A Solid Nucleus Returns On The Offensive Side Of The Ball But The Tigers HAve To Reload On The Defensive Side Of The Ball.
Pepe Fernandez – Midfielder – A three-year starter and playmaker who scored eight goals and contributed five assists during the 2021 season. Played in 69 games over four seasons with 11 career goals and 14 career assists
Oskar Agren – Defender – A three-year starter at center back. An All-American and First Team All-ACCC selection in 2021. A Second Team All-ACC selection in 2020 season. Scored five goals and contributed three assists during 2021 season. A 2021 MAC Hermann Trophy finalist who was the number 13 pick by the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. 2021 All-South Region First Team member.
Quinn McNeill – Midfielder – A third team 2021 All-ACC selection who played in 23 games with 22 starts with four goals and four assists. Appeared in 77 contests over four seasons with nine career goals and five career assists.
Callum Johnson – Midfielder – Played for three seasons at Boston College before transferring from Boston College. Played in 23 games with 19 starts with three goals and five assists in 2021 season. Played in 20 games with 5 games and four assists in 2020.
Charlie Asensio – Defender – A four-year starter at left-back. Appeared in 82 career contests. Played in 23 contests with 22 starts in 2021 with five assists. Played in 20 games in 2020 with two assists. Played in 22 games with one assist in 2019. Played in 17 games with one assist in 2018. A Second Team All-ACC selection in 2019. An ACC All-Freshman Team and College Soccer News All-Freshman Team member in 2018.
Justin Malou – Defender – Played and started in five seasons for the Tigers. Played in 21 games with 20 starts in 2021 with 2 assists. Appeared in 80 contests during his tenure at Clemson.
John Martin – Midfielder – A four-year contributor in the midfield and on defensive. Played in 12 games with four starts in 2021 with two assists. Played in seventeen contests during the 2020 season. Appeared in four contests during the 2019 season and four contests during the 2018 seasons.
James Brighton – Forward – Injury limited his 2021 season to only three games with two starts and one assist. Appeared in 19 games during the 2020 season with six goals and one assist. Appeared in 21 games with 11 starts during the 2019 season with six goals and two assists.
George Marks – Goalkeeper – Finished his tenure as Clemson’s third all-time shutout leader with 21 and third in wins with 49. A three-year starter and multi-year All-ACC selection in goal. Played in and started 23 games in 2021 with a 0.82 goals against average and ten shutouts. Appeared in a total of 69 matches at Clemson over 4 seasons.
Opportunity for Improvement
Last year Clemson was shutout in four of its five losses. With three of their top five goals scorers from the 2021 season and six of the ten players who scored three or more goals last year slated to return the opportunity exists for an attack that will be hard to contain.
Twelve Clemson players scored a combined total of 51 goals last year. Ten of the 12 goal scores netted three or more goals and ten players had three or more assists. When the Tigers were able to get their attack in gear, which was often, they were a very difficult opponent to top as reflected in the fact that they were 12-0-1 in 2021 when scoring the first goal of a contest and 8-0-0 when leading at halftime. That only occurs when a team has the balance needed to push forward and place their opponents under pressure along with the stability and coordination on defense to contain their opponents.
The chances are pretty good that Clemson will again have a powerful attack in 2022. Six of the ten players who scored three or more goals are slated to return. Three of the Tiger’s top five 2021 goal scorers, senior forwards Isaiah Reid (9g, 3a) and Mohamed Seye (5g, 2a) and junior midfielder Ousmane Sylla (5g, 7a), return to add punch to the offense along with back junior Hamady Diop (3g, 3a), sophomore forward Tim Strobeck (3g, 2a) and senior midfielder Alvaro Gomez (3g, 1a).
Graduate Student midfielder Derek Waleffe, a transfer from Brown where he was a 2021 All-Ivy First Team selection, is among several members of the recruiting class with the playmaking ability to add to the attack.
The backline will rebuild around junior center back Hamady Diop (3g, 3a) who is the lone returning regular starter. Diop is a two-year starter who was an ACC All-Freshman Team selection in 2020 and an All-ACC Second Team selection in 2021. Junior Ben Erkens who played in 14 games last year with four starts is a likely contender for the center back position that is vacant due to the departure of All-American Oskar Agren.
Junior Enrique Montana who appeared in 13 matches with two starts in 2021 will likely slot in at one of the outside backs. Redshirt freshmen Adam Lundegard and Dawson Malcolm and sophomore Titus Sandy Jr. are among other returning backs who look to be in the mix for a greater role in 2022. Sophomore defender Joey Skinner, a transfer from UNCG where he was a 2021 All-Southern Conference selection, is among the newcomers with the potential to contribute immediately.
Senior Trevor Manion who appeared in two contests last year in goal and played well during the spring season is among the likely candidates to fill the void that exists between the pipes due to the departure of three-year starter George Marks. Freshmen Joseph Andema, Patrick Donovan, Aiden Hampton are among the netminders in the 2022 recruiting class.
