Men's Soccer

Syracuse backline keeps No. 6 Clemson scoreless in upset

Nick Fiorelli | Staff Photographer

Syracuse's backline was crucial in securing a clean sheet against the Clemson.

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Buster Sjoberg was in a one-on-one battle with Clemson attacker Isaiah Reid down the right side of Syracuse’s half with less than five minutes to play. The Tigers looked to set up a cross that has beat the Orange in past late-game situations. Against Duke and Pitt, SU conceded a cross that led to the game-winning goal in the final minutes of regulation or overtime. These two losses were a part of four of Syracuse’s conference losses, where the Orange lost by a goal.

But Sjoberg stopped Reid and stole the ball away. The junior defender then got the ball to Amferny Sinclair, who sent a long pass down the field to Deandre Kerr. Kerr sped down the field and was all alone with one Clemson defender, making a cut to his left where he fired a shot past Tigers’ keeper George Marks, sealing the 2-0 shutout victory for the Orange on Saturday.

Sjoberg and the rest of the backline’s success in one-on-one battles was crucial in securing the clean sheet. In Syracuse’s (8-6-2, 2-4-1 Atlantic Coast) last two games against Clemson (10-4-0, 4-3-0 ACC) before this matchup, it gave up a combined 10 goals. The last time the two teams played at SU Soccer Stadium in 2019, the Orange conceded seven goals to the Tigers. Even though Clemson had four more shots on goal and Syracuse allowed seven more fouls, the Orange kept the Tigers scoreless with successful backline play.

Clemson, who was third in the conference in goals per game heading into tonight, started putting pressure on Sjoberg, Olu Oyegunle and Max Kent. Mohamed Seye was the first to take a shot in the game when he started an attack from the top of the box. He dribbled and cut to the right side of the box and the ball made it to Seye, who fired a shot toward the net. But Oyegunle was there immediately to block the shot.


Minutes later, Clemson drew back-to-back corner kicks where it had two close opportunities to score. Reid sent in the first attempt from the right side all the way across the box to teammate Ben Erkens. Erkens headed the ball on target, but Syracuse goalkeeper Russell Shealy poked it away to set up the ensuing corner. The second corner, this time from the left, again went across and Clemson’s Quinn McNeill got his head on the ball. It flew toward the bottom center of the net but Sjoberg defended it with his head, making the ball fly slightly up into the air where Shealy was able to grab it.

Sjoberg killed multiple Clemson attacks throughout the night with his head. Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre said his presence on the field against the Tigers was crucial.

“Buster provides us that kind of calmness on the ball that ensured that we kept playing,” McIntyre said.

While Sjoberg was successful on his headers and specific one-on-one matchups, Kent battled Seye all night. This was a point of emphasis for the team, according to Kent, as Seye, the Tigers’ third-leading scorer, had been a thorn in other teams’ sides before.

“We knew that we needed to get out,” Kent said. “Like when you look at how teams get broken down by him, it’s when they let him turn and face the goal and dribble and distribute.”

While Kent dominated the forward by keeping him away from the face of the net throughout the first half, Seye had him beat early in the second half. Seye’s second shot of the game came with 36 minutes left in the game. Teammate Ousmane Sylla sprinted with the ball down the center of Syracuse’s half, where he sent a quick pass to Seye. The junior had actually beaten Kent, but his shot from the left side of the box went wide right.

Kent was able to make up for this mistake, however, by stopping Seye and the Tigers in transition. With under a little over 14 minutes left to play, Clemson had a free kick from the right side of the Syracuse half. Even before the Tigers could take the free kick, Kent already had his right arm wrapped around Seye, touching his back. The two players were leaning on each other very aggressively. This was before Tiger midfielder Luis Felipe Fernandez-Salvador curled a kick to the left for Seye. But Kent’s aggressive defense kept Seye from even touching the ball, and Sjoberg was able to end the attack with a clearance.

Kent was crucial in stopping the Tigers’ transition as a few minutes later he stopped Clemson forwards from trying to advance an attack. But even when the Tigers were in the box and Kent wasn’t on Seye, the defender was crucial on multiple stops.

With 20 minutes remaining, Clemson had a great shot opportunity that was shut down by Kent. Erkens took the ball from midfield and progressed to Syracuse’s box where he dumped the ball down to Sylla. Sylla took the ball down near the bottom right corner of the box where he sent a cross in toward the middle. Sylla, however, was pressured by Oyegunle, and the cross went too far.

But Fernandez-Salvador made a desperate touch to the ball, quickly sending it to Reid, who now had space for a shot. Reid fired the ball and got some air on it with his right foot. Still, Kent was there to block the shot and force a throw-in for the Tigers. McIntyre said that Kent’s presence was important, especially on those close calls.

“I thought Max (Kent) was terrific, and he limited the chances,” McIntyre said. “We had a couple of kind of scary moments in front, and the guys put their bodies on. And you need that to get points in this league and against the caliber team.”

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