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Wait 'til next season

Sam Arthur's junior season will probably end earlier than he wanted.

With a 0-4-1 slide in the past five matches, the USC men's soccer team will not make the Conference USA four-team tournament, which means USC must win Saturday's match at Memphis to be a longshot to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Arthur cited key injuries, illnesses and tough luck as factors that have worked against USC (7-7-3).

"In any of the conference games, it's going to be a battle. Everybody in the conference can play. A lot has to do with the way the ball bounces," Arthur said. "It seems like we had a tough spell where we couldn't get the breaks we needed. That turned out to be the difference in our close games."

Arthur's frustration in part has to do with the lack of scoring in those past five matches, when the Gamecocks have netted one goal. His last goal came in a 3-2 double overtime victory against SMU.

"Obviously my performance wasn't as good as I would have liked because if it was, we would have won more," he said.

That's the perfectionist in Arthur being tough on himself. Berson believes that is a part of what makes Arthur special.

"Sam is a very dedicated athlete. That's the thing that carries him through the rigorous demands of being a scorer," Berson said. "There are ups and downs. It's like in basketball, you have to want the ball."

Arthur's eight goals and two assists for 18 points have him tied for first in goals in C-USA and tied for second in points. Although his numbers are slightly down from last season, Berson knows why.

"He's a marked man. He's drawing a lot of defensive attention, and he's having to deal with that," Berson said.

The 6-foot-1, 181-pound forward has been an offensive dynamo since he first stepped on campus out of Roswell, Ga. As a freshman, he scored five goals and had two assists before an injury cut short his year after nine starts. Last season he led C-USA in goals with 12 and points with 27 while earning first-team all-conference honors.

"My job is to score goal and I take pride in it," he said. "There's no feeling in the world like it, especially when it's an important time of the game and your team is depending on you."

With a veteran team in place , Arthur hoped this season would be the Gamecocks' turn to make a splash on the national scene. Now, he is planning for his senior season.

"That's definitely going to be important to me," he said. "Next year I'm going to take on a bigger role as a leader."

Arthur plans to continue to improve. The past two summers he has played with a Premier Development League franchise in Atlanta, where he competes against top-level players.

He's prepared for life no matter what happens in his post-collegiate soccer career. As a student with a 3.8 GPA in finance and marketing, Berson calls Arthur's dedication in the classroom as impressive as it is on the field.

"Sam has done a great job," he said. "He has met his biggest challenges."

The only thing left for him here is a shot at the NCAA tournament.

"On a personal level, I feel I've had good success," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's all about the team."