Aug. 24, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in an ongoing series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2011 Notre Dame fall sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish men’s soccer team that has advanced to the NCAA Tournament each of the past 10 seasons.
Making the NCAA Tournament is the annual goal for the Notre Dame men’s soccer team according to head coach Bobby Clark, who is entering his 11th season on the Irish sidelines and is two victories shy of becoming the all-time wins leader in program history. The Fighting Irish have done quite well in reaching that target as they have qualified for the NCAAs in all 10 seasons of the Clark era, a streak that currently ranks fifth nationally. However, the Irish have not advanced past the second round of the postseason since 2007 and Clark feels the 2011 version of his squad is ready to take the next step.
“This is a hungry team,” says Clark, who boasts a 127-59-30 record with the Fighting Irish. “We would like to advance a little further (in the NCAA Tournament) than we’ve done in the past. We have been disappointed in the last three years since we’ve bowed out of the tournament long before where our expectations have led us to believe we might go. I think this is going to be a very, very hungry team.”
While the ultimate goal is reaching and then advancing in the NCAA Tournament, success in the regular season is what opens the door to the postseason. The Fighting Irish have compiled impressive marks in the regular season ever since Clark took the reins of the program. Notre Dame has won at least 10 games in each of the past 10 seasons and the Fighting Irish are the only team in the BIG EAST to finish in the top two of either division standings in each of the past four seasons. Notre Dame also is the only BIG EAST squad to qualify for the semifinals in each of the past four league tournaments.
“The regular season is your bread and butter,” states Clark. “You have to do well there. We were runner-up in the league last year (during the regular season) and that was a bit of a disappointment because you obviously want to win the league. The next thing is the conference tournament. We’ve made the final four quite a few times in a row but now we’d like to win it.”
Clark feels this year’s team will have success based on its depth and veteran leadership. Notre Dame welcomes back seven starters and 12 letterwinners from last season’s squad that posted a 10-6-4 record, including a 6-2-1 BIG EAST mark.
Captaining the Fighting Irish in 2011 will be Greg Klazura, Aaron Maund and Dillon Powers. Klazura, who will be starting at left back for the second straight campaign, is returning to the Irish for a fifth season after turning down an offer to the 2011 Major League Soccer (MLS) Combine. Maund, a starter in all 59 games he has played in during his first three seasons at Notre Dame, will once again be counted on to anchor the center of the Irish defense. Powers, a junior midfielder, has been a force for the Irish in his first two campaigns. He also brings a wealth of experience from playing with the United States Under-20 National Team.
Maund and Powers both earned second-team all-BIG EAST honors in 2010. Powers is Notre Dame’s leading returning goal scorer as he deposited four goals to go along with four assists one season ago. His point, goal and assist totals all ranked second among Notre Dame players last season.
Along with welcoming a talented five-man freshman class that features four high school All-Americans, the Irish bring Duke transfer Ryan Finley on board. Finley, a junior forward, was named the 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Offensive Player of the Year. He totaled 64 points on 28 goals and eight assists during his two seasons with the Blue Devils.
The mix of experienced veterans and talented newcomers should have the Fighting Irish in position to not only get back to the NCAA Tournament, but to make some noise once they are there.
“If you make the NCAA Tournament, you want to win it,” says Clark. “I think these are all realistic goals for this team, but they are realistic goals for quite a lot of teams in men’s soccer. The thing we have going for us is a very hungry team. We have to be hungry and we have to deliver and we are very aware of that this year.”
The Fighting Irish will have to replace graduated forward Steven Perry, who led all BIG EAST players in goals (12) and points (28), last season. The Irish also will need to fill the void of Jeb Brovsky, a three-year starter in both the midfield and attack. Clark says that Finley and fellow junior Danny O’Leary, who played in 12 matches last season, will contend for the starting high forward spot. Sophomore Alex Priede and freshman Vince Cicciarelli give the Irish two more valuable weapons at the high forward position. Priede did not play in a game last season, but figures to give the Irish big minutes this year.
