Note: The following appears in the September issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication's content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.
The single word around these neck of the woods brings back memories of the most recent success on the gridiron. But there is another “football” that has become one of the most dominant programs in the country during the past three years, not to mention it already has two national titles (1984,87).
The Clemson men’s soccer program, led by head coach Mike Noonan, entered the 2017 season with 23 consecutive weeks ranked in the top 10 and began the season with a No. 5 ranking. In the last four seasons, the Tigers have made the NCAA Tournament with two Elite Eight appearances and were national finalist in 2015. In Clemson’s 4-1 win over South Carolina on Sept. 1, the Tigers’ fourth in a row over the Gamecocks, Noonan recorded his 300th career victory as a head coach.
Since 2013, the Clemson men’s soccer program has also produced five NSCAA All-Americans and 11 professional players, highlighted by the 2015 class that had four players drafted, including the highest draft pick in program history in Andrew Tarbell, who was the No. 8 overall pick by the San Jose Earthquakes.
In 2010, Noonan was introduced and the vision was clear, to become elite again. Noonan remembers the days when Clemson was considered a powerhouse.
“When I was growing up, Clemson was pretty good, and when I was in college, they were winning national championships, and this is a place where that can happen again,” said Noonan.
Those are the dreams, and as a program, it is more than just winning national titles. But for the head coach and the rest of his staff, it is more than just winning national titles.
“National championships are the dreams, not the end result of what our program is about.”
Noonan still holds his experiences as a student-athlete and the lessons he learned close to him, and tries to recreate those experiences for his student-athletes. Sophomore captain Tanner Dieterich alluded to the culture and vision of the program.
“It’s special to be able to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself. That is why I personally wanted to come here, and why so many others want to be here.”
In Noonan’s first year, the Tigers won eight matches, the most since the 2006 campaign, and the four ACC wins were the most since 2000. In 2011, the Tigers gave everyone a glimpse of how special this program could be when Noonan’s team defeated No. 1 Maryland, but they still fell just short of the NCAA Tournament.
It was a breakthrough year for the Tigers in 2013, earning their first NCAA Tournament bid during the Noonan era and the first in seven years. Ever since then, the Tigers haven’t looked back.
In 2014, Clemson won the ACC Tournament, the program’s first since 2001. The 2014 Tigers also claimed a share of the ACC Atlantic Division title and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
The following season, Clemson took the soccer world by storm when it finished as the NCAA national runner-up after falling to Stanford. The Tigers set a standard in 2015 that not only the players demand, but the passionate fans of Clemson soccer also demand.
Four players on the 2015 squad were named NSCAA All-Americans, and three players made the College Cup All-Tournament Team. With seven All-ACC selections, the Tigers produced the ACC Midfielder-of-the-Year (Paul Clowes) and ACC Defender-of-the-Year (Kyle Fisher). Also, four players were drafted from Noonan’s 2015 squad, led by Tarbell.
In 2016, the pressure was on for the Tigers. Clemson was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll, and the Tigers were up for the challenge. With the No. 1 RPI, the Tigers advanced to the ACC Championship Match before falling to eventual national runner-up Wake Forest.
The 2016 Tigers were one match short of advancing back to the College Cup for the second consecutive year after falling to Denver in the Elite Eight.
“Our schedule motivates us,” said Noonan when asked about playing the toughest schedule in the nation last season and how to keep his side motivated. “It is so tough that you don’t have time not to be motivated, because if your motivation drops off, your performance won’t be able to compete with the competition.”
Just since 2013, the Clemson men’s soccer program has become a force. The Tigers spent 23 consecutive weeks in the top 10 entering 2017, produced 11 professional soccer players, registered an ACC championship, made four NCAA Tournament appearances and two Elite Eight appearances, was an NCAA finalist and had five NSCAA All-Americans.
“Being an elite program is a great feeling, but we believe that we are only just scratching the surface of what we are all capable of,” said senior co-captain and Liverpool, U.K., native Oliver Shannon when asked about the recent rise of Clemson men’s soccer. “Hopefully this year we can demonstrate this and put on a show for Clemson and keep making everyone proud.”
The Tigers are on the doorstep of greatness, and the soccer community knows it. With success on the pitch comes greatness off the pitch as well. Historic Riggs Field has been deemed one of the toughest places to play a college soccer match and has finished in the top five the past three years in average attendance. Noonan understands the importance of the loyal and fervent fans at Historic Riggs Field
“There is no doubt that atmosphere is worth a couple wins every year.”
“I wanted to come here because of the fanbase and to be able to play your home games in front of big crowds for people that genuinely care and have a passion for their Clemson family and the game. It drives the entire team more to want to perform and deliver for the fans.”
With a dedicated staff, supportive department and this amazing institution, Clemson men’s soccer is on the cusp of greatness.
“You don’t really think about being one of the top programs in the country,” continued Noonan. “It’s just something that happens when you put in the work.”
When it comes to representing this university, senior captain Oliver Shannon had these words.
“The Clemson family is a sure thing within the men’s soccer program at Clemson University. It’s an incredible feeling, and during my time here through the ups and downs, my teammates and coaches have not only helped me become a better player, but they have helped me become a better man.”
But at the end of the day, Clemson men’s soccer knows that the results will take care of themselves.
“Being considered as a top program in the country is something we don’t think about,” added Noonan. “We just go about what we do every day and let the results come to us.”
Another challenging schedule awaits the 2017 Tigers, as it features six teams that finished in the top 25 last season. Another highlight of this season's schedule comes on Sept. 29, when Clemson travels to Wake Forest. The Tigers defeated the Demon Deacons during the regular season last year, but the Demon Deacons prevailed against the Tigers in the ACC Championship Match.
On Oct. 21, Clemson travels to Syracuse to face the Orange, a growing rivalry in college soccer after the two sides have faced each other five times the past two seasons. The Tigers finish the regular season at home against Louisville, who fell in the Elite Eight last season.
This season’s team features seven returning starters. The Tigers welcomed over 10 new faces, including Jason Wright, a transfer from Rutgers. In three seasons with Rutgers, Wright totaled 71 points (29 goals, 12 assists).