June 29, 2005
Fresh off a historic run with the U.S. Under-20 team, Notre Dame’s Greg Dalby (Poway, Calif.) returned from Holland last week after captaining the U.S. at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship. Dalby, who will be a junior midfielder for the Fighting Irish this fall, captained the U-20s as they won a strong Group D (`The Group of Death’), which included a 1-0 victory over Argentina, and a second round berth. He recently discussed his thoughts with und.com.
Q: What was your overall experience like in Holland?
A: It was a great experience. All of the preparation leading up to it plus the qualifying and doing the runs before the tournament in Los Angeles, it was a great experience. To be with guys like that for that long and play with players like that was great.
As far as the tournament, obviously we had a great time but a disappointing finish that is still tough to swallow. Losing that early (to Italy 3-1 in the Round of 16) was tough. But playing against great players in the tournament, like the German team, who had a lot of first team Bundesliga players was amazing. The Argentine team had a lot of big-time players, guys who play in Europe or who will play in Europe. I didn’t play against Egypt but they still had a lot of great players and then it was a good experience to play against Italy but unfortunately we lost. You just try to take something from that game.
The overall tournament experience was great and it was fun to be in a professional environment for that long. It’s different than it is here in the U.S. because we were the main thing on TV over there and all the fans were excited and the stadiums were packed. The atmosphere everywhere was great. There were kids and fans and cameras at every practice. From an American perspective that was a bit different than what we are used to but it was a lot of fun.
Q: Did you have a lot of media obligations during the tournament?
A: Yeah, we did. After every game there were press conferences. The media would do stories on certain players every day. They would do interviews with our coach at practice every day, kind of like a pre and post game thing leading up to games and thoughts after the games.
Q: Was the language barrier a problem when dealing with the media?
A: No not really, everyone was good about speaking English to us. Every team was given a liaison that could speak the local language so it really wasn’t a problem.
Q: What will be the immediate impact for you from playing in this event against great competition?
A: Coach (Bobby) Clark always says when you play a big game it’s a `wee test’. I could say this tournament was a good test for me to see where I’m at and evaluate my game and what I need to work on compared to other guys that I played against. I could look at other guys who play my position on other countries and see what things I need to do in order to take my game to the next level. I was fortunate to do that against some of the best players in the world for my age. So that was fun.
Q: How do you feel you stacked up against the competition?
A: It was a humbling experience. But I still felt like I did my role. Obviously every player feels that they can do better. I agree with that, I feel I could have done better. It was just a good experience for me to see where I am and where I need to go.
Q: What was it like to be the captain of the team?
A: It was a great honor to represent our country first of all and then to be a captain of our country made it really special. There was a little more weight on my shoulders because I had to be concerned with the welfare of the team. Many times I was doing a lot of other things off the field but that was no problem because I loved the responsibility.
Q: How can you translate what you learned from being a captain for the U.S. to being a captain for Notre Dame this upcoming season?
A: I’ve been captain on other teams but I’ve never really been a captain where it takes a lot of responsibility because there are lots of things involved. Hopefully I can learn from it. I got used to working with the media, working with the coaches at that level and working with other players at that level and hopefully it can help to give me experience and confidence working at the college level as a captain.
Q: Many of your U.S. teammates aren’t coming back to college because they are in the pros or are going pro. What are your main reasons for returning to school and gaining experience at the college level?
A: I think it’s important to know that a lot of college players who are products of the college game played really well in the tournament. It just shows that the college game still has it. A lot of people think in order to be successful you have to go pro. Eventually those players are playing in a better environment but right now the Notre Dame soccer environment is as close to that as you can get plus you get an education at the same time which is a big plus. I think that it’s important that I stay and get my education.
Players know that if you pick the right school with the right environment you can get both great soccer experience and an education, which is a real plus down the line. If you would have told (Justin) Detter (a former Irish player from 2000-03) two years ago that he wouldn’t be playing right now he’d laugh in your face but you never know how it’s going to work out with injuries, playing time, financial things and stuff like that. Those are things you don’t want to worry about but you have to. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go pro but if you have an opportunity to play at a great university, with a great coach and a great team you should take advantage of that.
