The New Kids In Town
Oct. 23, 2008
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Memphis soccer squad came into the season with seven returning starters from a team that went 10-5-4 in 2007. Going into the season it didn't look too promising for extensive playing time for the 13 newcomers that joined the Tigers this season. Five of those newcomers to the Blue and Gray have found their way into the lineup for the 2008 season with their hard work and various abilities they bring to the fold when they hit the pitch. Parker Duncan, Cody McCoy, Rory O'Connor, Thomas Shannon and Mark Weldon all have earned starting experience for Richie Grant's Tiger squad.
Shannon made his impact evident from day one, or more specifically, day two. In the Tigers' second game of the season, the freshman from Broken Arrow, Okla., took two Jason Brooks corner kicks and converted them into goals for the Memphis Tigers. The day made for quite the birthday present for the 18-year-old midfielder.
"It was great," Shannon added. "We worked on everything in training and executed it well. It definitely meant a lot to me and it was on my birthday too. It was the first game for my family to watch me play college soccer."
Following the Oral Roberts victory, Memphis went on a skid where they lost five straight matches before defeating Missouri State at home on Sept. 24. Memphis has turned things around as of late, going 3-1-1 in their past five games including upending No. 15 SMU on national television at Mike Rose Soccer Complex on Oct. 5. The victory was the U of M's first win over a ranked opponent since they defeated Oral Roberts in 2005, when they were ranked No. 23 in the nation. Memphis has gone 2-1-1 since the SMU game.
"We got one win against SMU and the confidence just started coming," Shannon said. "We just found out we can play with everyone. It really turned our team around from going `maybe we can win this one' to `lets just go win this game.' This is the peak of our season, you don't want to peak at the beginning. Right now is when it really counts. I think we have a really good chance to do some damage in the tournament."
Duncan added his two-cents into the ring as to why the Tigers have had a recent turnaround.
"It pretty much took everyone realizing what it takes. Everyone was looking to each other for answers at the beginning. Nobody knew what was going wrong. Everybody came together and just started working hard."
Duncan has had no small part in helping the turnaround for the Memphis Tigers. The native of Johnson City, Tenn., has connected on three goals in the past three games for the U of M.
"It all started with the SMU game," Duncan said. "I just think, as a whole team, we just came together that game. It took the rest of my teammates knowing my tendencies and me getting used to theirs. Now it is all starting to click for all of us. I credit my teammates for those goals. If it wasn't their pressure on the ball on my first goal or (Ryan) Ruble's shot on my second goal or the third goal I had a great cross. We are just all doing our jobs. My job is to pressure the defense and get goals and that is what I am supposed to do. The only reason it happens is because of what everyone else is doing."
Now, 14 games into the season, the newcomers have begun to envelop themselves into Tiger soccer program and have grown into their roles on the field and have started to develop relationships and have earned the trust of the older Memphis players.
"I think you can see in the way we are playing that everyone is helping everyone else out," said McCoy. "It was there, it has been getting better each game we play. I think it is a big part of the success we are having now. We are playing as a team. In the South Carolina game, we all wanted to win together. That helped us beat them."
Duncan added to McCoy's remarks
"It is a team thing," Duncan said. "It comes down to every single person winning all of their 50-50 battles. It is not just one person making this team work. It is everybody.
The transition to Memphis for McCoy was made a little easier because of a familiar face.
"It has been fun rooming with Parker (Duncan)," McCoy said. "I think having someone like that has kept me from being lonely at times and missing my family because I have him to talk to."
Duncan and McCoy have known each other for quite awhile. They both competed for the Knoxville Football Club and are both from East Tennessee, with Duncan being a native of Johnson City and McCoy being from Knoxville.
"We have been really good friends for awhile and we played club ball together," Duncan said. "I have known him forever. I love him and his family. We have been having a good time."
When McCoy originally came to Memphis he wasn't exactly expecting to come right in and earn starting experience. He really started impacting the Tigers at the Smith Barney/Nike Soccer Classic in Burlington, Vt.
"That is pretty much when I realized that I could play with these guys and I would be able to help the team," McCoy added. "After the Vermont Tournament I realized that if I just work hard and fight for every ball I could help out the team.
Being a center midfielder, McCoy's impact doesn't always appear in the box score following the game. But he doesn't mind not showing up on the stat sheet.
"I don't mind not showing up on the stat sheet," McCoy said. "It doesn't bother me. Just as long as I am helping the team win. I just want to do anything I can do to help us win."
Along with 10 freshman, the U of M also added three transfers to the squad in 2008 including O'Connor and Weldon.