Clemson will be talented in the back and in goal but much less experienced. Accordingly it It may take a while for things to fall into place.
Clemson is among the programs that annually reload rather than rebuild. That means every year they have several talented and experienced players to replace but also return a lot of talented although generally less experienced players who are eager for the opportunity to assume a greater role.
The Tigers will enter the 2022 season with more than the average number of key departures particularly on the defensive side of the ball where the knowledge gained through experience and the physicality that comes with playing time are often a factor in terms of the consistency of play.
Mike Noonan often commented about the mental toughness and resilience of the Tigers during the 2021 season and how it contributed to their ability to prevail over the course of the season in the close contests. While that may sound like “coach speak,” it was indeed a factor that gave Clemson an edge in their run to the national championship.
The Tiger offense should again be explosive and difficult to contain in 2022 with seniors Isaiah Reid (9g, 3a) and Mohamed Seye (5g, 2a) and sophomore Tim Strobeck (3g, 2a) slated to return up-top along with junior attacking midfielder Ousmane Sylla (5g, 7a) among others.
The playmaking ability that midfielders Quinn McNeill (4g, 4a), Pepe Fernandez (8g, 5a) and Callum Johnson (3g, 5a) brought to the pitch will be missed but it also provides the opportunity for the likes of senior Alvaro Gomez (3g, 1a), junior Brandon Parrish (1g, 2a) and sophomore Elton Chifamba (0g, 2a) to step in and assume a greater role.
It is a plus that junior center back Hamady Diop will return to anchor the backline. However, the toughest chore and biggest unknown heading into the 2022 season comes on the defensive side of the ball, which should come as no surprise, due to the departure of center back Oskar Agren, a four-season starter, right back Justin Malou, a five-season starter, and left back Charlie Asensio, a four-year starter in addition to goalkeeper George Marks, a starter for three-seasons.
It has been a long time since Clemson entered a season without the services of Agren, Malou, Asensio and Marks. There are concerns and unanswered questions early on when a team must replace multiyear starters on the defensive side of the ball. Clemson will be replacing three very talented and experienced defenders and a very talented and experienced goalkeeper with talented but much less experienced players. Accordingly, the consistency of Clemson’s play on defense may make or break the Tigers in 2022.
Clemson will likely win their share of games in 2022 but whether the burden of expectations that always exists coming off a national championship season exceeds reality for the Tigers in 2022 remains to be seen. Clemson’s non-conference schedule is tricky but manageable; however, the level of competition and the margin for error in the ACC will again be brutal. The Tigers open the season on August 26 when they host Indiana. A win over the Hoosiers will be a great place to start.
Patrick Donovan – Goalkeeper – Staples High School – Trained with Estudiantes De La Plata in Argentina and played for Beachside Soccer Club in MLS Next. Has been to 11 youth national team ID centers and was part of the Capelli Sport USA team which traveled to Denmark.
Aiden Hampton – Goalkeeper – Southbury, Connecticut – Pomperaug Regional High School – Played for Connecticut Rush. East Region ODP Team.
Joseph Andema – Goalkeeper – Accra-Kasoa, Ghana – Montverde Academy – Played for SIMA.
Shawn Smart – Defender – Apoka, Florida – Montverde Academy – Member of the U-17 National Team pool.
Terry Watson – Defender – Blythewood, South Carolina – Blythewood High School – Named South Carolina United ECNL Player of the Year for 2020-2021. Played for South Carolina United FC.
Noah Behrmann – Midfielder – Charlotte, North Carolina – Charlotte Christian High School –
Marco Garcia – Forward – Liguria, Italy – Played for Virtus Entella for six years in Italy. Played for Alabama FC. Trained with Birmingham Legion’s USL first team.
James Kelly – Forward – Gastonia, North Carolina – Named the ECNL Mid Atlantic Conference Player of the Year. Played for Charlotte Soccer Academy.
Nathan Richmond – Forward – Atlanta, Georgia – IMG Academy – 2021 High School All-American. All-State selection. 2020 North Carolina Private School Player of the Year.
Tyer Trimnal – Forward – Lancaster, South Carolina – Andrew Jackson High School – Named to ECNL All-National All-Region Team.
Joey Skinner – Defender – Charlotte, N.C. – Cox Mill High School – Sophomore transfer from UNCG where he played in 18 games with 17 starts in 2021. Scored four goals and contributed seven assists. First Team All-Southern Conference selection.
Derek Waleffe – Midfielder – Madison, Wisconsin – Middleton High School – Graduate Student transfer from Brown where he played in 44 contests with 36 starts during three seasons. A 2021 All-Ivy League selection. Scored eight goals and had one assists during 2021 season. Had 14 goals and three assists during three seasons at Brown.
Isaiah Easley – Forward – Kailua-Kona, Hawaii – Makua Lani Christian High School
MJ Petry – Midfielder – Mount Pleasant, South Carolina – Oceanside Collegiate Academy
Guillaume Renault – Midfielder – Milan, Italy – Played for Atalanta
Picture from Clemson Athletics