Next fall the Clemson men’s soccer team will be reinforced by a freshman class that includes three players from the top-ranked prep club in the country, as well as a pair of experienced transfers from Brown that were originally recruited to that school by current Tiger head coach Mike Noonan.
Incoming freshmen Alex Happi (from France by way of Cameroon) , Mauriq Hill (Bermuda) and Thales Moreno (Brazil) all played for Montverde Academy Eagles (Orlando, FL), which, in winning the national championship, extended the nation’s longest winning streak (over a span of three years) to 80 games. The three standouts were coached at Montverde by former Clemson All-American and assistant coach Mike Potempa.
“There are the three players that are coming from Montverde, which is the No. 1 team in the country,” said Noonan, who’ll begin his fourth season at Clemson this fall. “All three of these boys will impact the team next year. One is a center-back (Hill), one is a defensive-midfield type player who’s athletic as can be (Happi), and the other one (Moreno) is a crafty, left-footed Brazilian.
“They all will play a role at some stage next year. I’m not saying that they’re going to start, but they’re very talented players. Also we have Austin Burnikel, who’s from Greenville, and is probably the best player that’s come out of CESA (Carolina Elite Soccer Academy), at least in the three years that I’ve been here. He plays up front and is a goal-scorer, so that’s really exciting.”
The Orlando Sentinel reported on Friday that Morena will be honored as Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year.
Other notables among the freshmen are Matt Churitch, a goalkeeper from Brentwood, TN, and Ryan Sullivan, a midfielder from Prospect, KY.
“With Matt, we’ve got more depth in the goal, and I think that’s probably our strongest position,” said Noonan. “Ryan also gives us some depth in the midfield, and is probably the best athlete out of all the players that are coming in.”
Because of his previous head coaching stint at Brown, Noonan knew that he was getting leadership as well as talent when he added transfers Thomas McNamara and Bobby Blair to the Tigers’ roster.
“Tommy McNamara is already here and is an attacking midfielder/forward who scored four goals in one of our spring games,” said Noonan. “I can’t remember in a spring game or regular season game, anyone scoring four goals against anybody. And irony of irony, because he wasn’t the captain at Brown, he comes down here and within a month is the captain of the team.
“And then there’s Bobby Blair, who’s originally from Myrtle Beach, and who’ll graduate from Brown in May, and has two years of eligibility left because of injuries. I recruited both of them at Brown. Bobby was leaning to South Carolina, but then came to Brown after a visit. He had two horrific injuries. He was going to start his first game his freshman year, and in the practice beforehand, he ruptured his kidney.
“Then as a junior, he tore his ACL. He’s played the last two seasons for Brown after recovering from both of those, but the NCAA granted him two more years of eligibility. He was part of the best freshman class that I recruited at Brown, and he can play any place on the field. He played forward this past year for Brown, but he can play center-back, he can play right-back, or he can play center of midfield, so he’ll be a utility player. But he’s another quality-character guy that will be super in the locker-room.”
As far as addressing any particular needs through recruiting, Noonan’s focus was up-front. Last season, and following a season-ending injury to sophomore Iain Smith, senior Austin Savage was the team’s lone experienced goal-scorer. With Savage graduated and departed to pursue a professional playing career, the Tigers got a lift in terms of scoring-punch this spring from both McNamara and Manolo Sanchez.
“I think Manolo had four or five goals and four assists this spring,” said Noonan, who’s still in process of recruiting a difference-making forward. “He started to convert many of the chances that he’d been getting last fall. He’s improved streaks since he got here, I mean streaks.
“So now, at least in the spring, we looked like an attacking team, and we’ve also worked hard on how we defend. We’ve got pieces in place right now, that in the past we weren’t sure about. But our recruiting will add quality and depth, and I’m really excited about what’s happening in the program.”