Sept. 10, 2010

Team Building Near the Baltic
Notre Dame men’s soccer used two-week Scandinavian trip to strengthen team.

By: Sean Carroll

A successful 2010 Notre Dame men’s soccer season might be traced back to senior leadership, sweat-producing training sessions and great coaching or it could be from van rides, kicky putty and the Baltic Sea.

Following the spring semester in May, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team used a two-week journey to Sweden and Denmark to become a stronger team both on and off the field. A competitive six-game schedule and several practice sessions kept their soccer skills sharp, while comical van trips, nicknames, inside jokes and mini-golf soccer games gave the players memories that will last a lifetime.

The Irish used the Pensionat Maglarp in Trelleborg, Sweden as their base camp for the trip. The Pensionat Maglarp was more house than luxury resort and was located near the bridge that separates Copenhagen, Denmark from Malmo, Sweden.

“I think the location and environment we were in made it like a soccer camp,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark says. “It was phenomenal. We had to make our own breakfast and lunches. There were no distractions and that was one of the real positives from the trip.”

The Fighting Irish posted a 3-3 record against some very formidable competition in both Sweden and Denmark. