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November 2, 2012

Soccer: Look back, look ahead



There's no sugar-coating South Carolina's men's socccer campaign - it will go on record as the worst in coach Mark Berson's 35-year career.

Sitting on a 4-11-2 record after last week's 3-1 loss at No. 13 Wake Forest, the Gamecocks have lost six straight matches and are 1-8-1 in their last 10. USC has not won back-to-back games all season and will not be invited to the Conference USA tournament, which it won two years ago, or make the NCAA tournament, which it did in both 2010 and 2011, when the Gamecocks overcame a 1-4-1 start to go 6-1-1 in league play and share the C-USA regular-season championship.

This year will mark just the fourth losing season in Berson's 35-year career (other losing seasons were 1983, 1996 and 2009) and second in four years.

In the six-game losing streak, five were one-goal matches, meaning the Gamecocks were close. In many of those matches, USC had leads, sometimes by multiple goals. But failing to close out games time and again and missing chances on offense to extend leads became the bugaboo of the season, and playing in Winston-Salem against No. 13 Wake Forest was no exception.

Again the Gamecocks took a lead, going ahead 1-0 in the 26th minute on an unassisted goal by senior Mike Mangotic, but the lead only held for six minutes as Wake struck back on a pair of goals off corner kicks to tie and take the lead. For the game, the Demon Deacons out-shot the Gamecocks 21-12 and took 12 corner kicks to USC's two. In goal for USC, making his third start of the year, was redshirt freshman Robert Beebe, who has performed well thus far and held No. 9 Coastal Carolina scoreless through the only half he played on Oct. 24.

The Gamecocks close out the season Sunday on the road against a Kentucky team that has won four of its last five, is tied for second in C-USA and boasts the league's best RPI, at No. 14.

The match will be televised on SportSouth and is set for 1 p.m. The Wildcats (9-7-1, 4-2-1 C-USA) are coming off a 1-0 loss on Wednesday to UCF, but the game before took down No. 23 Tulsa 2-0 on the road. Offensively, Kentucky is paced by leading scorer Tyler Riggs, a junior who has seven goals and four assists on the year. Behind him is senior Charley Pettys with six goals and three assists.

The Wildcats' RPI has been bolstered by a school-record eight games against Top-25 opponents. In those contests, Kentucky is 3-5 - tying a school record - with wins over No. 18 Louisville, No. 25 UAB and No. 23 Tulsa.

CONFERENCE USA STANDINGS
SMU 6-1-0 (10-3-3)
Kentucky 4-2-1 (9-7-1)
Tulsa 4-2-1 (10-5-1)
UAB 4-4-0 (9-5-2)
UCF 4-3-0 (6-6-3)
Memphis 3-2-2 (6-6-3)
Marshall 3-4-0 (11-4-1)
USC 1-5-1 (4-11-2)
FIU 0-6-1 (8-7-2)



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