USC falls short against No. 2 ranked Mustangs

The USC men's soccer team was downed 2-1 in a valiant effort against the nation's No. 2 ranked SMU Mustangs in a Conference USA match up Wednesday night. South Carolina Head Coach Mark Berson was bidding for his 400th win with the Gamecocks and his 411th career win, and his young Gamecocks fought to the bitter end against the more experienced Mustangs before eventually falling just short.

After a scoreless first half that featured sloppy conditions and lots of action on goal but no scoring, SMU drew first blood early in the second half. The Mustangs would later score to go up 2-0, before the Gamecocks added a late goal to come within one point.

"SMU is a very good team, they are the benchmark in the league right now," said Berson following his team's narrow loss. "I thought our guys did very well in stretches, but SMU, to their credit, took the game over and we chased the game for a pretty big segment of the game."

The story of the first half was defense, as the Gamecocks showed no signs of being intimidated against the highly ranked Mustangs. In front of 877 fans in attendance at a rain-soaked Stone Stadium, the Gamecocks found themselves on their heels defending their goal as SMU spent much of the first half on the offensive and outshot the Gamecocks 10-2. The Mustangs were great in transition and were able to turn things back around quickly when South Carolina did get their opportunities in SMU territory. Despite being on the defensive for most of the half, USC had to feel pretty good about their first half play as the young Gamecocks went toe-to-toe with the more experienced Mustangs and the half ended with the score still even at zero.

A key reason South Carolina was able to hold SMU scoreless was an outstanding effort from USC goal keeper Jimmy Maurer, who had three saves in the first half. Maurer entered the contest with a goals-against average of 0.92 and four shutouts to his credit, both good for tops in the conference.

SMU did not waste time getting on board in the second half as they struck first with an unassisted goal from junior midfielder Richard Oliva in the 48th minute of the match. The Gamecocks then fiercely battled in an effort to tie the match, but after a scoreless 30 minutes in which USC could not take advantage of opportunities, SMU went up 2-0 on a Bruno Guarda goal assisted by Daniel Lopez for what looked to be the nail in the coffin for South Carolina. Guardo was a pre-season first-team All-America choice by and the goal, which came in the 81st minute, marked the 13th of his career. To the scrappy Gamecocks' credit, they showed no signs of quitting and answered back, scoring on a Jeff Scannella penalty kick in the 89th minute. The goal was the sophomore midfielder's fourth in as many games. After pulling within one, the Gamecocks fell short in their comeback bid.

While the Gamecocks were not happy with the loss, Berson did appreciate his team's effort.

"We showed some character at the end coming back and getting a goal, and we just want to take the experience from this and learn and get better and be ready to go on Saturday night against Marshall."

The difference in the game may have been the experience of the Mustangs over the youthful Gamecocks. While nine of the South Carolina starters were freshmen or sophomores, SMU started only two underclassmen. Although experience cannot be taught, Berson would not let the lack of it become an excuse for his team.

"In a couple of years we'll be in that situation (starting mostly upperclassmen), but we don't want to be there in a couple of years, we want to be there in a couple of weeks. That's the attitude our guys have, and that's the attitude they need to have."

With the loss, South Carolina falls to 8-5-1, 2-2-1 in Conference USA, while SMU improves to 10-2-2, 5-0-1 in Conference USA.

The Gamecocks will return to action on Saturday at 5 p.m. when they take on Marshall at Stone Stadium.


- Coach Berson was honored for his 30 years at USC during a half time ceremony in which he was presented a jersey by USC Athletic Director Eric Hyman, former USC football coach Jim Carlen, who originally hired Berson, and former South Carolina All-American Forward Marty Baltzegar. Berson is the only person to ever coach the USC men's soccer team and said the ceremony was very "touching" and "gratifying."

- With the loss South Carolina dropped to 3-5-1 all-time against SMU. They last defeated the Mustangs in 2005, 3-0.

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