South Carolina men’s soccer coach Mark Berson zeroed in on a particular word to describe what Stone Stadium will be for a college soccer fan Thursday.
“Utopia,” Berson said. “It’s perfect. It’s exciting. It’s wonderful that our women’s team is doing so well, and it’s great to bring teams in from all parts of the country.”
The Gamecocks will open their NCAA Tournament run with a 1 p.m. match against Mercer. That will be followed by a pair of women’s games, BYU-Oklahoma at 4 p.m., and South Carolina-Colorado at 7 p.m.
The position the Gamecock men are in isn’t lost on them.
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“There’s only 48 teams,” Berson said. “Everybody is fighting and scratching and clawing to get into the next round.”
His squad will face a Bears team it already knows. Mercer beat South Carolina (10-7-1) in penalty kicks in late August. Berson said Mercer boasts a big, strong group, one he expects won’t change much from the first meeting.
USC stumbled late, losing four of its past six matches, including the opening round of the Conference USA tournament.
Just making the NCAA tourney was a step for a program that had missed it three years in a row before going last year. Much of that progress is owed to a group of older players.
“This senior class has really done a wonderful job in terms of our leadership,” Berson said. “They brought us through the second round last year of the NCAA Tournament. I think it was really important that we were back in the tournament this year.
“They, probably as well as anyone, know that doesn’t really mean anything at this point. Now it’s what we do from here.”
Who: Mercer at South Carolina
When: 1 p.m., Thursday
Where: Stone Stadium