There’s a pretty good South Carolina college soccer match tonight at Patriots Point. Coastal Carolina University — a rising national power, currently ranked No. 19 in the country — visits Ralph Lundy Jr.’s College of Charleston Cougars. It’s a non-conference date in the midst of both schools’ conference schedules.
The Cougars (2-7-0) are a young team in a building season facing a schedule stocked with nationally ranked opponents. And while Lundy sets the bar high for his team, expectations are different for fans. Charleston’s only collegiate men’s soccer program won’t be favored in many of its remaining matches (most of which are in the Colonial Athletic Conference, an upgrade over last year’s Southern Conference slate). And maybe that keeps some fans away.
But after spending the past couple of months covering college soccer matches around the Lowcountry, I’d like to pitch you an idea: Go watch a college game. No, they’re not playing on the level of USL PRO, MLS or the NWSL, but they’re surprisingly fun to watch. And the more we connect as soccer fans to the different programs here in town, the more our rising tide lifts all boats.
We’ve got four teams in the midst of their conference schedules. None are doing particularly well in the standings. But here are the reasons why I look forward to watching each one play.
College of Charleston men
Welcome to the youth movement.
In the three games I’ve watched this season, the Cougars have trotted out lineups that routinely feature four or five freshmen and/or newcomers, and it’s a talented but raw bunch. This tends to overshadow the contributions of upperclassmen like Dutch midfielder Daan Brinkman, Scottish defender Tam McGowan, the Coons Brothers (Tucker and Conor) and big guys Troy Peterson and Tanner Clay. But on the other hand, it’s always interesting to see how Lundy’s 2013 recruits (Adan Noel and Xavier Rajpaul of Trinidad and Tobago, little Ike Crook of Washington, and former Wando stars Erik Clark, Brock King and Christian Jablonski) develop from week to week.
Pros and Cons
PRO: They’re a skilled bunch that will get after opponents.
CON: They are, as their coach says, sometimes more attractive than they are effective. Plus they’ve been limping along without one of their most important contributors, senior goalkeeper Kees Heemskerk, a 6-4 Dutchman and pre-season All-Conference selection who came to the program from the Ajax Academy in Amsterdam.
Player to watch
ADAN NOEL: After impressing in preseason, the larger of the College’s two Trinidad attackers went down with a hamstring injury just before the start of the games that count. He’s since made five starts in six appearances, at at times against UNC Wilmington appeared to be on the brink of breaking open the Osprey defense almost singlehandedly.
Countryman and fellow freshman Xavier Rajpaul leads Noel in scoring with two goals to Noel’s one, and Rajpaul is an entertaining player. But Noel looks more like the complete package at this point, with tremendous upside and a good balance of strength, speed and skill. When the two are on the field in the center of the Cougars attack, the team shows signs of dynamism that bodes well for the future.
Noel plays for the U20 Trinidad and Tobago National Team, making 10 international appearances so far.
HONORABLE MENTION: It’s fun to watch Rajpaul weave through defenses, and when the Cougars move the Coons brothers, Peterson and Clay up for corner kicks, that’s a lot of height and beef in the box. But if you come out to take in a Cougars’ match keep an eye out for No. 13, Adam Purvis. He’s a sophomore from Statesboro, Ga., and though he’s listed as a forward, he looks to me to be in more of a midfield role in the games I’ve seen. Purvis (or “PERV!” as the student fan call him) always seems to increase the Cougars’ tempo.
NEXT HOME GAME: Tonight at 7 vs. Coastal. Oct. 19 vs. Hofstra.
College of Charleston women
It’s been an absolutely brutal season for the College of Charleston women, who were down to 13 available field players when I lasted checked in on them.
Pros and Cons
PRO: Christian Michner’s roster plays fluid, athletic soccer, with a lot of possession and style.
CON: Not only have they been crushed by injuries across the roster, they have at times surrendered points to opponents who lack their quality.
Player to watch
McCALLIE JONES: As a fan, Jones is one of my favorite local athletes to watch at any level of the sport, combining flair, power and aggression in one sleek package. And while she leads the team in goals (three), points (seven) and shots (25), her statistics don’t begin to tell her full story.
While the Cougars are solid across the midfield and boast some quality defenders, they rely on Jones so much in the attack that they can at times become one-dimensional in the final third. Jones is not only physically strong, she can run, she can jump, she can cross and she can finish. And when all else fails and the Cougars trail, her teammates can always lump it ahead to her and just see what happens. She’s a one-woman game changer, whether overpowering a defender to get off a shot or using her powerful flip-throw to lob dangerous balls to the back post.
