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Historic season continues for Stratford, West Virginia soccer in national semifinal against Clemson

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s soccer team has continued to make history throughout its 2023 campaign. First, it reached the highest ranking in program history at No. 2 in the country. Then, WVU set a program record for wins in a season. Finally, it earned the program’s first-ever appearance at the College Cup in the national semifinals.

But for head coach Dan Stratford and his players, they are far from being finished with the historical 2023 run and will fight to earn a spot in the national championship when they battle the No. 9 Clemson Tigers (13-3-5) tonight at 6 p.m. at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky (ESPNU).

“It’s a special feeling for everyone and our program,” Stratford said over Zoom Monday. “Being able to host at home throughout the tournament and do it in front of multiple record crowds is special and I’m so proud of everyone involved. Now that we’re here I hope we can continue to make a statement and be fearless going into the final four.”

Clemson is also making some history of its own as this will be the 10th appearance for the 2023 ACC champions. The Tigers haven’t lost a match since Sept. 22, a 1-0 defeat to Wake Forest on the road. In fact, through the three matches they’ve played in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, the Tigers haven’t allowed a single goal into their net. Clemson last captured a national title two years ago in 2021, the third in program history.

In 2023, the Tigers scored six or more goals in three matches this season and only allowed 18 goals to their opponents, while netting 57.

“They are a team with an abundance of quality and depth and the system and formation we see will be much different than that of Loyola Marymount,” Stratford said of the Tigers. “They look quite dangerous going forward and can be very aggressive in their approach to progress the game in an attacking fashion. At this stage, you have to play some of the best teams in the country and Clemson is one of those programs.”

The Mountaineers enter the College Cup with a record of 17-2-4 without losing a game at home in Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium this season. WVU has netted 47 goals in 2023 while allowing 22 to opponents.

Forwards Marcus Caldeira and Yutaro Tsukada are tied for the team-high in goals at 12. Tsukada has scored seven goals in seven games now and leads the team in assists as well, with nine.

Caldeira scored his 12 goals in the first 14 matches, including a hat trick against then-No. 1 Marshall in a 5-2 win on Oct. 18 in Morgantown. However, the sophomore striker hasn’t scored since and could be due to play a huge role in the semifinals against Clemson. Stratford says he may have been spoiled with the early goals at the beginning of the season but despite the personal drought, Caldeira has been able to find other ways to impact the game positively.

“The quality of the opponent has continued to improve as well as the amount of attention that he is getting,” Stratford said. “He is going to be one of the first two names on the opponent’s scout, and that comes with a certain adaptation to his game to make sure he can still be effective. I think he’s in a good space and excited to have another chance to score again.”

The Mountaineers will need all they can get against the Tigers if they hope to advance to the first national championship in program history.

Kickoff between No. 5 West Virginia and No. 9 Clemson in the semifinals of the 2023 College Cup will be at 6 p.m. on ESPNU from Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. The winner will advance to play in the national finals on Monday at 6 p.m. against the winner of the second semifinal between No. 3 Notre Dame and unseeded Oregon State.

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