no point during their 3-0 road win over a certainly not-awful Cougars team did Shaun Docking’s Chanticleers look particularly distressed. That’s not to say that the Cougars never tested them — they did, in fact, and actually dominated possession for swaths of time in the second half. But when you’re leading by two goals and you’re choking out an opponent to take home three points, that’s not particularly unusual.

The Chanticleers scored their first two goals in the 9th and 10th minutes, putting the Cougars down by a pair before the home side had even managed to get off its first shot. And the remarkable thing about those quick-succession scores is that they struck like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. The first eight minutes of the match looked surprisingly even, with both teams working things out in the midfield and not much in the way of big chances. And I say “surprisingly” because when it comes to the pre-match eyeball test, there’s just no way you could compare the two sides and not conclude that that Coastal held a physical advantage. I watched this team play the Charleston Battery back in March, and Coastal looked every bit as fit, strong and mature as the professionals.

Center back Uchenna Uzo blows up a Cougar.

Center back Uchenna Uzo blows up a Cougar.

So in those early minutes, it impressed me that the Cougars looked as confident and calm as they did. Seasoned professional could take one look at guys like 2013 Preseason Big South Defender of the Year¬†Uchenna Uzo and feel a bit intimidated. But in retrospect, I’d bet that was simply the Chanticleers’ upperclassmen probing the Cougars for fault lines and weak spots. Because when they moved to attack, it looked almost more like they were executing a drill on their training ground.

The first score started when preseason All-American senior midfielder Pedro¬†Ribeiro of Brazil got on the end of a long ball and headed to Czech sophomore forward Jakub Stourac, who popped it to Ontario freshman Sergio Carmargo, a member of the Canadian U20 team. Cougars keeper Alex Young came up to challenge, but the play unfolded so quickly that when Carmargo was able to get off a volley on frame, Young didn’t have a chance. BTW, a big shout-out to C of C Assistant Sports Information Director Nick Vlattas for documenting that attacking sequence, because from my position on the field, the entire thing happened so rapidly, so precisely, that I didn’t even have time to get a focused lens on it.

Ricky Garbanzo scores the Chanticleers second goal.

Ricky Garbanzo scores the Chanticleers second goal.

Just over a minute later, Carmargo slipped a deadly through-ball to first-team All Big South midfielder Ricky Garbanzo, a junior from Rock Hill. Garbanzo found an acre of space in the center of the Cougars defense, and slotted home the second score from directly in front of goal and just beyond the six-yard box.

And that’s pretty much the story. With a two-goal lead, the Chanticleers shifted to a defend-and-counter scheme that was plenty solid. Their hosts out-shot them 6-3 for the rest of the half, and 7-2 in the second 45, but it hardly mattered. Coastal granted the Cougars a lot of room in the midfield and broke up the kinds of connections that produce quality chances in their final third. So while the Cougars got off shots, they were typically contested and often wild roundhouse punches.

One notable exception: Around the 51st minute, Cougars’ winger Adam Purvis launched a laser-guided cross from the left sideline. With two CofC attackers running essentially the same central channel, Coastal keeper Devin Cook held his line, allowing pesky midfielder Ike Crook — a 5-5, 140-pound freshman from Federal Way, Wash. — to get airborne and make a spectacular play on the ball. Only a diving save with only inches to spare kept Crook’s shot from crossing the line.

Cougars keeper Alex Young.

Cougars keeper Alex Young.

It was a windy night that aided attacks moving to the south goal and thwarted punts to the north, but with the Cougars going all-out in the attack, it felt like only a matter of time before they’d be stung on a counter. It came in the 87th minute, when senior All Big South midfielder Justin Portillo of New Orleans put his skull under a header clearance from the midfield and popped the ball ahead to Garbanzo running unmarked down the central channel. When Garbanzo settled the pass cleanly the goal was a foregone conclusion, as the sequence froze Young in an untenable position in front of an otherwise undefended net.

Both Young and Cook recorded three saves on the night and each looked competent. Cook’s big moment came in denying Crook — a score that would have pulled the Cougars to within a goal with 40 minutes to go. Young’s came on an eye-popping deflection of a hard-struck shot to the upper corner of his left post with less than six minutes remaining. As athletic as it was, it provided only a three-minute reprieve before Garbanzo’s dagger.

The game marked the return of junior transfer Jake Currie, an Englishman who was in the stands in street clothes the last time the Cougars played at Patriots Point. He turned in a decent performance. Freshman forward Adan Noel had four shots and handled free kicks for the Cougars, but he was largely held in check and looked frustrated to the point of petulance in the final minutes. He was joined in the starting lineup by fellow freshmen Crook, plus Erik Clark and Brock King of Wando High School.

Ike Crook

Ike Crook

Crook turned in one of the night’s better performances. Even though his size can at times be a disadvange on defense, his speed and tenacity shut down multiple Chanticleers attackers along the sideline. He had a pretty good cheering section in the stands, too.

The Cougars travel to Delaware for a Colonial Athletic Association match on the 13th, and host Hofstra on Oct. 19th.

A NOTE ABOUT SCHEDULING AND RANKINGS: When I spoke with Cougars Coach Ralph Lundy Jr. about his ambitious 2013 schedule back in August, Lundy gave me a quick lesson in NCAA tournament soccer. Yes, playing top programs week after week is a great way to develop your young talent, by giving it experience against the best players. And yes, a win against a ranked team not only boosts your confidence, it also improves your national profile. But the most important thing, Lundy said, was the RPI.

That’s Ratings Percentage Index, the statistical system used by the NCAA to account for strength of schedule when ranking teams in advance of its post-season tournaments in multiple sports. And in reading Vlattas’ game recap this morning, I noticed that he’d mentioned that the Cougars are now ranked 58th in the nation. Which is just an astounding number given the Cougars’ 2-8-0 record.

To put that RPI rating in context, despite all the frustration in the Cougars’ 2013 season so far, its RPI puts it just one slot below the University of South Carolina (4-5-2) and one slot above Duke (4-4-3). There are quality teams with gaudy records that don’t even come close to The College in RPI. Look at Boston College: They play in one of the top conferences, they have a winning record (4-3-2), and their RPI is just 65 — one slot beyond the field for this year’s NCAA tournament.

Does just holding on to that RPI put the College in the Tournament? Absolutely not. But it does mean that if this young roster can find a way to start finishing its chances and winning the games that are there to be won, they could still find themselves in contention come November.

And, just in case you’re interested, here are the current RPIs for each of the Cougars’ opponents so far. The first number is their RPI this morning; the second is their national ranking (if any) as reported by CofC when they played Charleston, and the third is their current national ranking in the NSCAA/adidas Top 25 poll.

Akron (40-8-20)
Xavier (99-27-NA)*
Furman (18-NA-Recieved votes)
Vermont (65-NA-NA)
Stanford (23-47-NA)
California (3-4-1)
Wilmington (122-NA-NA)
Winthrop (67-NA-NA)*
William & Mary (15-29-Recieved votes)
Coastal (13-13-13)

*CofC win.

Remaining schedule (number before the team name is their current RPI:

@ 14. Delaware (Recieved votes NSCAA poll)
52. Hofstra
@ 8. UAB (No. 10 NSCAA poll)
125. James Madison
@ 80. Northeastern
112. Drexel

TOP IMAGE: Adan Noel, Charleston’s freshman striker from Trinidad, en route to an off-target shot. Dan Conover photos.

Click on any image to view gallery as a slideshow.