Aug. 2, 1999
Notre Dame men’s soccer coach Mike Berticelli heads into the 1999 campaign with no illusions. The 10th-year Irish mentor knows and understands that the upcoming season presents many challenges he hasn’t faced very often in his 23 seasons as a collegiate coach.
Key losses over the past two years, including seven starters from the 1998 squad which finished with a 9-6-3 mark, will open up many opportunities for returning underclassmen and freshmen. Berticelli prefers to use the term restructuring rather than rebuilding when referring to the task at hand for him and his coaching staff this season.
“This season presents a particular challenge to us because it will require a restructuring of our team,” Berticelli says. “I don’t expect to be able to replace the experience of seven starters right away. It will take some time for me and my assistants to come up with a system that works for the players we have returning.
“It’s very likely that some players will be playing the same position they did a year ago. People are going to have to be unselfish. It’s going to take some time, we may lack experience, but this is an extremely talented group of players.”
More so than any other recent campaign, parity exits at all positions on the field. There will be plenty of competition for starting jobs and playing time, and that is something that Berticelli hopes will be a catalyst for improvement as the season progresses. The challenge for the returning players and freshmen will be to see who steps forward on the field to earn several of the starting positions available.
“Heading into the fall preseason, there is such a great deal of uncertainty as to who will be playing where,” Berticelli says. “It’s a good situation for us because I think players know that anyone on the team has a legitimate chance of earning one of the starting positions. It is going to make for a very competitive situation throughout the preseason, and I expect it to continue throughout the entire season.”
The most dramatic transformation will be on defense where the Irish lose four-year starting goalie Greg Velho, marking backs David Cutler and Phil Murphy, and stopper Matt Johnson, another four-year starter. The only full-time returning starter is sweeper Matt McNew, who has been a starter in each of his three seasons. McNew, a second-team all-BIG EAST selection a year ago, is the one player that offers stability in the back.
|Senior Ryan Cox|
Up front, Notre Dame will be without the services of leading scorer Shane Walton Walton, a second-team all-BIG EAST honoree and BIG EAST all-rookie team selection, will play football for the Irish in the fall. The Irish will miss his goal-scoring abilities as he led the team in goals scored (10) and points (27).
Walton teamed with Ryan Cox, now a senior, to form a formidable scoring duo. Cox, who had five goals and a team-leading eight assists (18 points), will once again be the playmaker for the Irish this fall. He is a versatile player who excels in a competitive and challenging environment. He has the special ability to make others on the playing field better.
“Ryan is a very special player and will be a huge factor for us,” Berticelli says. “He and Shane were very comfortable with each other on the field. Ryan is a very unselfish player who can adjust his game to the other players on the field.”
One of the players likely to replace Walton and be a major factor on the forward line will be senior Andrew Aris, an experienced player as both a forward and midfielder. His maturity on the field and goal-scoring ability will be of greater significance this season as the Irish will be looking for more offensive weapons. Over the past three seasons, Aris, who had five goals and four assists a year ago, has shown a penchant for scoring big goals in important games. He is one of the veteran players this season who needs to step forward and take responsibility for becoming more of a goal scorer.
|Senior Andrew Aris|
Notre Dame retains a majority of its midfield, but still lacks an attacking player in this area of the field who can bring the ball forward. Third-year players Dustin Pridmore, Connor LaRose and Reggie McKnight all will have major roles in improving the team’s play in the midfield.
Youth should be well served this season for the Irish, but it will be somewhat of a baptism by fire for rookies as well as returning players who did not see a lot of playing time last season. Berticelli believes that this year’s recruiting class may be the best in his 10 years at the University as he has filled a number of voids. Several of the incoming players will have an immediate impact and be vying for starting positions.
“We’re going to have to mature in a hurry,” Berticelli says. “Players are going to have to mature in a hurry, familiarize themselves with our system and get to know each other on the field. Each week we’re going to have to get better, and that is going to be one of our goals.
“We may not be able to solve all of our problems in the preseason, but it is going to be up to me and my staff to maintain a positive atmosphere.”
Defense will be very critical to success early on in the campaign. One thing Berticelli knows is that in order to win games at the start of the season, his team is going to have to be organized defensively. The players are going to have to understand their roles and contribute on the defensive side of the ball.
One of the biggest scenarios will be in goal. Fifth-year player Gerick Short, who has not seen action since the 1996 campaign and missed all of the ’98 season with a shoulder injury, and freshman Greg Tait will try to bring stability to the goalkeeping situation, which Berticelli knows can have a great impact on a season.
Despite the many uncertainties heading into the upcoming campaign, the goal once again will be for Notre Dame to earn a spot in the BIG EAST tournament in order for the opportunity to play in the NCAAs.