Q: Were you close with your U.S. teammates?
A: Yeah, on our team it was great because we were together for so long that you got to know everyone really well. It was a really good experience just to play with those guys everyday. You’d see guys on our team playing in the MLS and you kind of know them but not really. After playing with them you really get to put a personality with a face.
Then playing against guys from the other countries was a great experience. We played against Lionel Messi from Argentina and he plays for Barcelona and he’s a big-time player. He could go on to win this tournament because they are playing so well right now. Just to play against guys like that and other guys who you see on TV when you are sitting at home is fun.
Q: In your opinion, how did you stack up against those marquee players?
A: Our coach would tell us before every game that those guys put their pants on one leg at a time just like us. If you do the things you are good at, you can find that you are on a pretty even playing field with a lot of those guys. Some guys are better than others and you find that out pretty fast, but it wasn’t a situation where you are scared of players.
Q: How special was the win versus Argentina?
A: That was huge and it wasn’t a win where we stole the game. I felt like we deserved to win the game or at least get a point out of it and we did that. It was huge and it gave us momentum into that bracket. Winning the group was also huge in giving us momentum heading into the next round and that is what we planned to do. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for this reason or that. It was a huge win and it was exciting and it was the first time a U.S. team had ever beaten Argentina in any world championship, World Cup, Youth World Cup or Under-17 World Cup, so it was big. It was a big step for U.S. soccer.
Q: How will this tournament performance be remembered years from now?
A: Our team made our mark in history and was the first U.S. Under-20 team to qualify with nine points. Then in group play, no U.S. team has ever gotten seven points or not lost their second game after winning the first. And we beat Argentina so these were all big marks and we kind of established our place in history.
Q: What kind of crowds did the team have for their games?
A: When we played Argentina I don’t think a lot of people were expecting much to be honest. I think we were the only people involved in that game thinking we could win. After that game I think we turned a few heads and people started looking at us and then we played Germany. With the borders between Germany and Holland, Holland doesn’t really like Germany that much so we got the momentum in that game and the crowd got behind us, which was huge. Unfortunately we missed a couple chances at the end of the first half when we really had the momentum of the crowd, which would have been great to give back to them a little bit. The crowds were great and they were the biggest crowds that I’ve ever played in front of, so that was good for me to get experience like that. But at the same time you kind of forget about the crowds once you start playing. It’s cool at first when you walk out of the tunnel and sing the National Anthem, but once the game starts you don’t really notice those things and you only see the field.
Q: What are you doing right now to prepare for this upcoming season?
A: Right now my preparation is to kind of take a break for 10 or 15 days to kind of settle down physically, mentally and emotionally after a loss like that and to try and get that hunger back before the season starts. The team is working really hard right now and everyone is doing their runs and getting ready to try and win a national championship or be a contender for a national championship, which is exciting. Once my break phase ends I’ll start doing my runs. I’m swimming and riding the bike right now to stay fit. We are meeting together as captains right now and planning out our season and what we want to do. We are also meeting with the coaches so that is how we are preparing.
Q: What are the possibilities of you playing internationally in the future?
A: As of right now my plans are just to stay here at Notre Dame and finish but after that I don’t know. Hopefully opportunities will open up for me. I’d love to play professionally overseas and I’d love to play professionally here. I don’t know what is going to happen. I just kind of leave that up to God and play it by ear. It’s important that I keep improving and working hard here and never being content with where I’m at. I’d love to play internationally again. The next thing is the U-23s, which is the Olympic team. I don’t know, I just need to worry about myself and keep improving and if I get a call I just need to take advantage of it.
Q: Do you have any strange stories from the trip?
A: Not that I can think of. The weather was kind of weird but that was about the only thing. It would be raining and then it would be sunny 10 minutes later. It would also get light outside about 3:30 in the morning and not get dark until like 11:30 at night so there’d really be no true night games. So that was different and I really didn’t like that aspect of things and I did have trouble sleeping. But the food was great and the country was great. I thought Holland was such a great host country. Everyone there was so excited about the tournament. The little kids, the fans, the whole town, everyone was so excited. It was so well run. I’ve never been in a tournament that’s been that well run before, but that’s to be expected when it’s a World Cup.