By Sam Blackman
This fall, it will be 40 years ago since the Clemson Men’s Soccer team took the field in 1974.
One of the major concerns going into this season was who was going to replace the scoring of Henry Abadi. Abadi led the nation in scoring the previous season with 32 goals and set the Clemson record for most goals scored in a season that is still the single-season standard today. Jimmy Glenn tied his mark in 1993, as he led the nation in scoring that season. The 1973 team also went to the NCAA Semifinals and lost to UCLA on a controversial call in the match at the Orange Bowl on January 2, in Miami FL.
In 1973, the Tigers scored 97 goals and allowed only seven opponent’s goals as the team finished with a 16-1 record with the only lost coming to UCLA in the NCAA semifinals. So there were concerns going into the 1974 season.
One of the returning stars on the team was a defender, sophomore Gordon Alphonso from New Amsterdam, Guyana. Alphonso, who is an environmental lawyer in Atlanta, GA, recalls the 1974 season as he was a sophomore that season.
“There were some concerns going into the 1974 season about the loss of Henry (Abadi). I remember Coach Ibrahim recruiting hard and trying to bring in players with the skill set that would compensate for the loss.
“I also remember being ranked very high in 1974. We lost to Howard twice and St. Louis that season. We had a good year, we won the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, and we went to the final 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers were ranked in the national top 10 all season and were ranked as high as third for two weeks and finished sixth in the final poll.
Ironically, Clemson lost to two number-one ranked and traditional powers that season. The Tigers lost to St. Louis when they were ranked number-one in the country at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis baseball Cardinals and at that time, the NFL’s football Cardinals. The Tigers also lost to number-one ranked Howard in the NCAA Tournament in Washington DC. Clemson lost to Howard during the regular season as well, but at the time they were ranked sixth.
In the 1974 season, his brother, Mark, who was a freshman that season, joined Gordon. He too was a tough, hard-nosed defender.
“We had played club soccer together and it was very exciting for him to join me at Clemson. Even more rewarding was that we were both part of the starting 11. I was the right full back and he was the left full back.
“Playing in Busch Stadium at St. Louis in 1974 was thrilling. We had played in the Orange Bowl in the semifinals in 1973. Playing in these large stadiums gave proof that soccer was gaining momentum and was growing in the United States.
Alphonso is thankful that Coach Ibrahim recruited in his country and credits former Tiger star Clyde Browne for opening the door so others from Guyana would be recruited.
“Coach Ibrahim recruited Clyde Browne and he came to Clemson in 1972. He was an excellent player, and he did a great job at Clemson. Coach Ibrahim scouted and recruited more players in Guyana, and I was one of them.”
When asked about his fondest memories of Clemson and playing soccer for the Tigers, Gordon has many.
I could get into specifics like particular matches and going to the final four in 1973 and again in my senior year in 1976 and all that was great. But what I really appreciate is the academics at Clemson and how it prepared me for my career. The academics are top-notched and I credit Clemson for that.
Another important item that Alphonso is quick to credit Clemson with is the growth of soccer in the south.
“Clemson and the quality teams that we had elevated soccer in the south. We had a lot of talent and others schools wanted to elevate their programs as well. I remember Coach Ibrahim having soccer camps for high school age boys and there were around 100 young kids that attended his first camps, and then it grew to hundreds and hundreds each session,” said Alphonoso.
As far as the Clemson soccer team, Alphonso thought Clemson was very talented and was one of the best teams in the country.
“I thought our teams at that time were some of the most talented, if not the most talented in the country. It was a lot of fun and it was very rewarding to play for Coach Ibrahim and Clemson. It was beautiful to see the skill level of our team. However, as good as we were, we never were able to win the big one. I can’t explain it to this day. Whenever we get together as teammates, we talk about it.”
During Alphono’s era, Clemson went to the national semifinals twice and lost to UCLA and San Francisco. He was an All-ACC performer during his career as well.
“Coach Ibrahim was a very astute recruiter. He really built a great program. He was a smart businessman and he capitalized on the talent he brought to Clemson. He was an intelligent man and a very strong coach, and his business background helped him in his coaching.
Coach Ibrahim was just as happy that he found Alphonso on the recruiting trails. “He was one of the hardest hitting defenders ever at Clemson,” said Ibrahim in a 1994 interview. Gordon was physical, fast and strong. People did not want to go near him on the field.”
“I am thankful for the opportunity that Coach Ibrahim gave me,” said Alphonso. Without him I would probably still be in Guyana. I am very blessed and appreciative.”
Alphonso spent his first three years out of college as an industrial engineer in Macon Ga. He then decided to attend law school at Mercer University. After becoming a U.S. Citizen in 1984, he spent seven years working as an assistant attorney general for the state of Georgia. During that time he started a family. He and his wife, the former Candy Griswold, have three children, Sanon, Mia and Lauren.
Alphonoso then went into private practice in Atlanta.
“Every time I step into a courtroom, I credit my soccer background with being able to handle pressure, and being able to focus in the courtroom,” Alphonso said. “In soccer, you have to block out hostile fans. It’s the same in courtroom, where the opposing attorney is ready to pounce on you. Soccer competitiveness helps, you hate to lose.”