Jon Ander has played a big role in helping the Myrtle Beach Mutiny to their best regular-season record since the club’s inception in 2011.
He’s also played a large part in the Mutiny’s postseason run.
Finishing with a hat trick Saturday, Ander increased his number of team-high goals to 16 and helped lead Myrtle Beach to a 3-1 victory over FC Wichita to advance to the South Atlantic conference finals of the National Premier Soccer League’s playoffs.
“Jon Ander – one of the best strikers in this country at this level – is a natural talent,” Mutiny coach Tom Morris said. “He’s one of those special players where you might not notice him for five or 10 minutes but you get the ball at his feet – it doesn’t matter how many defenders he has on him – something is going to happen. Everything he touched [Saturday] turned to gold and those goals were superb. He’s in a different class.”
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The Mutiny are proving to be in a different class as well.
Finishing the regular season with an 11-1-1 record, Myrtle Beach has shattered its expectations for this season, and Morris said the squad’s success has been a product of hard work and unity from the beginning.
“What it’s generally been about is it’s been a collection of guys – we’ve got 28 guys – and from Day 1 they have come together like no other team I’ve worked with before,” Morris said. “They are genuine friends on and off the field, they hang out together, they care for each other and that’s what happens; if your mate gets beaten, his mate is going to be there to help him out. It’s really been the togetherness and the family environment that these boys have created off the field and we’ve worked hard to create that. We identified that this season for us to be successful, we needed to create a team with chemistry very, very quickly and that’s ultimately how we’ve found success.”
Ander has also prospered as he recorded 13 goals in 13 regular-season games. And with his hat trick Saturday, Ander increased his number of consecutive games with at least one goal to 11.
“By working hard you will achieve great things but you need to do it every day. [Saturday’s performance was] just a result of an incredible season and incredible work,” said Ander, who is a native of Bilboa, Spain. “But I don’t score without my team, though. My teammates have been superb and I’m succeeding and we’re succeeding. All of the hard work is paying off.”
Ander even joked that he could be finding the net more often.
“It’s nice to have scored in about every single game; I know I probably should’ve scored more,” he said with a chuckle. “No, but for me, it’s incredible to have these numbers; those numbers are nothing without the team. The whole team has helped me to arrive where I am.”
Former Waccamaw high school standout Noah Gulley has noticed that even when the Mutiny have an “off” game, they usually can find a way to succeed.
“We’ve only lost one game and I think we’re playing well,” Gulley said. “What’s different about our team is we can have kind of a bad game but we still will win it because we work so hard and fight until the end. I think that’s sort of the attitude of our whole team so I think our chances are good.”
Said Mutiny forward and Socastee graduate Connor Norton-Baker: “We’re confident but we’ve got to keep working hard and the results will come. Everyone wants to win out here; we’ve got a great group of guys and it’s been a special year.”
The Mutiny started the season on a six-game winning streak and, since a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Railhawks U23s on June 24, the team has won five straight.
Myrtle Beach is also 7-1 playing on its home turf, Ashley Booth Field. Next, the Mutiny will have another home game as they host Chattanooga in the South Atlantic conference finals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s just incredible,” Ander said. “To play again in front of our fans and to give them the pleasure to watch us in another game is one of the best things that could’ve happened. We’re happy and we’re going to go out and put on another show in the next game.”
Ander is also confident if the squad can keep it up, there’s no ceiling on what it can achieve.
“The sky’s the limit,” Ander said. “If we keep working hard, we keep doing our things and keep believing in ourselves I think the sky’s the limit. We can achieve what we want; our fate is in our hands and we know what we need to do.”
Contact MAX McKINNON at 626-0302 or on Twitter @mmckinnonTSN.