By Josh Hyber/Photos by Allen Sharpe
Columbia, S.C. — Having amassed 495 career wins over 41 seasons as a Division-1 men’s head soccer coach, it’s tough for Mark Berson to keep track of every record he sets. After all, he has the most career wins of any active coach.
So it wasn’t until after victory No. 495 — which came for the South Carolina head man on Friday night — that the coach became aware he had become the fourth all-time winningest coach in Division-1 men’s soccer history. Berson, whose career record now stands at 495-231-71, found out about the acheivement when Gamecocks’ communications and public relations coordinator Michael Debates told him so minutes after the game.
“That’s nice,” said the coach, who passed former UNC-Greensboro coach Michael Parker. “But the most important thing is it’s the first win of the season.”
On Friday night in front of a standing room only crowd at Stone Stadium, Berson and his team (1-0) earned a 2-1 season-opening victory over USC-Upstate (0-1) after going down 1-0 just a minute and 23 seconds into the match.
“To win the opening game is really important. It gives us something to build on,” Berson said. “I think there were a lot of highs and lows. Giving up a goal early is not a positive thing, but when you come back and show the ability to come back, that’s important. Those are all qualities we’re going to need later in the season.”
Forward Luca Mayr netted the game-winner on a 65th-minute penalty kick and assisted on a game-tying goal scored by Petter Soelberg in the 30th.
“Luca’s an explosive player. He clearly made some things happen for us out there,” Berson said. “With some of the other guys we have out right now, there’s a little more pressure on his shoulders … Clearly he provided a lot of spark.”
Stepping up to take the PK, the sophomore from Austria had one thought: It’s going to be a goal. He did just that by slotting a ball to the right of Spartans’ keeper Santiago Restrepo.
But Mayr — who was fourth on the team in points (9) and second on the team in shots on goal (18) last season — wasn’t alone.
Keeper William Pyle recorded three saves. Forward Ben Gilligan, a freshman from Aiken, came on and impressed the coach, as did sophomore forward Tucker Monheimer and redshirt-junior Chandler Corley.
The penalty kick opportunity was created by Mitchell Myers, another freshman from Aiken, who was taken down in the box.
Said Mayr, “We all did a great job (tonight).”
Though Berson said Friday afternoon his backline was ahead of his attack at this point of the season, the Gamecocks refuted that claim early in the match. Upstate took the early lead on a header from midfielder Cam Philpot. Defender Calon Minors picked up the assist on a corner kick from the southeast corner.
“That kind of shocked us, because we were really excited for the game,” Gamecocks’ keeper Will Pyle said. “It wasn’t a good thing, but it kind of got us back to what we needed to focus on. As you saw in the second half, we rebounded and came back.”
And the visitors kept the pressure, with back-to-back corners coming about 10 minutes later. This time, though, the attempts were to no avail.
Then Soelberg evened the score on a tap in goal. Mayr, flanked to the left, centered a pass to freshman midfielder Justin Sukow, who then slid a pass back across to Soelberg. The freshman midfielder from Sweden tapped in his first-career goal.
In the end, it was bound to be Berson’s night.
“Coach has been here for a lot of years,” Mayr said. “He has a lot of experience and does a great job.”
But not only did the coach not know about his record, neither did his players.
“He probably didn’t tell us that for a reason,” Pyle said. “But I’m sure we’ll celebrate tomorrow.”
Said the coach, “Overall I was pleased with the result. The performance we have to improve upon. But when you get the result, that’s a good thing. It gives us a lot to build on.”