The new-look College of Charleston men face a down-table Davidson College side Saturday at 1 p.m. at Patriots Point as the Cougars’ final spring season in the Southern Conference continues.
Ralph Lundy Jr.‘s 2012 team featured 10 seniors on a roster that stumbled to a disappointing 8-10-1 last fall. That record keeps Assistant Coach Troy Lesesne from calling 2913 a rebuilding year, but there’s no doubt that this is a squad under construction – and close scrutiny – this spring. The College is moving to the Colonial Athletic Association in the fall
“It’s a new group,” Lesesne said. “A lot of new faces in our lineup are playing more significant minutes, and a lot of these players have stepped up and met the challenges that we’ve asked of them. We graduated 10 seniors, so a lot of those seniors played major minutes for us, and the guys that have stepped into their places have held their own.
“I think they’ve gained a lot of confidence from the training they’ve put in so far, and playing against the professional teams that we played against, the Whitecaps and the Battery twice. It’s been difficult, but they’ve gained a lot of experience in a short amount of time.”
The Cougars lost a friendly to Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps at Patriots Point during the Carolina Challenge Cup in February, then played a two-game series with the Charleston Battery in March. In the first Battery match, the professionals won 3-0 and dictated the pace and flow of the game. In the return, however, it was the Cougars who set the tone. C of C bunkered down, withstood numerous attacks, and came within a kick-save off the line of stealing a late win.
That 0-0 tie with the Cougars on March 19 was the only non-win in the 10-game unbeaten streak that closed out the Battery’s preseason. Afterward, Coach Lundy praised his team’s willingness to fight and promised that fans would see a more dynamic brand of soccer in the college’s remaining spring matches.
Saturday’s game represents the first chance to see the Cougars against more evenly matched opponents.
If the Cougars’ 2012 was a disappointment, the Wildcats’ fall resembled an indigestion nightmare. The North Carolina college finished 6-11-1 overall and rode an five-game season-ending losing streak to the bottom of the eight-team SOCON table. The Cougars finished in a tie for second place in the conference, two points behind regular-season champion Elon.
The Cougars won the most recent meeting between the two schools 5-0, a result that Lesesne described as “not indicative of how the game went. Davidson had a lot of possession and created a fair amount of chances on their end. We were fortunate to finish the chances that we had… so I think we’re in for a tough test.”
WHAT TO WATCH
After playing much of 2012 out of a base 4-4-2, the 2013 Cougars are in transition to a 4-3-3. It’s less a philosophical shift than a reshaping of the team around the best available talent.
“With us playing a 4-3-3 right now, just to talk about our Spring team, the strength of our team right now is within our three center-mids and the mountain we ask of them,” Lesesne said. “The reason we’re playing this (formation) is because we really only have one player who can play that high target (forward Tony Kattreh). The two players that are the wingers in that formation, that’s what fits our style more. We don’t have two out-and-out strikers. We did last fall, and as a result we shifted (to the 4-4-2).”
The Wildcats “used to be a straight 4-4-2 team, but last fall they kinda went to a 4-3-3 themselves, and I don’t know if that was because of personnel from their side. So it will be interesting to see what they play,” Lesesne said.
The Cougars will start a young lineup with an international flavor.
The back line features brothers Tucker and Connor Coons, with sophomore Tucker at left back and senior Connor at center back. Tanner Clay, a product of the Real Salt Lake Academy, mans right back. But the player who seemed to have registered the biggest impression on the coaching staff after the Battery match is versatile Scotsman Tam McGowan in central defense. “Our back four has probably been the most steady (part of the team this spring),” Lesesne said.. “And they’ve had to be under a lot of pressure as well, so we’ve seen them in action a lot more.”
The three center-mids are juniors Troy Peterson and Seth Abramson, plus Dutch youth product Daan Brinkman, a junior attacking midfielder who came up through the Ajax academy system in Amsterdam. “Usually he’s an outside back, but he’s moved into an attacking, No. 10-type role, and for him that’s just a great way to develop,” Lesesne said.
Up top, the Cougars run sophomore Adam Purvis down left wing and first-semester freshman Christian Jablonski, who graduated early from Wando High School to enroll at the college in time for spring soccer, down the right. Senior Tony Kattreh holds up in center.
The biggest change from last month is at keeper, where sophomore Alex Young steps in for senior Kees Heemskerk. The big Dutchman suffered a knee injury in training last month after starring in the draw with the Battery and will miss the spring, but is expected to return for the regular season.
The reserves will be Thomas Winstead, Porter Massey, Luke Huggett and Ryan McLaughlin.
There’s no admission charge for the match at the College’s athletic complex at Patriots Point. We’ll be covering the match, so if you go and have any thoughts on what you see from the Cougars we’d be grateful to hear them.
PHOTO: The College of Charleston beat Davidson 5-0 in their last match-up at Patriots Point. College of Charleston photo.