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Rivalry Week: Syracuse, Clemson and the soccer rivalry that could be

It may not be official, but it’s always a date that’s circled on my calendar

NCAA SOCCER: DEC 11 Men’s College Cup - Clemson v Syracuse Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s soccer team has had a very solid run over the past decade. So much so that they’ve had six straight years with at least one MLS SuperDraft pick, and the school honored coach Ian MacIntyre with a Best XI of his tenure at the school. The decade saw the move from the Big East to the ACC, a College Cup run in 2015 and six Generation Adidas signings. It also saw the emergence of the Clemson Tigers as a potential rival for the Orange.

While the ACC top to bottom is a fantastic conference and the addition of the Orange in 2013 was a quality move for the squad, it upset many traditional games that were played year-in and year-out. That said, you would have expected the Boston College game to turn into one marked on the calendar, or Pitt, continuing old series. Instead, I venture to say, while there hasn’t been a real rival for the Orange, that Clemson has become one of the best pseudo-rivalries that the school has.

For a team in South Carolina, you would expect them to care much more about American football than soccer, but at Clemson, it was the soccer team that had the historic success. In the 70’s, under I.M. Ibrahim, the Tigers pushed to national prominence, with eleven ACC titles and two national titles in the 70’s and 80’s. They remained near the top of the ACC for the next few decades, but have turned it up to another level since the ACC expansion, with another conference championship, College Cup appearance and consistent finishes near the top of the heap and nationally ranked.

Prior to the ACC move, the two squads never faced each other. The ever meeting of the two clubs was November 1, 2013. You wouldn’t think that a game played for only seven years could be considered a rivalry, but the way the matches have gone and the stakes that they have been played, have contributed to a air of a can’t miss match when the two meet.

The first meeting overall, the Orange knocked off then-No. 19 Clemson on their home field. Alex Bono and that Orange back line of Skylar Thomas, Jordan Murrell, Chris Makowski and a young Oyvind Alseth held off the Clemson attack and Alex Halis put one home in the middle of the second half to secure the upset, 1-0. The Orange then took out the Tigers away in 2014, 1-0 again on an Emil Ekblom strike.

Over the course of 2015 is what solidified this as the start of a rivalry though. The Orange lost the regular season match, leading to an ACC semifinal rematch at Clemson. The Tigers had moved up to No. 2 in the polls and the Orange were on a roll after taking out No. 5 North Carolina in the quarterfinals in penalties. Ben Polk came out of the game with a brace and sent the Orange to the title match and an eventual ACC Championship win over Notre Dame.

The Orange advanced through the NCAA Tournament all the way to the College Cup in St. Louis, the Final Four of NCAA Soccer. Of course as fate would have it, they faced the Tigers for a third time on the year, the Orange showing as the better team and pummeling the Tiger defense, forcing eight saves out of All-American goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell, but the Tigers held and sent the match to extra time and then penalties. Unfortunately the Orange couldn’t come through in penalties, losing 4-1 and the Tigers moved on to the title match.

Since that year, the teams have played to three draws, twice in the postseason, and two other single goal matches. The only outlier was last season’s 4-7 fireworks spectacular, which featured a Hermann Trophy-winning-Robbie Robinson hat-trick, a brace from Clemson’s Grayson Barber and another brace from Syracuse’s Sondre Norheim. If you can see a recap of this game and want to watch a crazy last twenty minutes, check this one out.

Since 2013, both teams have been often ranked, and fighting for the top of the ACC. I think it’s a case for the rivalry when most of the matches have been very close, very meaningful and very entertaining, year in and year out. The Syracuse-Clemson soccer series has been just that over the last seven seasons. If you get a chance to check out any future iterations of the series, I’m sure it will be worth your while.