USC Soccer Battles #1 SMU to 1-1 Tie

The #13 ranked South Carolina men's soccer team went into the lion's den and came away unscathed, playing SMU, the #1 team in the country, to a 1-1 draw on their home field in Dallas, Texas.

The game ended in regulation in dramatic fashion. SMU scored early in the game, and USC had to aggressively attack the entire game. With time winding down, SMU looked like it would walk away with the win, but with 16 seconds left to play USC senior Ayo Akinsete scored the game-tying goal. The Mustangs turned the ball over inside their own 18-yard box and Akinsete picked it up. With SMU goalkeeper Matt Wideman pulled out of the goal, Akinsete's fourth goal of the season saved the game for the Gamecocks. The two teams then played like Titans, battling at a torrid pace through two ten minute overtime periods before the game ended in the draw. USC star Mike Sambursky saw an incredible shot to win the game blocked by an equally impressive effort by SMU goalkeeper Wideman in overtime.

USC head coach Mark Berson was pleased with the performance of his team. "This was a very determined and gutsy performance, and we're really, really pleased that we were able to come out of here with a point," he said. "It's very difficult to go on the road in Conference USA and get points. To come out of here with a draw is a good accomplishment, particularly due to the fact that we gave up a goal and had to chase the game for over 70 minutes, and keep an awful lot of pressure (on SMU). We were the ones having to throw a lot of players forward and try to make an opportunity to tie the thing up. It was great to see that those efforts were rewarded. We had some good opportunities to take the lead as well in overtime. It was a good effort by both teams on the evening."

The Gamecocks are now 10-3-1 overall and a 3-2-1 in Conference USA play, with two conference games left to play. Top-ranked SMU remained unbeaten at 13-0-3 and 3-0-2 in league games. South Carolina is the only team to tie the Mustangs at home this season.

South Carolina out-shot SMU 5-2 in the opening half, but the Mustangs were the first team to score. Shortly after entering the game, Manuel Mariel found the back of the net at the 33:34 mark. Daniel Lopez and Chase Wileman were credited with assists on Mariel's goal, which came on a header. SMU had 20 shots to South Carolina's 14 in the match.

Gamecock goalkeeper Mike Gustavson made a season-high nine saves in goal. Berson praised Gustavson and his defense's effort: "Gustavson in goal was very good. He played real well, and had two big saves in the overtime period(s). You need to have good goalkeeping as well solid defensive performance when you play a team like SMU. We needed that and we got it. Our back four, all four defenders played well, Ryan Leeton in the middle, Mark (Wiltse), Makon (Hislop), Mario Burstein - all four did a very good job."

Wideman finished with five stops for the Mustangs.

Senior Mike Sambursky led the Gamecocks with six shots, including three on goal. Berson also had high praise for his team's offensive efforts. "Up front Mike Sambursky and Ayo were excellent. Mike created a couple of really good chances. He had a shot in the overtime that looked like it was curling in for the win, and the goalkeeper Wideman for SMU had a tremendous save to preserve the tie for them. Of course, Ayo's goal with 16 seconds left was a clutch goal."

Asked what the game would mean in magnitude to the USC program, Berson said, "It's important in the conference. Both SMU and South Carolina are at the top of the conference standings. It's very significant result in terms of the NCAA tournament when you go to the home of the #1 ranked team and come away with a draw. That's a solid result that'll give some good points in terms of the RPI. It's an important result from that aspect.

USC will honor its six seniors when they return home Saturday night to take on Central Florida in their final home match. The match is set to kickoff at 7 pm.

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