Weldon, a junior from Spring, Texas, was originally going to sign with Memphis in 2006 out of Klein High School, but decided to take his talents to Boone, N.C., and play soccer for the Appalachian State Mountaineers. As a sophomore at Appalachian State, he started 12 of 19 contests and scored a goal against Western Illinois in the Appalachian Classic.
Weldon decided to transfer from Appalachian State after his sophomore year. When deciding on schools to transfer to, Memphis came to the forefront.
"When I decided to leave Appalachian State this is one of the first places I looked at," Weldon said. "I just wanted to come to a school that played in a little better conference and had more of a professional atmosphere than what I was used to at Appalachian State."
Weldon joined former Klein High School teammate and classmate Rick Alleman when he decided to join the U of M soccer program. Another former Bearkat joined Weldon in the 2008 recruiting class. Cody Gibson, a backup goalie for the Tigers, was rated as the No. 1 goalkeeper in the Greater Houston Area in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
"Our high school team pretty much decided to play soccer here," Weldon said jokingly.
Weldon has started six games for the Tigers this year at center back.
"A lot of times it is a 1v1 situation. So I just try to take the other team's forward and outside midfielder out of the game and try to get the ball up the field and join in the attack," Weldon said.
Richie Grant and his staff also added Dublin, Ireland native Rory O'Connor. O'Connor, a transfer from Lambuth University, a NAIA-affiliated school in Jackson, Tenn., became the fourth member of the team that is a product of the Colaiste Ide prep program in Dublin when he joined the Tigers this fall. He joins senior fullbacks Michael Coburn and Thomas Hyland and junior forward Brian Farrell as products of Colaiste Ide to make the trek to Memphis.
"I knew Brian (Farrell). Brian and I have been playing against each other since we were young kids," O'Connor said. "I kind of knew Scoby and Hylo from kind of hearing about them at Colaiste Ide and than I met them when I came here on a trip to visit Memphis. The staff really welcomes the Irish lads and makes us feel at home."
O'Connor originally intended on coming to the U of M as a freshman, but things didn't work out the way that he had planned.
""I was talking to Coach Grant while I was at Colaiste Ide and once it came back from the clearinghouse that I wasn't going to be able to come to Memphis, he kind of put me down at Lambuth for a year," O'Connor stated."
While at Lambuth for just one season, O'Connor earned First Team Tran-South conference defender and helped lead the Eagles to the 2007 Tran-South conference title.
Now at Memphis, O'Connor has stepped up wherever the Tigers have needed them on defense. He has spent time at both the fullback and center back positions for the U of M, taking over for senior captain Michael Coburn at fullback when he was moved to center midfielder to up the attack against No. 15 SMU.
"I feel a lot more comfortable at center back," O'Connor said. "I like it, but I don't mind playing at fullback. I am willing to play wherever the coaches need me to play to help the team."
It seemed a daunting task for O'Connor to break into the Tiger lineup with all four starting defenders returning from a team that posted a 2007 C-USA low goals against average of 0.89.
"I knew coming here that the lads last year had set a record for lowest goals against average," O'Connor stated. "They all returned. I knew coming is as a defender that it would be tough to make it into the lineup."
The native of the land of Eire has enjoyed his short time spent at Memphis so far and his looking forward to the next two-plus years playing in the Bluff City.
"I knew Memphis was going to be a good team this year, even when I was at Lambuth last year, Memphis was a solid team," O'Connor said. I was happy to come in and play right away and I have found it to be a good step up for me. The training and the coaching is very good. It is a good level to be at. I am just happy to be involved in at the moment. I think we are going to accomplish some good things here."
Memphis has four regular-season games remaining on their schedule including three C-USA matches and one non-conference tilt at Central Arkansas.
Shannon, a product of the Tulsa-metro area, is looking forward to Memphis' second match-up with a Tulsa area opponent. The Tigers will take on the No. 11 Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Sunday in their second game to be televised by CBS College Sports. Tulsa is 5-0-0 in Conference USA and currently sit along at the top of the conference standings.
"Tulsa is going to be a huge game for our program," Shannon said. "It won't only be huge for me, but will be huge for the whole team. They are first in the league and we are right behind them. It will be a six point swing if we win the game."
Memphis' 13 newcomers are set to leave their footprint on the Memphis program for years to come. They might not have been expecting to play quite the role they have stepped into, but the Tigers wouldn't be where they were without them. Look for the new and old to come together for the rest of the season and give Memphis a chance to move the soccer program forward and to continue to strive for new heights.