CONWAY — The gaudy goal totals are what turn heads and clue casual observers on to what kind of force the Coastal Carolina men’s soccer team has become, but it’s the Chanticleers’ well-rounded team play that has the program in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and climbing the national rankings.
Take Wednesday night, for instance.
The Chants and their high-powered offensive attack – which entered the day ranked first out of 201 Division I teams in goals scored – didn’t find the back of the net until the 60th minute against a middling Winthrop team. But that was enough as the Coastal defense held the Eagles to just five shots and needed sophomore goalkeeper Federico Bertele to make only one save on the way to a 1-0 win and another step forward in this impressive winning streak.
“I was pleased we kept a clean sheet tonight,” CCU head coach Shaun Docking said. “That’s a very good Winthrop team. They’re very dangerous, they’re very capable of getting goals – which they showed tonight. So I’m pleased as a unit how hard we worked defensively. That was the most pleasing thing to me. I think we could have probably finished our chances better tonight, but 1-0 is as good as a 3-0 win, so we’re pleased.”
It wasn’t the Chants’ most dominating performance, but it was yet another victory for a team whose only loss came 1-0 in the second game of the season against a ranked UNC Charlotte squad. Coastal is 12-1-2 (7-0 Big South) and ranked as high as No. 10 nationally this week by Top Drawer Soccer while checking in at No. 11 (Soccer America), No. 12 (NSCAA and Soccer Times) and No. 16 (College Soccer News) in the other major collegiate soccer polls.
It’s the attitude Docking sees behind the scenes that pleases him most, though.
“They still are motivated on getting better, and they’re not happy with how they’re playing right now,” he said. “They still think they can get a lot better, so it’s a really good position to be in when you’ve got players and you’ve got seniors and captains with that level of motivation.”
Sophomore defender Uchenna Uzo scored the lone goal on a header off a corner kick by junior Justin Portillo. It was Uzo’s third goal of the season, and on this night, that was all the Chants needed.
But few teams have been able to keep the Coastal offense in check this fall. The Chants were coming off an 8-0 win at VMI and had scored multiple goals in each of their previous 10 games. For the season, they’ve scored an NCAA-best 39 times and entered the night ranked third in goals per game (2.71)
Senior Ashton Bennett, who led all Division I players with 23 goals last season, entered the night ranked fourth nationally with 11 goals and ninth with 0.79 goals per game.
After finishing 18-4 last season to reach the second round of the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 2003, the Chants have four regular-season games left and their sights set on a deeper postseason push this time.
“This year we’re trying to go further than we did last year,” Bennett said. “We’re trying to beat last year’s record, to be honest. I feel like that’s a motivation for the team right now. Every day we come out we say whatever happened last year has already happened – that’s the past – so we’re trying to go further this year.”
Bennett added to list
As for Bennett, the Chants’ standout was named one of 10 men’s soccer finalists for the 2012 Senior CLASS Award for student-athletes who excel both on and off the field.
The winner will be selected by a combination of media, coaches and fan votes, which can be made online at www.seniorCLASSaward.com. The results of the voting will be announced during the College Cup championships Dec. 7-9 in Hoover, Ala.
“It’s a great accomplishment to be noticed not just on the field but off the field as well,” Bennett said. “That’s a great accomplishment. My family, I told them about it and they’re really happy for me.”
Coastal senior Sebastian Soderberg logged his third top-10 finish in as many tries so far during the fall season with a tie for eighth at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate, which wrapped up Sunday in Jonesborough, Tenn.
He also has third and fifth-place finishes so far and looks primed for a big final collegiate season with a 71.33 scoring average through the Chants’ first three fall events while shooting par or better in six of his nine rounds. He finished 3-under over the weekend.
As a team, Coastal finished sixth out of 13 schools in the tournament.
On the schedule
The men’s soccer team goes on the road Saturday at Gardner-Webb and then goes out of conference Wednesday to play at South Carolina. ... Coastal’s women’s soccer team is home Thursday against Campbell and Saturday against High Point before closing the regular season Tuesday at Charleston Southern. ... The volleyball team plays at Gardner-Webb on Friday and at UNC Asheville on Saturday. ... And the CCU men’s tennis team is wrapping up its fall competition in Cary, N.C., at the ITA Fall Outdoor Regional, which runs through Monday.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.