Mark Bersonhas been the head coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks men’s soccer team for 36 incredibly successful years. An abbreviated list of his accomplishments include:
32 winning seasons in 36 years coaching at the Division I level
No. 1 among active Division I coaches in victories (455) and No. 3 all-time
20 NCAA Division I Tournament appearances (tied for the most appearances among active coaches) resulting in one Final; two Semifinals; four Quarterfinals; and a Round of 16
One Conference USA Coach of the Year award, two Conference USA Tournament titles, and one regular-season title in just eight seasons in the conference
One of three collegiate programs to have had a player on each of the last three United States World Cup teams
And it’s not just on the field success. This spring 24 of Berson’s playerswere recognized by Conference USA for their academic performance, maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better. The Gamecocks had more student-athletes on the honor roll than any other men’s soccer program.
Earlier this spring Coach Berson brought the Gamecocks to Atlanta to play the Silverbacks in a preseason game for both teams. Coach Berson was pleased with the effort his team gave in a 0-0 draw with the defending NASL Spring Season champions. The Silverbacks game followed another preseason game against the University of North Carolina(Berson’s alma mater), traditionally a college soccer powerhouse. I asked Coach why he challenged his team so much in the spring.
“We want to see in the spring which players can step up and take more responsibility,” he replied. “It’s a learning experience for our players. It’s a learning experience for our staff. We challenge them to play really good games. This was a great opportunity for us. This is how you improve.”
Last year was an anomaly in Columbia, as the Gamecocks finished with a 7-7-5 record. But Coach Berson saw a lot of positives in last year’s team.
“I wasn’t happy with the overall record, but I was happy with the way we arrived there. We started out 0-4. We played 4 nationally ranked teams on the road the first 4 games. And then we fought through. In the end, we beat New Mexico, we beat [UNC] Charlotte, we beat UAB, a bunch of nationally ranked teams. This group has been on a steady uphill climb. I’m pleased with that.”
Last year’s Gamecocksquad was young, with only two seniors. And Carolina had no seniors playing against the Silverbacks. Berson understands that’s just how it works in college. “It’s all part of the natural thing in college soccer. As they graduate you go through these cycles. Right now we’re in a good place. We’re getting there.”
Rebuilding shouldn’t be too daunting for Berson. During his tenure, over 50 Gamecocks have been drafted into or entered professional soccer. And he’s coached 11 individual All-Americans and two National Goalkeepers of the Year. Blake Brettschneider and Jimmy Maurer, both of whom have been in the Silverbacks organization previously, played their college ball in Columbia and have been successful professionals.
Thirty-six years at any job is pretty remarkable, and I asked Coach Berson why things have worked out so well for him and South Carolina.His reply explains it pretty well: “It’s a great school, it’s a great town. It’s a wonderful place to coach. The commitment to athletics at the University is outstanding. It’s been enjoyable every step of the way.”
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