Every Starter On The Spring 2021 Team Slated To Return In 2021.
Departures And Gaps
Forwards Kimarni Smith (8g, 3a) and Grayson Barber (2g, 11a) and midfielder Philip Mayaka departed at the conclusion of the fall 2020 season to enter the professional ranks. All three were 2020 All-ACC First Team selections. Smith who had 26 career goals and 11 career assists was selected by DC United as the number four overall pick in the 2021MLS SuperDraft. Barber who had 13 career goals and 18 career assists during three seasons signed as a Homegrown Player with Sporting Kansas City. Mayaka who was a two-time All-ACC First Team selection was selected by the Colorado Rapids as the number three overall pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft.
Opportunity for Improvement
Clemson came out flat on several occasions and allowed early goals (Boston College, Louisville, American, Marshall). This is an area where improvement is needed in 2021.
Clemson scored a total of 21 goals in 11 contests during the fall 2020 season. They found the back of the net a total of 14 times during 9 contests during the spring 2021 season. The Tigers were highly productive on the offensive side of the ball last year. The departure of forwards Kimarni Smith (8g, 3a) and Grayson Barber (2g, 7a) who entered the professional ranks after the 2020 fall season provided the opportunity for others to step into greater roles and secure additional minutes during the spring. However, you don’t lose experienced playmakers like Smith and Barber Smith (8g, 3a) and Grayson Barber (2g, 7a) without a learning curve and decline in big play ability.
Redshirt junior forward James Brighton (6g, 1a) and fifth year senior Callum Johnson (5g, 4a), who transferred in last year from Boston College, look to be key weapons in Clemson’s attack in 2021. Junior forwards Isaiah Reid (2g, 1a) and Mohamed Seye (4g, 2a) and senior midfielder Luis Felipe Fernandez-Salvador (2g, 4a) are among others with the potential to add firepower to the offense. Forwards Camilo Comi and Tim Strobeck are among the newcomers who could add an additional dimension to the offense early on.
Redshirt senior Quinn McNeill (2g, 1a), sophomore Ousmane Sylia (1g, 0a) and senior John Martin return along with Johnson and Fernandez-Salvador to give the Tigers a very experienced midfield. Sophomore Brandon Parrish, junior Alvaro Gomez and sophomore Tyler Hutchinson are among other returning linkmen who will seek to play a greater role in 2021.
Senior George Marks, an All-ACC selection the past two years, returns in goal to give Clemson a talented and experienced shot stopper between the pipes. Center back Oskar Agren, a 2020 All-ACC selection and three year starter returns to anchor the backline along with highly regarded fifth year senior Justin Malou (1g, 0a), a Third Team 2020 All-ACC selection and four-year starter, senior Charlie Arsensio, a three-year starter, and sophomore Hamady Diop (2g, 0a) who was a 2020 ACC All-Freshman selection. Sophomore Ben Erkins, redshirt junior Jake Barron, redshirt sophomore Enrique Montana, and sophomore Titus Sandy Jr. are among other returning defenders who will seek to earn additional minutes in 2021.
Clemson entered the 2020 NCAA Tournament as the number one seed for the first time since 1998. The Tigers had a blockbuster season during which they won the ACC Tournament at the conclusion of the fall 2020 season and topped Pitt, the ACC Coastal Division champion, in the ACC automatic qualifier game at the conclusion of the 2021 spring season.
The Tigers looked to be a team on their way to the College Cup until their season ending unexpectedly in the Sweet Sixteen when they came out of the short end of a penalty kick shootout 7-6 with eventual national champion Marshall after the contest was tied 1-1 at the end of 110 minutes of play. It was a frustrating end of the season for a Clemson side that had dominated possession during the match and had a 14 to 1 advantage in corner kicks but was unable to come up with the big play that they needed to secure the win.
With the 2020 season now history, the Tigers will enter the 2021 season a hungry team with momentum and a good mix of returning players including every starter from the 2021 spring season. The return of fifth year seniors midfielder Callum Johnson and defender Justin Malou is a big plus as is the experience that the younger players like sophomore defender Hamady Diop and midfielder Ousmane Sylvia among others gained last year. Throw in the firepower that redshirt junior James Brighton adds up-top, an experienced midfield anchored by seniors Johnson, Luis Felipe Fernandez-Salvador and Quinn McNeill, and a defense that includes George Marks in goal and veteran backs Malou, Oskar Agren and Charlie Arsensio and you have a team under the guidance of head coach Mike Noonan with the opportunity to again be a contender on the national scene and a front runner in the ACC.
There is clearly a lot to like about the Tigers heading into the 2021 season. Clemson is an opportunistic team but in order for the Tigers to reach their desired end of the season destination they are going to have to do a better job on the defensive side of the ball in the early going and not give up goals that give their opponents the opportunity to set the tempo of the contest. In addition, someone needs to step forward and pull back in some of the big play ability that was lost when Smith and Barber departed.
Tristan Deloach – Midfielder – Savannah, Georgia – Benedictine Military School – Played with Tormenta FC in USL League One. Part of Tormenta’s youth system since 2016.
Elton Chifamba – Midfielder – Blacklick, Ohio – Played for Columbus Crew Academy since joining as a U-12 player. U.S. National Team experience.
Camilo Comi – Forward – Rosario, Argentina – Played for Club Atletico Talleres since 2019. Part of the youth dividsion at both Talleres and Atletico.
Dawson Malcolm – Defender – Clover, South Carolina – Clover High School – Played for Charlotte Soccer Academy. Previously played for Discoveries Soccer Club.
Tim Strobeck – Forward – Hassleholm, Sweden – Played with Hassleholms IF in Division 2 of Sweden’s men’s league. Member of Hassleholms IF’s starting XI since he was 16 years old.
Picture from Clemson Athletics