ATLANTA--After tacking on a second road win, the Georgia State men's soccer team returns to Panthersville for its regular-season home opener this Friday against fierce inter-state rival Mercer (7:00 p.m.), This is a double-header day with this match following the women's 3 p.m. rivalry game with Georgia Southern on the same field.
The Panthers and Bears renew a rivalry nearly as old as the programs themselves. The series, which takes its 50th form this Friday, is the longest-running series in either team's history. The Panthers (2-1-0) own the edge in the all-time series with a 29-16-4 mark against the Bears. The rivalry, which often pits former local high school and club team opponents and teammates against each other, intensifies thanks to those local familiarities.
"The rivalry is in-state and a lot of our guys have played against their guys at the club and high school level so there's some familiarity there," GSU head coach Brett Surrency said.
The sting of last year's 2-1 loss in Macon, Ga., is still felt by the Panthers as the locally-fueled rivalry continues to grow. GSU lost talented junior Alex Vivanco for the remainder of last year's match after he earned a second yellow card in the 61st minute. Despite playing a man down, senior forward Jacob Hamilton scored GSU's lone goal in his first start of the season off a perfect feed from midfielder Gimel Gordon to even the score.
But GSU fell behind again with six minutes remaining as Mercer junior Josh Shutter banged home a header with the extra-man advantage for his second goal of the match and the game winner.
Other than the history, what separates this matchup is the thrilling style of play. The last 12 contests have been decided by one goal, and five of those have gone to extra time. The two teams also tend to play a physical, back-and-forth style to make for entertaining soccer. The Panthers and Bears combined for 33 fouls in last season's matchup, and 22 combined the year before.
"I think the intensity and physicality will be very high," Surrency said, "Mercer plays really, really hard; you have to respect that about them and be ready to match it."
Notable battles from past seasons include several conference tournament showdowns when both teams were members of the Trans America Athletic Conference. All the conference tournament matches ended in 1-0 decisions, with the Panthers coming out on top twice in the 1983 semifinal and 2000 championship match. Mercer notched a victory in the conference tournament's first round matchup in 2003.
The two teams first met in 1974 when head coach Stoney Burgess led GSU to a 3-1 victory. GSU never lost a regular-season match in the first 20 matchups (18-0-2) until Mercer notched a 3-1 victory in 1993.
Mercer (1-1-1) is coming off its first win of the season, a 2-0 triumph over Appalachian State on Sunday. The 2010 Atlantic Sun runner-up dropped a 2-0 match against UAB and tied 1-1 with UNC Asheville earlier this season.
"We have to come out and match Mercer's intensity," Surrency said, "We're excited to get back in Atlanta for our first home regular-season game after three on the road. We're looking forward to it; it should be a good game."
GSU will host a "Blue Out" for Friday's match. All fans in attendance are asked to wear blue as part of Friday's "Rivalry Day" festivities.
Visit www.GeorgiaStateSports.com on Friday for live stats from the Panthersville Soccer Complex. Check back after the match for a full recap of Friday's action with stats and post-game reaction.