The loss of Shane Walton’s scoring prowess leaves Berticelli searching for more scoring offense. While the Irish may not have a dominant scorer as they did in Walton, there are a number of returnees as well as newcomers at this position who will be able to make significant contributions. Notre Dame has a blend of experience and youth at forward which makes for considerable depth at this position.
Ryan Cox is one of four senior returnees. After battling injuries as a freshman and sophomore, Cox saw a full season of action a year ago as he was one of seven players who started all 18 games. He is as technically sound as any player in the country and he is the key to the Notre Dame attack because of his ability to create scoring opportunities for other player on the field.
“Ryan’s productivity goes beyond goals and assists,” Berticelli says. “He is the type of player the game of soccer needs more of, he is able to do so many things with the ball. For us to be successful and effective up top, we need to get Ryan the ball because he can make so many things happen for us on the field.”
In each of his three seasons, Andrew Aris has been the big-goal scorer for the Irish. His versatility has allowed him to see action as both a forward and midfielder, but he is most comfortable playing up top. Berticelli is looking for Aris to develop more consistency in his all-around game as well as to become more of an offensive threat.
“Andrew is an extremely aggressive and hard-working player,” Berticelli says. “His experience will be a great asset for us, we’re going to increase his goal production this season.”
Jason Jorski has seen time as a starter during his three seasons, but he is at his best when coming off the bench. He is an explosive and quick player who is tough to defend when he is in the open field. Jorski has a dangerous shot, but the key for him this season will be to finish his opportunities.
“Jason is most comfortable and effective coming of the bench,” Berticelli says. “He is a quick player who gives us a spark. Jason has the ability to create goals, but what we need out of him this season is to become more of a goal scorer.”
Sophomores Antonio Bernal and Patrick Williams are expected to see more playing time this season. Both gained experience as the ’98 campaign progressed and are coming off performances in the spring. Bernal is a crafty and opportunistic player around the goal. Like Jorski, he gives the offense a lift coming off the bench and is someone Berticelli hopes will produce some goals. Williams also is someone that the coaching staff will look to score goals this season. He needs to utilize his size and height to his advantage, and similar to Bernal is dangerous around the goal because he strikes the ball so well.
Peter Bandera adds depth as both a forward and midfielder. He is an unselfish players who works hard in practice to make other players around him better.
The Irish attack is bolstered by the addition of three freshmen. Erich Braun, one of three rookies from Germany, is a highly regarded scorer. A former member of the German Under-16 National Team, he was the goal-scoring champion the German Youth National Tournament as a 17-year-old. Shea Helme, the ’98 Florida AAAA Player of the Year, and Rafael Garcia, who set numerous school records while at Highland High School in California, give Notre Dame tremendous depth at forward. All three first-year players should see considerable playing time in their rookie seasons.
|Junior Connor LaRose|
The midfield poses certain question marks for the Irish with the losses of Matt Johnson and Ben Bocklage. The lack of an experienced central and defensive midfielder are the biggest concerns facing Berticelli in this area of the field.
Junior Connor LaRose is the only returning player who started all 18 games in the midfield for the Irish. He has been a utility player for the squad during the past two seasons and has filled a number of different roles. LaRose is a player who can change the tempo and momentum of a game.
“Connor has done whatever we have asked of him,” Berticelli says. “He has been a player who has given us a boost either as a starter or coming off the bench. Connor is as strong a defender as we have in this area of the field because he has a tremendous work ethic. He is the player we’re going to look to this season to change the tempo and momentum of a game.”
Junior Reggie McKnight’s versatility and athleticism on offense will be critical this season. McKnight, who made seven starts in the 17 games he played, has shown during the past two seasons that he can be a goal scorer. He had a goal and two assists last season, but will need to increase his offensive productivity this season.
|Junior Reggie McKnight|
“Reggie is one of those players we are going to be looking to this season to become more of a goal scorer,” Berticelli says. “His play during the last two years has shown that he is capable of becoming a big offensive threat, something that we need out of our midfield players. Reggie needs to work on his consistency and become an impact player every time he steps onto the field.”
Dustin Pridmore is another third-year player for the Irish whose experience as a starter will benefit Notre Dame in the midfield. Pridmore has a strong work ethic, and over the course of the past two seasons, has worked hard to improve all areas of his game. He started 11 of the 15 games he played a year ago and finished with a goal and two assists.
“Dustin has the potential to be a very productive player for us this season,” Berticelli says. “He can create as well as score goals. Dustin serves the ball in well and has a good shot.”
Sophomore Matt Rosso made considerable strides throughout the season and during the spring. He could be a factor for the Irish as a central midfielder. Rosso played in nine games a year ago and gained tremendous experience that will undoubtedly help him in ’98.