“Whether we play with two high forwards or one high forward, I feel we have that option because we have four players that can play there so that gives us the option,” comments Clark. “Last year we played with one high forward and one underneath.”
Sophomore Harrison Shipp figures to occupy the starting role at the underneath forward position. Shipp had a solid freshman campaign as he tied for the team lead in assists with six en route to being named to the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team. His classmate Leon Brown, who did not see game action as a freshman, also will compete for major minutes.
“Harry Shipp did fantastic as a freshman last year,” says Clark. “There’s no question that he can build on that. Another guy who can also do that is Leon Brown. Leon had a fantastic spring and we are very excited about him. Leon can give us minutes in the wide area and minutes up high. The way Leon played in the spring, it’s going to be tough to keep him off the field. He has a lot of potential.”
The Fighting Irish return four starters in the midfield. Powers and senior Chris Sutton are the projected duo in the central midfield. Sutton started 17 of the 19 games he played in last season, while Powers was a starter in all 20 matches. Senior Adam Mena and junior Bob Novak are two more options in the central midfield. Mena played in every game last season and scored two goals.
“Both Dillon (Powers) and Chris (Sutton) are experienced and capable players,” adds Clark. “Adam Mena is a very well-rounded player. He can play as a wide midfielder, as a central attacking midfielder and as a forward. Adam gives us tremendous athleticism. We’re looking for big things from him this season. Bob Novak gives us extra coverage in the mid-areas as well.”
Mena was named to the Premier Developmental League (PDL) All-Central Conference Team this past summer after he netted 14 goals while playing for the Indiana Invaders.
Sophomore Kyle Craft and freshman Brendan Lesch also will bolster the central midfield unit. Craft did not play in a game as a freshman, but Clark likes how he has improved since his rookie season. Clark also is impressed with the strength that Lesch brings to the squad.
Seniors Brendan King and Michael Rose return as starters in the wide areas of the midfield. Unfortunately, Rose will miss the early portion of the season after suffering a knee injury during the spring campaign. He started 19 matches last season and tallied one goal and four assists from the right side of the midfield.
King started all 20 games in 2010 and registered three goals and six assists, which tied for the team lead in that category. The left-sided midfielder has only missed one match during his Notre Dame career and he has compiled 22 points on five goals and 12 assists in those 63 games played.
“Michael (Rose) has rehabilitated well and we’re hoping he gets back fairly early into the season. He has worked hard doing his rehab,” says Clark. “Brendan King is certainly someone we’re looking for a lot of numbers from this year. He’s a fantastically skilled player and he was just starting to heat up as a junior and we are looking for big things from him as a senior.”
Junior Kyle Richard gives the Irish depth and experience as a wide midfielder and he can also play in the attack. Richard saw time in 15 matches as a sophomore and he notched one assist. Fellow junior Eric Tilley has yet to see time on the field for the Irish, but Clark likes his versatility along the midfield line and the fact he is a sound technical player.
Freshmen Max Lachowecki and Robby Gallegos give the Fighting Irish additional options in the midfield. Lachowecki is versatile and can play in the middle, out wide or even as a left-sided defender. Clark likes Gallegos’ ability to connect passes and his potential with the Irish.
Notre Dame returns three of its four starters from last season’s backline. Gone is right back Bilal Duckett, yet Maund and junior Grant Van De Casteele are back in the central defense and Klazura will occupy the left back slot. Not only did that returning trio help solidify the Irish defense one season ago, they also combined for 11 points on four goals and three assists.
“We are well balanced in the defense,” says Clark. “We lost one of our starting back four, but we have Aaron Maund, Grant Van De Casteele and Greg Klazura returning. Grant missed a lot of the spring because he had to get surgery on his knee so he’ll come back and be pain free this year. He played through a lot of pain last year.”
Clark says senior Michael Knapp will likely fill the role at right back. Knapp, one of the top students on the Irish team, has only played in two career matches, but is coming off a solid spring campaign. He also brings a great amount of versatility to the defense since he can play anywhere on the backline.
