Autumn 2018, Conor joined our 2020 recruiting class with a view to heading across to the United States. A highly regarded member at his club Bray Wanderers of the League of Ireland, we knew we had a special talent on our hands. Once Conor had decided that the University of North Carolina Asheville would be the school for him, Covid-19 struck putting the fall 2020 season in doubt, which would have been his freshman season. Undeterred, Conor headed off to North Carolina in August 2020 embarking on his American journey, knowing his time wouldn't come until the Spring, and even that was up in the air, thanks to the global pandemic.
Thankfully, the pandemic relented in the United States, enough for college sports to return, and in particular the NCAA Division I soccer season penned for fall 2020 could commence in the Spring of 2021, labeled as the '2020 season'. This shortened version of a 'normal' season allowed for one exhibition game (friendly), and eight regular season conference matchups, culminating in a four-team conference tournament.
Ten days before the exhibition game away to Furman University, Conor was forced into quarantine due to COVID-19 regulations, and became a major doubt for the start of the season. However, once Conor could rejoin his teammates and get a few sessions in, he managed to be involved in the 2-1 defeat at Furman, getting a glimpse of the competitive nature of college soccer.
Roll on the season premiere at home to Longwood University, Conor had to settle for a place on the bench, which was all to understandable due to his recent absence, and the competitive nature of UNCA's talented squad. Introduced before the break, Conor established himself on the game, provided a brilliant performance and never looked back. Scoring his first collegiate goal on the way to a 2-1 home win to start the season with 3 points.
That week, Conor was named as 'Freshman of the Week' for the entire Big South Conference, an honour bestowed to the one freshman player who has had the biggest impact from all the Big South Conference teams for that week. A wonderful achievement, and no more so than he deserved.
Fast-forward a week and this time the Bulldogs welcomed Winthrop University to Asheville, looking to make it two wins from two on the season. From the highs of the opening weekend, Conor picked up a red card in the 78th minute of the game for a well-timed tackle which was deemed dangerous by the referee. UNCA didn't let that stop them, as they took down the Eagles in overtime winning 2-1!
Suspended for the visit to #20 in the nation Campbell University, Conor got his first start as a Bulldog in the 1-1 draw away to Radford University. USC Upstate were next to visit Asheville, in a close fought encounter with a team receiving votes in the national polls, UNCA went down 3-2, with Conor scoring his second goal of the season, from just his second start.
UNCA would be on the road for the next two games against Presbyterian College & High Point University, respectively. A second half fight back, was not enough as UNCA dropped the second game in a row, 3-2. Conor managed to pick up an assist in the game, a brilliant return for a freshman. The Bulldogs were put to the sword by a talented High Point side, who were ranked #15 in the nation at the time, and succumbed to a 5-1 defeat.
Heading into the final game of the season, the Bulldogs new they needed a win to have a chance of finishing the season in 4th place, with a coveted spot at the Big South conference tournament on the line. UNCA duly delivered and ran out 4-0 winners over Gardner-Webb University. This led to a Big South tournament semi final with High Point University who were now ranked #14 in the nation, the Bulldogs' first appearance in the Big South semi final since 2008!
In a much more even contest, the Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with one of the nations best sides, losing 1-0 to a goal scored two minutes into the first overtime period, to end their season. What a season it was for UNCA and Conor himself. Once the dust settled, and the hurt became manageable, it was a season to remember for the Bulldogs, and a platform to build on.
The Big South Conference announced their Freshman of the Year XI, and inducted UNCA's Conor Behan & Leon Musial. A fantastic achievement and one that cements a brilliant season for the Irish midfielder. Two goals, one assist and a red card to boot, in a fascinating first season in the USA, the future for Conor and the Bulldogs looks incredibly bright. We can't wait to see what the fall has in store for this talented team.
We sat down with Conor to get his thoughts on his first season in the USA, and what his plans are for this summer. "My first year in the US has been great. It was a really weird time to move over for obvious reasons, and although I didn't get a 'normal' freshman year, I've still loved it.
The experiences I have had this year both on the pitch and off the pitch will stay with me for a long time. For me the best thing about playing over here is you get to play each week with people your living with and seeing everyday. Our team has grown a lot this year and we can't wait to impress in the fall!"
Conor on his summer plans: "This summer I'm going to be playing for Appalachian FC in Boone, North Carolina. It's the inaugural season for the club so it's an exciting time to be here!"
Appalachian FC play in the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League) and you can check them out by visiting their website www.appalachianfc.com to stay up to date with this summers schedule.