This means that it’s not uncommon to see completely exhausted at the end of a match. And her tough-girl personality is really kind of inspiring.
HONORABLE MENTION: Sarah Cardamone runs box to box in the midfield and played forward in her last game… Nicole Koretsky and Fran Kentimenos have flair. Freshmen Danielle Mellem and Riley Narem are raw talents. Hope Walker, Claire Newman and Jade Reyonolds are gamers on defense.
NEXT HOME GAME: Oct. 25th against Delaware.
Charleston Southern University
When they’re healthy and rolling, no local team boasts a better attacking trio than senior forward Toni Lashley and “The Chelseas,” sophomores Chelsea Phillips and Chelsea Frankeny.
Pros and Cons
PRO: When the midfield does its job, the Bucs can unleash a thoroughly entertaining offense that merges some exciting talents with complimentary strengths.
CON: Thanks to a poorly managed pitch overhaul, the Bucs haven’t been able to play a real home game all season. They have been playing at Blackbaud Stadium, but won’t commit that they’ll play there each time, so every home date is officially TBD. Also, despite the talent in the attacking third, the Bucs at time appears to be just half a beat off. Part of that is the result of Phillips’ ongoing recovery from a knee injury.
Player to watch
TONI LASHLEY: This senior forward from Monroe, N.C., isn’t tall, but with blistering pace and deceptive strength, she’s an athlete who takes up a lot of space on the field. And despite being a marked woman wherever she goes on the pitch, she still finds ways to finish.
She describes herself as more athlete than soccer player, and critiques herself as lacking in skill. Funny thing is, despite all this alleged lack of skill, Lashley was a first-team Big South All-Conference player as a junior last fall, and this season she’s accounted for six goals, three assists, 15 points and 43 shots through 12 games, all starts. Like Jones for the College of Charleston, she’s a player you can’t help notice — a fierce competitor with an on-field demeanor that simply doesn’t match up to her off-field personality.
Even when she doesn’t score, Lashley has a way of being kind of … spectacular.
HONORABLE MENTION: Frankeny has a bit of Alex Morgan “Baby Horse” style to her game… Emma Faubert is a connector and playmaker… Senior midfielder Allison Lewis broke out of an early season slump is playing red-hot soccer of late, with three goals and three assists… freshman Dana McLaughlin has been a remarkably solid starter in goal.
NEXT “HOME” GAME: Oct. 11 against VMI.
Bob Winch sends out a game-ready unit week after week, and the mental toughness of the players and the cohesion of the unit is obvious. Only the loss of senior goal-scoring machine Mariana Garcia is currently holding the Bulldogs back from a better season.
Pros and Cons
PRO: Teamwork and effort. Even when Garcia was starting up top, the Bulldogs played like an intelligent machine. They don’t produce the prettiest soccer, and will play for the ugly win whenever the situation calls for it. The atmosphere at their home field — Washington Light Infantry Field behind the chow hall on the banks of the Ashley River — makes The Citadel my favorite college venue in the city. The cadet cheering section can be raucous, and even though attendance at the daytime games (there are no lights at WLI) is light, it’s just a fun place to watch a match.
CON: Without Garcia, the Bulldogs are tough and adaptable, but kinda toothless. They’ve gone 1-3-0 since Garcia hurt her knee against Winthrop (a game that ended in a draw), scoring just five times while giving up 15 goals.
Player to watch
NAOMI CARTER: Yes, with her bright red hair and Down Under accent, freshman goalkeeper Naomi Carter can come off like a lesser-known character from the Harry Potter franchise, like a Kiwi exchange student at Hogwarts. Because she’s some kind of wizard between the posts.
The biggest surprise of the fall for me has to be the moment that I looked Carter up and realized that this commanding, confident keeper was just a knob. Listen to her organize a defense and you’d never suspect this young woman from the other side of the world is anything but an upperclassman.
And that’s just the beginning. Because while she’s clearly a prodigy in terms of soccer knowledge, she’s also this fearless and athletic shot-stopper. Here’s how good Carter has been: In 11 matches this season, she’s recorded 98 saves. That’s nine saves a game, and that’s simply… well, the word “freakish” comes to mind. To put this in context, the Bulldogs lost 7-0 at Furman… and Carter had 15 saves.
HONORABLE MENTION: Lea Raedle, a freshman midfielder from Germany, is mobile, aggressive and strong… Ana Mesa is a miniature wrecking ball in the midfield… Ruth Leiva is a threat in the attack.
NEXT HOME GAME: Oct. 11 against Georgia Southern.