Sophomore Andrew O’Malley is next in line in the central defense. O’Malley did not see game action during his freshman season, but Clark liked how he played in the spring and has full confidence in his abilities if they are needed to replace either Maund or Van De Casteele.
Freshman Nick Besler also gives depth at central defense and in the central midfield. Besler is the younger brother of former Notre Dame All-American and Academic All-American Matt Besler, who played for the Irish from 2005-08. The elder Besler now plays for Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer (MLS) and was voted an MLS All-Star in 2011.
Senior Sean McGrath brings experience to the left back position. McGrath started six games during his sophomore season. He also is an option as a wide midfielder.
Sophomore Luke Mishu did not see game action last season, but he is a strong and powerful player and Clark likes what he accomplished in the spring. Fellow sophomore Connor Miller also impressed the coaches during the spring when he joined the team as a walk-on.
Senior Will Walsh figures to be the leading candidate to start in goal. He started the first seven matches of the 2010 season before Philip Tuttle, a fifth-year senior at the time, returned from injury. Walsh produced a 3-2-2 record with four shutouts during his time as a starter last season. He also produced a 0.54 goals-against average with a .875 save percentage.
“We have three good goalkeepers,” offers Clark. “Will Walsh will obviously be the favorite to start. Both Pat Wall and Adam LaPlaca played very well in the spring. I would expect both to push Will. Will got a lot of time last year because of an injury to Phil Tuttle and he did very well. We’re hoping that Will can build on that and, being a senior, it would be a very nice reward for him. It’ll be a good battle.”
The Fighting Irish have 10 teams on their 2011 regular-season slate that qualified for last season’s NCAA Tournament. Included in those squads are runner-up Louisville and semifinalist Michigan.
Following the season opener against Indiana on Aug. 27 at Alumni Stadium, the Irish will travel to Bloomington, Ind. to take part in the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic. Notre Dame will play Dayton on Sept. 2 and Saint Louis on Sept. 4.
The Fighting Irish will play host to the 10th annual Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament Sept. 9 and 11. Indiana and Bucknell will get things underway Friday, Sept. 9, while Notre Dame will take on Denver in the second match of the evening. Day two features Indiana facing Denver and the Irish will square off with Bucknell.
Notre Dame will welcome in Michigan to Alumni Field on Sept. 16 before travelling to Michigan State on Sept. 18.
The Irish will begin BIG EAST Conference play Sept. 24 with a home tilt versus Louisville. That match will be aired live on Fox Soccer Channel. Notre Dame continues league play Oct. 1 at St. John’s before hosting a non-conference match against Northwestern on Oct. 5.
Notre Dame’s final seven regular-season contests all are against BIG EAST foes beginning Oct. 8 with a home showdown against Connecticut. Consecutive road games will take Notre Dame to Marquette (Oct. 12) and Georgetown (Oct. 15).
The Irish will return home to play host to Seton Hall on Oct. 19 before road tilts at Pittsburgh (Oct. 22) and Providence (Oct. 26). Notre Dame will conclude the regular season Oct. 29 with a home affair versus West Virginia.
The BIG EAST tournament will begin Wednesday, Nov. 2 with the first round, while the quarterfinals are slated for Saturday, Nov. 5. The semifinals and final will be held Nov. 11 and 13 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. The stadium is home to the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer.
Following the conference tournament, the Fighting Irish will hope to see their name among the 48-team NCAA Championship field for the 11th straight season. Tournament play begins Thursday, Nov. 17 and College Cup Weekend will be held Dec. 9 and 11 at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
“It’s a great schedule,” states Clark. “We have the 17 games, along with three scrimmages, and we want to make them all good tests. You always want to test the players and you want to find out where they are. Playing big games gets them excited and that’s part of playing this game, to get the players and fans excited. We always look to play the best teams that we can possibly play. It tests us and hopefully prepares us for the postseason.”
— ND —