Reflecting back on a season that saw the Clemson men’s soccer team finish in the top-four of the perennially rugged ACC for a second consecutive year, as well as earn an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2006, the positives for Coach Mike Noonan aren’t difficult to identify.
Still, and though Noonan’s teams have shown steady progress throughout his four years at Clemson, he knows there’s more out there for a program that’s just beginning to set new standards for itself.
“I think the season was enjoyable for everybody, but you still have the feeling that there’s more there, and more for us to strive to do,” said Noonan. “This team’s still hungry. That’s a great sign, and it’s changed a dimension. We set the standards, and they know what the standards are, and now within the team the players don’t want to let each other down. Those are good indications of future success.
“So I think we took another step in a positive direction, though I thought there was more available to us. But like in any process that you have to go through, there are things that are distasteful, including losing on penalty kicks, and losing in overtime, and in games where we statistically outplayed some very good opponents.”
Examples being the Tigers’ final two games of the postseason: a 1-0 overtime loss to Maryland in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, and a 1-1 double overtime draw with Elon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that ended in Elon advancing on penalty kicks.
More often than not, efficiency in front of the net – or its lack – loomed large in those instances where Clemson lost matches against the run of play. Otherwise, and while the finishing touch may have deserted them at times this season, the Tigers rarely lost consecutively, and were, as Noonan noted, an aesthetically-pleasing side between the boxes.
“Between the boxes, and for a good portion of the time even in our defensive box, we were a very attractive team, and it was good soccer to watch,” he said. “I think we’ve created a situation where we have depth, and that was a big difference in this year’s team. We have depth at numerous positions, though not enough yet, because we don’t have it at all positions. But this last recruiting cycle will help us get there.”
Going forward, and with respect to those recruiting priorities, Noonan’s search will undoubtedly be focused on attacking players that can find the net.
“Our performances at Maryland and at Elon were good performances, but we were missing the final piece,” said Noonan. “That can be excruciatingly frustrating in our game. I’ve used the comparison for those two games, and even the Notre Dame game, that if it were another sport, say basketball, that we would have won by double digits.
“The only other sport that kind of compares is baseball, where you get a bunch of runners on base, but can’t get the hit to bring them in. So you’re playing well and getting good pitching, and the other team hits a home run, while you’re leaving nine guys on base.
“Goalkeepers and goal-scorers can change games. I think we’ve had good goaltending from both Chris (Glodack) and Andrew (Tarbell) throughout the course of the year, and we got some quality goals from a lot of different people, but you want your center-forwards to be the ones who are scoring the goals, and not your attacking midfielders. So I think that’s an area that we’ve addressed through our recruiting.”
The Tigers finished the year at 11-7-3, with a regular season ACC mark of 5-4-2. The fact that Clemson hosted an ACC quarterfinal match (a 2-1 win over North Carolina) and reached the semifinals for a second consecutive year illustrates Noonan’s point about consistency and standards.
“Last year we were good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament, but we didn’t have the record,” he said. “And in the ACC, and as far as continuity and consistency, we’ve finished in the top-four two years in a row, now. We lost in overtime to the eventual ACC champion, who advanced into the final eight of the NCAA Tournament. We’re not far away.
“As to what we’re stressing, they’re no longer expectations. They’re standards. And that’s what we’ve tried to do throughout the course of this year, to change things that we hoped would have happen, into things that should happen.”