Oct. 14, 2005
By Sean Carroll
Never mind Greg Dalby if he didn’t seem fazed by facing the nation’s seventh-ranked team in Notre Dame’s 2005 season-opener. Never mind if his calm and cool demeanor did not change just because he was competing in a high-profile tournament on the home turf of the two-time defending national champions. Opening-night jitters would be excused for most given the situation. Instead, a goal, less than two minutes into the match, is how Dalby decided to officially begin his junior campaign.
The tally, which came from 40-yards out on a free kick, was just the beginning for the Fighting Irish in their 4-1 win versus SMU in the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic on Sept. 2. Not a bad way not to start for Dalby and the Fighting Irish men’s soccer team as they embarked on their journey through what hopes to be another BIG EAST title run and NCAA berth. The Classic, hosted by Indiana University, brought together four of the top teams in the nation – Indiana, SMU, Wake Forest and Notre Dame. Dalby is no stranger to that kind of competition.
The Poway, Calif. native unofficially started the season over 4,000 miles away from Bloomington, Ind. in front of thousands of fans in one of the marquee events in international soccer. He was one of 21 players on the United States Under-20 soccer team that competed in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in Holland this past summer. For Dalby, it was not a vacation from traditional summer competition and he was not someone along for the ride or just glad to be there. He started three games in the midfield along with captaining the team that made U.S. soccer history.
“It was a great honor to represent my country first of all and then to be a captain of our country’s team made it really special,” says Dalby.
Soccer in the United States is not at the same popularity level as the traditional American sports like football, basketball and baseball nor has the U.S. been viewed as much of a threat when it comes to international competition. Even though recent success in the World Cup has the U.S. thinking bigger and better things for next summer’s competition in Germany, the United States does not rank with the Italians, Brazilians or the Argentineans when it comes to soccer.
Dalby and the young crew of Americans that took to the field in the Netherlands did their best to open more eyes when it comes to soccer in the United States. An opening 1-0 victory over soccer-power and eventual champion Argentina made many people take notice of the Americans.
“That was a huge win and it wasn’t a win that we stole,” states Dalby.
“It was a huge win and it was exciting. It was the first time a U.S. team had every beaten Argentina in any world championship event. People started to look at us differently following that win.”
The victory over Argentina was just the beginning for the Americans. The Under-20 team, which featured, several top college players and others from the professional ranks such as Freddy Adu, went undefeated in their three group-play matches. A win over Egypt and a tie versus Germany locked up seven points and the top spot in what was known as the `Group of Death’. The team accumulated more points in group play than any other team in American history.
Unfortunately, the run ended early in the second round of tournament play. A disappointing loss to Italy in the round of 16 was not the way Dalby and his teammates wanted to go out.
“We had a great time in the tournament but obviously the loss to Italy was tough to swallow,” says Dalby.
“But playing against that kind of competition in the tournament was amazing. The overall tournament experience was great and it was fun to be in a professional environment like that.”
Playing with and against some of the top players in the world is not a bad way to try and improve your game during the summer. Competing in front of crowds that exceed 10,000 people in the middle of a soccer-crazed nation cannot help but give you a different perspective on the game.
“Going away to an international event is just a great growing experience, from a soccer point of view and a cultural point of view,” says Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark, who played in three World Cups as a member of the Scottish national team.
“From a soccer point of view, you are playing against young people your age from different countries so you get to learn a different style of play. And of course you are playing against the best players in the world and whenever you play against the best that is a great teacher for you.”
Getting a taste of the international game will not be an experience that Dalby forgets anytime soon. However, he is now able to return to Notre Dame and use the skills and knowledge that he obtained while playing with the national team. The mature and well-respected Dalby was selected as a tri-captain, along with seniors Dale Rellas and John Stephens, for the Irish during the 2005 season.
A common tendency is to think that only the best soccer is played when professional players are involved. Dalby, a central midfielder and defender for the Irish, is one of the `poster-children’ for the college game. A student-athlete that hones his skills at the highest-level of competition for his age group yet returns to campus in the fall to help guide his team as they strive towards a national championship.
“I think it’s important to know that a lot of players, who are products of the college game, played really well in this tournament,” says Dalby.
“It just shows that the college game still has it. A lot of people think that in order to be successful you have to go pro. Players know that if you pick the right school with the right environment, you can get both a great soccer experience and a great education, which is a real plus down the line.”
Dalby admits that large, boisterous crowds do not rattle him anymore after his time spent in Holland. His smooth style of play would lead you to believe nothing could shake him off of his game. That is important for the Irish as they look to the junior midfielder for guidance, leadership and organization on the field as they aim for their third straight BIG EAST title.