2006 Men's Soccer Season in Review
Dec. 6, 2006
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The 2006 University of Memphis men's soccer campaign was a tale of two seasons. The Tigers roared to an 8-2-0 start, the second best start through 10 games in school history, and climbed as high as No. 15 in the national polls. However, Memphis struggled to a 3-5-0 conference record and battled nagging injuries to key players as they limped to 10-8-0 record and a first-round loss in the Conference USA Tournament.
"The start we got off to and finding ourselves ranked among the top 20 for the third season in a row was very encouraging," head coach Richie Grant said. "We continued to show that we compete well in the non-conference portion as well as in the region. So in general we were pleased to get to 10 wins and to see our program continuing to move toward where we want it to be. However, in the end, we realize that we still have a lot of work to do because we want to continue to climb the ranks of Conference USA."
The Tigers proved their mettle in the season's opening weekend thanks to consecutive come-from-behind overtime road wins. Memphis trailed former C-USA rival Louisville 3-0 early in the second half of the 2006 opener, but a goal from Kevin Walsh and a pair of strikes from Jared Britcher in 1:27 forced the match into overtime where Jamie Gilbert headed in a free kick to give the Tigers a 4-3 win. The Tigers rallied two days later to defeat Belmont 2-1 in overtime, winning their first two road games of the season
"The match against Louisville helped create the foundation for the rest of the season and gave us some early momentum," Grant said. "Even when things got tough, our lads could look back at that and know they had still had a chance. As a result, they always worked hard and never quit in a game."
Memphis would need to draw on that experience as they prepared for a schedule that included match-ups against four top-15 teams (No. 1 SMU, No. 5 Clemson, No. 12 South Carolina and No. 14 Kentucky), a 2005 Elite Eight squad (Creighton), and 2006 NCAA Tournament qualifier UAB.
The Tigers suffered a hard fought 2-0 loss to No. 5 Clemson before rebounding to win their next five games and improve to 7-1-0. Wins at Air Force and Denver gave the Tigers four consecutive road wins for just the second time in school history and the No. 15 ranking in the nation, the programs third consecutive year cracking the top 25.
Despite a loss at No. 12 South Carolina in the C-USA opener, Memphis came back to win its first conference home game of the season against Tulsa to improve to 8-2-0 in the first ten games and record the best start by a Tiger team since the 1993 squad went 8-1-1 in its first 10 matches.
However, as nagging injuries piled up and the competitive C-USA schedule went into high gear, the Tigers failed to keep up their torrid pace. Sophomore defender Michael Coburn sat out the season after breaking an ankle in the preseason. Britcher and sophomore defender Robert Sausaman missed matches due to illness. Sophomore midfielder Shaun Goulding battled knee and foot injuries all season, and sophomore midfielder Tripp Harkins suffered a broken nose and blown orbital while scoring the game-winning goal against Tulsa.
At less than full strength, the Tigers picked up critical conference losses against UCF, Florida International, No. 14 Kentucky and No. 1 SMU. But, thanks to wins over UAB and Marshall, the Tigers clinched a spot in the conference tournament where the season concluded with a loss to Kentucky in the first round.
Memphis proved its toughness to the national soccer community and postseason honors began rolling in as validation of the Tigers' 2006 season. Britcher and Sausaman were named to the C-USA All-Academic Team and the CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District first team. Meanwhile Walsh and Gilbert were honored with NSCAA/Adidas All-Midwest second team honors.
With just one member of the 2006 squad graduating, the Tigers will have an experienced and cohesive team heading into 2007, which gives hope to the Memphis coaching staff as they look to continue building the program.
"We had some really good games. We played hard against some of the best teams of the country and we showed that we are still moving in the right direction," Grant said. "However, we have to be careful and realize that all we've done is created a strong foundation. There is no room for complacency going into the offseason. We need to continue to work to get where we want to be, and that's at the top of the conference."
Junior midfielder Kevin Walsh led the Tiger offense all season, particularly in the month of September, where he recorded a goal or an assist in every match he played. Walsh went on to record a goal or an assist in eight of his first nine matches and 10 of 16 throughout the season.
He finished the season as the team leader in goals (10), assists (7), points (27), shots (53) and shots on goal (28). Walsh also placed himself among the national leaders in points per game (16th, 1.69) and goals per game (22nd, 0.63) while leading the nation's 23rd best scoring offense (1.89 goals per game).
One and Done
The Tigers will graduate just one senior in 2006, but it still won't be easy to replace a defender like Jamie Gilbert. Gilbert played at Vanderbilt for three years, but joined the Tigers after the Commodores dropped their men's soccer program following the 2005 season. Gilbert led Memphis defenders with three goals, including two game winners.
Gilbert served as team captain in his only year with the squad and provided much-needed leadership for a starting defensive crew that included two freshmen (goalkeeper Michael Goodlett and defender Rick Alleman) and two sophomores (defenders Thomas Hyland and Robert Sausaman).
Even facing the graduation of Jamie Gilbert, the Tigers' hopes remain high for 2007, thanks in part to a strong corps of freshmen who saw extensive time in 2006. Goalkeeper Michael Goodlett made 12 starts and made 42 saves to post a 1.42 goals against average. Forward Brian Farrell started every match and finished tied for third on the team with four goals. Defender Rick Alleman stepped in for injured junior Michael Coburn and started all 18 games, and midfielder Wade Wonderlin picked up three assists and two starts in 17 games as one of the first subs off the bench.
Once again, the Tigers saw numerous contributions from their celtic players in 2006. Kevin Walsh, a native of Shrule, Ireland, finished among the national leaders in points per game (16th, 1.69) and goals per game (22nd, 0.63). Sophomore midfielder Shaun Goulding, a native of Arbroath, Scotland, finished third on the team in goals (4) and points (11). Brian Farrell, a Dunboyne, Ireland native, tied Goulding for third on the team in goals (4) and finished tied for fourth in points (10), and Dublin native Thomas Hyland started all 18 games and helped lead the Tigers to three shutouts.
With wins at Louisville, Belmont, Air Force and Denver, the Tigers picked up victories in four consecutive road games, tying a school record last set during the conference championship campaign of 2004 when the Tigers finished the regular season with wins at East Carolina and Lipscomb, then picked victories over UAB and South Carolina at the C-USA Tournament in Louisville.
Always Be Closing
The U of M proved to be a dangerous squad when striking first. The Tigers won eight of nine matches in 2006 in which they scored the first goal of the game. Memphis was able to capitalize on early leads against Cal State Fullerton, UMKC, Central Arkansas, Air Force, Denver, Tulsa, UAB, and Marshall. The Tigers' only loss in such a game came in the first round of the C-USA Tournament where they relinquished a 1-0 to Kentucky.
The Tigers' high-powered offense recorded two hat tricks in 2006. Tripp Harkins picked up the first one of the year in the Tigers'6-2 win over UMKC. Kevin Walsh matched the feat in the season's final home game by providing all the offense in a 3-0 win over Marshall. Prior to this season, the program had not had a player score three times in a game since Andy Metcalf picked up a hat trick against Lipscomb in 2004.
The 2006 season was a record-setting year at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex. The Tigers drew 3,746 fans to the home park, beating the previous mark of 3,066 set in 2003. The team also set a new single-game attendance mark by drawing 923 fans on Sept. 1 for a Friday night game vs. Clemson. On Oct. 21 the team recorded 823 fans for a Saturday afternoon game vs. SMU. Both marks surpassed the previous single-game attendance record of 739 set on Sept. 13, 2005 when the Tigers hosted Alabama A&M.