Gamecocks Men’s Soccer Coach Tony Annan inherited a program that needed a complete overhaul. Similar to the program Shane Beamer took over, Annan had and still has an uphill battle.
The Gamecocks posted a 1-5 record versus in-state schools with the sole win coming against Winthrop. Losses to Clemson, The College of Charleston, USC Upstate, Coastal Carolina, and PC look bad on the team.
However, these games came early in the season while the team was adjusting to life under Annan. For Annan to have success at Carolina he’ll need to regain control of the state and come out of these games with a winning record.
In Conference USA, the Gamecocks finished 1-5-2, finishing 7th in the conference. While this isn’t appealing on paper, Mark Berson in his last 5 seasons at the helm averaged a 7th place finish.
This just goes to show that Annan didn’t take a step back in his first year according to the results.
All together the Gamecocks in their first season under Annan finished with a 5-9-2 record, finishing in the bottom third of C-USA while also missing out of the C-USA Tournament.
However, the Gamecocks were being judged by more than just wins and losses this season.
Now after reading that you may ask yourself, “How would you consider that season a success?”
Well, et’s get into it.
The Berson Legacy
Disclaimer: I appreciate everything Mark Berson has done for this university over his 43 seasons as a coach to this program. Berson holds the third most wins by any coach in Division 1, and led the Gamecocks to 35 winning seasons out of 43 coached.
However, Berson should’ve stepped down at least three seasons ago. Berson has brought this program success over his tenure, but started to drop his quality over the last 5 seasons.
I only mention this to point out that this program had dug itself a deeper hole because of the nostalgia that came along with Berson. His recruiting went downhill, he played an out of date style of play, and he just demanded less of his athletes over the last few seasons.
Let’s face it, Annan has a massive job ahead of him. This year was all about implementing his own culture, his own style, and finding his own players.
The Gamecocks had 11 players enter the transfer portal after this past season, shedding light that Berson may not have brought in athletes who are able to handle the training and culture Annan brings with him.
Annan brings experience at the youth level, pumping kids into the pro and collegiate level. Building up the Atlanta United Academy from the ground up is impressive, but to have success early and win silverware is something to take note of.
For the Gamecocks, this means there is a new style of play coming to Columbia. Annan has brought a modern approach to the game which requires players with a higher technical ability, something he won’t inherit from Berson.
The vision Annan hopes to bring is a possession-based team that can press high and win the ball back quickly.
Annan will be able to find recruits that can fit his style of play and that want to come in and work. The change of culture will require the highest level of expectation in training to be able to implement his ideology.
He often referred in his post-game pressers that the team always kept fighting and adjusting to the new style of play. When he can bring in players willing to learn and compete, results will follow.
A Fresh Squad
As mentioned previously, Annan will lose 11 players to the transfer portal, as well as a handful of seniors. However, soccer is similar to basketball in that new players can make an instant impact.
Next season Annan will have plenty of new faces in the squad. More than 50% of Annan’s squad next season will be new faces, a mix between transfers and freshman.
Annan being able to bring in his own players allows him to set up his team how he wants. He’s mentioned previously that he looks at this as a two-year rebuild, meaning this upcoming squad has players he can work with.
Technically advanced players allow Annan to focus on his tactics and implementation, rather than focusing on improving players in training.
Annan will need to find a goal scorer this upcoming season as the Gamecocks often couldn’t capitalize on the chances they created. There were plenty of games the Gamecocks controlled but couldn’t put teams away when they had the opportunity, leaving the door open to drop games as they did.
Look forward to new faces as well as more international talent. Annan having contacts in Europe as well as through Atlanta United may mean we see more representation outside of the United States.
Results alone don’t show the upside Annan brings to Columbia. He’ll be the first to admit the Gamecocks didn’t win enough games in 2021, however there were bright spots throughout the season.
The style of play is exciting to watch and it’s something these fans have been deprived of over the past few seasons.
The Gamecocks will look to extend their control for longer periods in games which will bring more wins into the program. In Annan’s first offseason he’ll be able to have an extended period of time with the players and build on the progress he’s already made, but right now there is something exciting brewing on the pitch in Columbia.
In due time we’ll see the Gamecocks stock rise and be competitive within the conference as well as providing an exciting product on the field.