“Matt was our most improved player in the spring,” Berticelli says. “If there is one person who is going to surprise a lot of people, it’s Matt. He’s worked himself into position to contend for one of the starting positions in the midfield.”
Notre Dame’s fortunes will be bolstered if junior Griffin Howard can return to the lineup. He underwent surgery on his ankle last fall and did not recover fully from the injury by the time of spring practice.
Junior Dan Storino’s status is in doubt this season after coming off a serious knee injury, while sophomore Tye Smith’s hard work during the off season could yield him playing time this fall.
Two of Notre Dame’s three freshmen from Germany will play in the midfield. Both Andreas Forstner and Alex Altmann will vie for a starting spot in the lineup. Forstner, who led his club team to the Bavarian championship this season, looks to fill the defensive midfielder slot left vacated by the graduation of Johnson, while Altmann, a former member of the Under-16 German National team, has the potential to be a very effective scorer in the midfield.
Alan Lyskawa and Paul Rodriguez are two other first-year players who add depth to the midfield and could see considerable playing time this season.
|Senior Matt McNew|
Defense will certainly be a key early on the for the Irish as Notre Dame must revamp nearly most of its backfield.
Senior sweeper Matt McNew is the only returning starter. Although he has started all three seasons at that position, he also has shown the ability to score goals. McNew, a second-team all-BIG EAST honoree, had two goals in ’98 and started all 18 games. His size makes him an extremely versatile defender.
“With all the uncertainties in the backfield, Matt is going to have to take charge on defense until we get settled in that area of the field,” Berticelli says. He is a great athlete with strong technical skills and his experience over the past three years playing sweeper will be invaluable to us. Matt knows he is going to have to be a leader.”
Berticelli will also look to junior Stephen Maio to step up his level of play. Maio, who has been a significant contributor off the bench for the Irish, will challenge for a starting job. He is, without question, one of the most aggressive and physical players on the team because he challenges for every ball.
“Stephen is one of those players who is ready to take a step forward and be a big part of this team,” Berticelli says. “He works as hard as any player and is a good leader on the field. We’re expecting him to be a major factor in the play of our defense.”
|Junior Stephen Maio|
Matt De Dominicis, a senior, gives the Irish depth and leadership in the backfield. Each season, Matt has improved his level of play and become a player the Irish have relied on to provide a spark defensively. He has great speed and a tireless work ethic.
“Matt brings tremendous leadership to this team,” Berticelli says. “His greatest asset to the team is that he is a role model for each player. Matt shows a tremendous passion for the game and he is an unselfish player totally committed to the success of our program.”
Sophomore B.J. Cotter, who played in just two games last season, had an excellent spring and is in contention to earn a starting spot. He is a big strong player with good speed and versatility on the field. Cotter could emerge as a vital player for the Irish on defense.
“B.J. made tremendous strides during the spring and has positioned himself well to start the preseason,” Berticelli says. “It’s going to be hard to keep him off the field. He is an extremely focused player who reads the game well.”
Tim Storino, another second-year player, looks to see more playing time off the bench this season. He may be a backup to Matt McNew at sweeper in ’99.
Evan Oliver missed his entire freshman season after undergoing knee surgery in June of ’98. Berticelli will welcome his speed and athleticism in the backfield.
Freshman Justin Ratcliffe, a member of the Under-18 National Team, will be in the mix for one of the starting positions. He is a talented defender with strong fundamental skills. Ratcliffe can play anywhere in the backfield and has great experience playing with both the National Team and abroad.
|Senior Gerick Short|
A great challenge faces Berticelli when he ponders his goalkeeping situation as the Irish adjust to not having an experienced player at that position. For the past four seasons, Notre Dame has had the luxury of Greg Velho. But with the graduation of the all-time the school’s all-time career saves leader, there are many uncertainties heading into the season.
Fifth-year goalkeeper Gerick Short, who will captain the team in ’99, has not played since the ’96 season and was forced to sit out all of last year because of a shoulder injury. Short is anxious to establish himself as the starter and team leader. He will be competing with a highly regarded freshman, Greg Tait, for the starting spot.
“Gerick is the leader and captain of this team,” Berticelli says. “He knows what he has do. No one has worked harder for the opportunity than Gerick. He could be a dominating goalie for us and is especially good one-on-one.”
Short will be challenged for the starting spot by Tait who Berticelli knows will be a great part of the program’s future. The Irish head coach also knows that regardless of who starts, he must find playing time for the two-time New York all-state selection.
Another incoming freshman, Cole Straub, who has been involved with the national program in Canada, gives Notre Dame more depth at this position than in recent seasons.