While watching footage of Sam Snaith, Coastal Carolina coaches noticed three things that made the Welsh talent seem like a strong fit for the program.
“He was a competitor and we saw how well he was able to find the back of the net,” said assistant men’s soccer coach Kyle Russell. “We also liked his size.”
They were right about their recruit. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward helped the Chanticleers reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament last month. His contributions also earned him Freshman of the Year honors from the Sun Belt Conference.
“I wanted a new challenge and Coastal Carolina created the best environment for me to do that.” Snaith said.
Despite this success on the pitch, Snaith’s freshman season didn’t start off the way he would have liked. While he did appear in each of the team’s first five games, making his first start Sep. 13 on the road versus West Virginia, Snaith averaged 27 minutes per game.
“He came into our program with a small knee injury and so we had to get him healthy,” Russell said. “We played him as much as we could early in the season with the limitations he had due to the injury.”
Then came Sep. 21. The Chants, fresh off a win in their home opener just four days earlier, faced off with former Big South foe Radford.
“I remember going into that game telling my teammate Kasper that I needed to get a goal today,” Snaith said. “I hadn’t scored all season and I had only one shot in my first five games.”
Not only would Snaith get his goal, he ended up with three that day.
“When I scored the first, I told myself that I could get another,” Snaith said. “My confidence was high and luckily we had some great players in Tyrone and Tsiki to help me complete the hat trick.”
The three-goal performance from Snaith was the first hat trick by a Chanticleer player since Frantzdy Pierrot scored three goals against Appalachian State on Oct. 28, 2017. The big game was capped off with the Sun Belt Conference naming him as the conference's offensive player of the week.
In the following game, Snaith scored again in a contest that ended in 1-1 draw with VCU. However, Snaith’s 16th minute goal would be the last time anyone from CCU would score for awhile.
Midway through the season, the Chants went through a stretch of not scoring a goal for nearly 570 minutes. They failed to find the net in five straight games, losing four of them, all by a score line of 1-0.
“That was a frustrating stretch, but it definitely helped build our character,” Snaith said. “As players, it made us stronger. It wasn’t something that we enjoyed, but I don’t think we have that championship-winning stretch if it wasn’t for that stretch of tough losses and draws.”
The Chanticleers kicked things into high gear on the road against Appalachian State. They scored four goals in the first half, ending their scoreless streak with a goal in the first five minutes of the game thanks to another freshman, Danny Cabrera.
This season, Coastal had three freshman scorers — Snaith, Cabrera and defender Kasper Skraep.
“I believe that all the freshmen from this year possessed these characteristics and that is why you saw a lot of freshmen make important contributions to the team this year,” Cabrera said.
After getting a big 4-2 win over Appalachian State, the Chanticleers ended the regular season by going 3-1-0.
The Chants were able to get a first round bye in the conference tournament thanks to a 4-0 win over Georgia Southern on the final day of the regular season. Snaith scored twice in that game, which he played in front of his father, who had come over from Wales to watch him.
“I had to get a goal for him,” Snaith said. “I was pushing myself a little harder that game. And just like my hat trick earlier in the year, once I got that first goal, I knew I could get more.”
Prior to the Sun Belt tournament, Snaith was named the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year. This was just the fourth time that a Coastal Carolina men’s soccer player was named freshman of the year. The last time was in 2011 when Kjartan Sigurdsson was named the Big South Conference Freshman of the Year.
“Seeing Sam get freshman of the year made me really happy,” Cabrera said. “My relationship with Sam goes further than just being teammates. He’s not just my teammate, but one of my best friends. He has a lot to offer to this team and he proved it this year.”
In the Sun Belt title game, it looked as if the Chants’ season was over after Georgia State scored in the 86th minute. But not even 90 seconds later, the Welshman equalized for the Chanticleers, sending the game into overtime.
“For me, my favorite goal from Sam this year would have that goal in the conference final,” Cabrera said. “Although there was prettier goals, the meaning behind that one and what it meant to the team as well as to our season makes it my favorite.”
Snaith nearly went from hero to goat after missing his penalty kick in the ensuing shootout. Luckily, his side prevailed 6-5, winning the Sun Belt tournament and going back to the NCAA Tournament.
The Chanticleers stunned N.C. State on the road in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, winning 3-2 in double overtime. But the Chants saw their postseason run come to an end in a 1-0 double overtime loss at No. Southern Methodist.
“That was a really tough way to go out, especially coming off the momentum we had after the first round,” Snaith said. “Despite not being in control for a majority of the match, we had our chances. We believed that if we pushed them into a shootout, we could escape and win because we had done it before. But the beautiful game is cruel like that sometimes .”
Snaith ended the season appearing in all 21 games for the Chanticleers and starting in 11 of them. He finished the year with eight goals and an assist.
While the season ended not even a month ago, Snaith is already preparing himself for the 2020 season.
“I’ve been working with the coaches to get in touch with some clubs here in the U.S. for next summer,” he said.
College players have the opportunity to play in USL League Two, formerly known as the Premier Developmental League, and is considered the fourth tier on the American Soccer Pyramid. Former Chanticleers Frantzdy Pierrot and Tobenna Uzo have played in the PDL before advancing their careers in the French Ligue 2 (Pierrot) and USL (Uzo).
While Snaith does hope to be playing soccer next summer, he also wants to be watching some soccer overseas as well, seeing the Wales national team play in the UEFA European Football Championship (more commonly know as EURO 2020).
“I was over the moon when they qualified for 2020,” Snaith said. “I FaceTimed a bunch of my friends back home when it happened and we couldn’t believe it. Can’t wait for the summer.”
It was only the second time that Wales had qualified for the European Championship, the first being four years ago in 2016. Wales will be led by Real Madrid Star Gareth Bale.
As for soccer here on the Grand Strand, Snaith hopes that he can make the most over the next few months and come back in August 2020 ready to lead the Chants to greater heights, while scoring plenty of goals along the way.
“I can easily get 10 goals next season,” he said. “ I had trouble understanding how to press the defense when I didn’t have the ball. And while I was able to get adjusted to that playing style, I can always work on bettering that.”
This past season, Coastal had four players play in all 21 games with three of those players being underclassmen.
“We have a great group of guys and we’re always together off the field, which helps tremendously when it comes to playing together,” Cabrera said. “I know this is just the beginning for the big man. He set his standards high and we are buzzing for next season to come already.”