Clemson - Four Star Recruiting Class - Don't be mislead by Clemson's 6-9-6 overall record last year. Things are looking up for the Tigers, who last year finished fourth in Atlantic Coast Conference regular season play with a 3-2-4 record and advanced to the semi-finals of the ACC Tourney for the first time since 2005.
Mike Noonan will enter his fourth season as the Clemson head coach with nine starters back and an infusion of talent in the form of a nine member recruiting class that includes experienced transfers Tommy McNamara and Bobby Belair who are expected to contribute immediately.
Clemson is a tradition rich school but the fact is that Noonan inherited a program in the highly competitive ACC that had a lot of catching up to do. Those who thought that the program would return to prominence overnight were unrealistic. So what now? There is a really good chance that the growing pains that the Tigers have experienced over the past three seasons will pay off in 2013. Clemson will field a team that appears to have the talent and experience to return the Tigers to the NCAA Tourney field for the first time since the 2006 season. This is now Noonan's team as reflected in the fact that the current seniors who are hungry to succeed were his first recruiting class.
Clemson does have a big gap to fill up-top due to the graduation of 2012 All-ACC Second Team selection Austin Savage (8g, 4a). Savage's eight goals last year were the most scored by a Clemson player since the 2006 season. The return of junior forward Iain Smith who took a medical redshirt in 2012 and the addition of attacking midfielder McNamara who was a First Team All-Ivy selection last year and forward Belair could help to fill that void. Sophomore forward T.J. Casner (1g, 0a) who appeared in fourteen contests last year is among other returning players who will figure in the mix up-top.
The Tiger midfield looks to be very good and realitively deep. Sophomore Paul Clowes (0g, 3a) and senior Alex Stockinger (3g, 1a) who has been a starter for the past three seasons return to anchor the center of the park. Both are experienced and very capable playmakers. Redshirt junior right winger Manolo Sanchez (2g, 6a) and junior left winger Ara Amirkhanian (5g, 2a) return to add an additional dimension to the Tiger attack. Both are strong and creative players who can pose matchup problems for opposing defenders. Sophomores Richard Robinson (0g, 2a) and Tyler Happ are among other returning midfielders who will seek to play significant roles in 2013. Thales Moreno an attacking midfielder who was the Florida Gatorade Player of the Year and defensive mid Alex Happi out of Montverde Academy in Orlando, Florida are among the incoming freshmen who could make an immediate impact.
The backline may be the difference maker for Clemson in 2013. An experienced backline is a valuable commodity for any team that has aspirations of moving up the ladder in the ACC. The level of talent in the attack oriented ACC will always expose any weaknesses that exist on the defensive side of the ball.
The Tiger backline has the potential to be the best that Clemson has put on the pitch in some time. It all begins with athletic center back and team captain Phanuel Kavita who is a tough as nails one vs. one defender. Look for Kavita to set the pace for the Tigers in 2013. Kavita will be joined by center back Kyle Fisher (0g, 2a) who will enter the 2013 campaign with the benefit of a year of starting experience under his belt. Senior Jack Metcalf who has been a starter for the past three seasons returns at right back while talented junior Amadou Dia (0g, 3a) returns at left back to add an additional element to the attack. Redshirt senior Wes Nelson is among other returning defenders who will be in the hunt for playing time. Newcomer Mariq Hill out of Montverde Academy should also challenge for playing time in the back.
The Tigers must find a replacement in goal for Cody Mizell who elected to forgo his senior season and has signed a professional contract with the Atlanta Silverbacks. Mizell, who was the starter in goal for three seasons, will be missed. Redshirt sophomore Chris Glodack who saw action in six games last year and highly regarded redshirt freshman Andrew Tarbell are competing for the vacant job between the pipes.
Clemson begins regular season play on August 30 when they host a good Mercer team. They then welcome in-state rival South Carolina, ACC foe Virginia, and Gardner- Webb to the friendly confines of Riggs Field before traveling to Raleigh to tangle with ACC foe N.C. State. It is a long season and anything can happen but look for those five contests to be a good indicator of the type of season that Clemson will have in 2013. Success in those games will give the Tigers a solid foundation upon which to build.
The 2013 season looks to be the most intriguing season at Clemson since Noonan took over the program in 2010. The starters are talented and experienced and McNamara, Belair and Smith may prove to be the wildcard the Tigers need on the offensive side of the ball. If a couple of players can emerge as consistent threats on the offensive side of the ball and if the defense plays to their potential then Clemson should significantly up their win total in 2013. However, they will need to remain healthy as quality depth across the board remains a potential concern.
It is not going to be easy but anything in 2013 short of a winning record in ACC play and an invite to the NCAA Tournament will be a disappointment for a program that is eager to return to the national conversation.
Bobby Belair - Forward/Midfielder - Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - Socastee High School - Graduate student transfer from Brown where he was a starter with four goals and three assists in 2012.
Thomas McNamara - Midfielder - West Nyack, New York - Don Bosco Preparatory - Graduate student transfer from Brown. 2012 First Team All-Northeast. 2012 First Team All-Ivy.
Austin Burnikel - Forward - Greer, South Carolina - St. Joseph's High School - Played for Carolina Elite Soccer Academy. State and Regional ODP team member. All-State selection.
Matt Churitch - Goalkeeper - Brentwood, Tennessee - Brentwood High School - Played for the Tennessee Soccer Club. Helped High School Team win State Championship.
Alex Happi - Midfielder - Calvire et Curie, France - Montverde Academy - All-Tournament team in the French National Tournament. Played for Cameroon National Team until age of twelve.
Mariq Hill - Defender - Hamilton Parish, Bermuda - Montverde Academy - Played fo the Cedar Bridge Academy team. MVP for the Devonshire Cougars in Bermuda.
Thales Moreno - Midfielder - Monte Santo de Minas, Brazil - Montverde Academy - Member of the All-Tournament Team at the MAST Tournament. A goal scorer and playmaker.
Justen Shear - Forward - Charlotte, North Carolina - Charlotte Catholic High School - Played for Charlotte Soccer Academy.
Ryan Sullivan - Midfielder - Prospect, Kentucky - St. Xavier High School - Academic All-American. Played United FC. Helped club team win four state championships and high school back to back state titles.