Future Gamecocks To Play For National Title

The South Carolina soccer program has some of its best players contending for a national championship this month, and the Gamecocks' first game isn't even until August 31st. In an unusual situation, one current and four future Gamecocks are playing on the same club team this summer, a team that is now contending for a national championship at the highest level of youth soccer in America.

South Carolina Head Soccer Coach Mark Berson is the dean of USC coaches as he enters his 30th season at the helm of the Gamecock soccer program, and now he is getting help from an unexpected source. Coach Massoud Roushandel, one of the premier youth soccer coaches in America, has put together an Atlanta Fire United team that is made up of almost half Gamecocks and has taken them to the final four to play in the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas, on July 24 – 29.

Atlanta Fire United advanced to the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Championships when they defeated the Dallas Texans on Blake Brettschneider's penalty kick after two overtime sessions.

Brettschneider is one of four heralded incoming freshmen for USC. The others are Sam Arthur, Jimmy Maurer, and Evan O'dell. The fifth player with Gamecock ties is Jeff Scannella, who as a freshman at USC, was named a Freshman All-American, as well as being named to the first team of the Conference USA All-Rookie team and Conference Freshman of the Year.

Regarding that many players going to one school being together on one team, Roushandel said, "It's pretty unusual. Players that are on this high level of a team are recruited by so many different schools, you don't get that many of them going to the same school. I told Berson and (USC recruiting coordinator Bert) Molinary that the next time I come to Columbia, they owe me a big dinner. They're getting some gems. They are getting some excellent players that will help their program. There are more kids playing youth soccer today than any other sport, and by reaching this level, they are one of the top 75 players in the country. It's a big accomplishment. I have no doubt that every one of them will have very successful college careers, and every one of them has a lot of potential to go play professionally after that."

Berson restructured his staff at USC after the 2005 season, including promoting Molinary to recruiting coordinator, and it has paid major dividends, as Molinary has since brought in two of the best recruiting classes in USC history. Scannella was one of 10 highly recruited players that made up the 2006 recruiting class, and the other four players on the Atlanta Fire United club were part of the 2007 recruiting class.

The 2007 class just added a 12th member, Tyler Ruthven, who transferred from the University of San Francisco. He will have three years of eligibility remaining, and can play immediately. If the name Ruthven sounds familiar, Tyler's father Dick was a major league baseball pitcher. He was former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies. Ruthven is a Georgia native.

The Atlanta Fire United players have been developing chemistry as they have been playing together for several years, and close followers of the program said all five of the AFU players would be expected to start for USC this coming season.

Berson said, "It's a great plus for our program to have guys who are playing together in terms of getting to know each other and also playing at a higher level. When you get both of those things in concert, you have a great situation. Our players generally play in the summer, and we want them to play at a high level. Now when they have an opportunity to play for a national championship, that's a great opportunity and a great way to keep sharp and play for something very important during the summer. It's also a great precursor going into our season. It's something we're very proud of for these guys, and we're pleased for the University of South Carolina."

Berson said of the Atlanta five playing this year, "There's no question that they're all going to carry a lot of responsibility this year . We lost seven out of eleven starters off a team that did very well last year and were conference champions the year before. We certainly have some holes to fill, and we feel that these boys are going to come into our program and carry a lot of responsibility early."

South Carolina has benefited from the two in-state schools in Georgia not having a men's soccer program. Roushandel said a lot of great players are being produced in the state of Georgia, but they are all going to South Carolina, Clemson, Duke, UNC and other schools. Every one of the players on the team has a Division 1 scholarship.

Roushandel talked about each of the five players he is coaching that will be at USC, beginning with Jeff Scannella:

Jeff Scannella
"Jeff was the captain of the team prior to him leaving for South Carolina, and when he returned he was the co-captain. He's always been a leader for the team and a very integral part of the success of the team. He's a left-sided player, left-footed, plays the same position for us as he does for South Carolina. He's a wide-left, mid-field position. He's a leader, and he leads by example. He is one of the hardest working players that I've ever coached, and that's on and off the soccer field, game time and non-game time. He's an absolute soccer junkie. He's pretty much a perfectionist. He's always training, always watching his diet, always disciplined. He's a player that will have the capability of changing a game for you at any time. He's one of those kids you can't afford to take him off the field. In that final game, it was his seventh game in seven days, because the day before he flew out to Oklahoma, he was staying in Palm Beach, Florida, with the Atlanta Silverbacks PDL- (Premier Development League.) By that final (game), I think he was having blurred vision on the field and dehydrated, and he stuck it out, and not only played 120 minutes, if you count the two overtime periods, but he also hit the penalty kick during the game that tied the game, and he hit a penalty kick in the shoot-out, that ultimately put us in position to win it." Scannella was a three-time NSCAA Adidas All-American, and was a member of the US National Under-17 residency program.

Sam Arthur:

Sam Arthur
"Sam, along with Blake is one of the top strikers in the age group in the country, very strong. Very strong! Deceptively fast, he has an absolute bullet for a shot. (He's left-footed.) He scored the tying goal at the semi-final game on a free kick, 5 seconds before the end of the game, which sent us into penalty kick in that game, where we won on a penalty kick. He, like Jeff, is an unbelievable worker, on and off the soccer field. He's constantly training on his own, he has a personal trainer that he works with, he's constantly working on his fitness, he constantly stays after practice to work on his skills, one v. one skills, shooting skills. He's a very dangerous, prolific goal scorer. When you get to this level, the one thing that can set teams apart is having a natural goal scorer, and we've got two in Sam and Blake. Sam's very good up top. I think he'll have an excellent college career playing in that position." Arthur garnered National Soccer Coaches Association of America Adidas All-America honors in 2006.

Blake Brettschneider:

Blake Brettschneider
"Same thing, but he's a little bit different style. He may not be as strong as Sam but he's probably a little quicker in and around the box. He has really matured into a great striker. He's worked his way from day one on this team. He worked his way into not only a starting position, but into a situation where I can't take him off the field, because between him and Sam up front, I've got probably two of the best strikers in the country. He's quick. He's very technical. His right foot is a cannon. He's very good around the box. He drew the penalty kick in the game yesterday that tied us in overtime. We were down 2 - 1 in the first 15 minute overtime, and in the second 15 minute overtime - now you're talking about 110 minutes of soccer in 85 degree heat, six games in six days, Blake still had the energy and the will that he got a ball on top of the box and went towards the goal and took ‘em down in the box." Brettschneider was named the 2007 Georgia high school state player of the year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Jimmy Maurer:

Jimmy Maurer
"One of the best goalies in the age group. He's 6-3. He's been playing goal keeper for many years, and he's constantly getting goal keeper training. Very good in the air, very good shot blocker, punts the ball probably 60, 70 yards on the average. He saved two penalty kicks yesterday out of five. It didn't even have to go to five shooters yesterday. I think he saved number two and number four of theirs, and we hit number four and that was it. We beat them 4-2 in penalty kicks. He's almost always good at saving one or two of them when it goes to a shootout - and I'll take him in a penalty kick shootout over anybody - because most of the time a penalty kick goes 80 to 90 percent to the shooter and 10 percent to the goalie, and I think with him in goal it's 50-50 (chance) he‘ll save it. Very good organizer in the back. What you want out of your goal keeper aside from being a goal keeper is you need a leader back there that's gonna direct the defense, he's gonna organize the defense, and he's very good with that." Maurer was named to the US Youth Soccer All-American team in 2006, and was the Gatorade 2007 player of the year for Georgia.

Evan O'Dell:

Evan O'Dell
"Evan is a solid defender. Plays in one of the back three positions, usually he plays on the left side, even though he's right footed, he's able to play there because he's big, he's strong. He tackles really hard. He's hard to beat because of his physical presence. He's another player that's really come a long way with the team. He's a defender that is hard for me to take out of the game. Again, because of his physical presence, he's hard to beat, he's very good in the air, he's very strong, he tackles hard, he bodies up well. I think he's another one that can have a very good college career because the college game, for whatever reason, is somewhat slanted towards being very physical, and Evan fits the bill there. He's pretty strong." O'Dell was named one of Top Drawer Soccer's 100 Players to Watch in 2007.

Roushandel finished by saying, "The combination of Blake and Sam up top, Jimmy in goal, Jeff playing an attacking wide left position, and Evan in the back - these guys have played together for years, and now they're gonna be playing on the same college team. That's very rare to begin with, and I think that's gonna really help South Carolina."

Extra points: Roushandel almost added a 13th player to USC's 2007 recruiting class, his son Ryan. He wanted to transfer from Clemson, but Clemson wouldn't release him to South Carolina, so he ended up at Conference USA foe Central Florida.

USC just had another coaching staff change, when they exchanged one barrister for another. USC assistant coach Alex Maslow is leaving to go to law school in Charlotte. Mike Babst just received his law degree from Pittsburgh this year, and has been an assistant coach for the last three seasons at Duquesne University. A collegiate goalkeeper at Boston College (1996-99), Babst will train the South Carolina goalkeepers. "I am very excited to get to work with both Coach Berson and Coach Molinary as well as the players I have gotten to know through camps over the past two summers," Babst said. "It is an exciting time to be a part of South Carolina soccer."

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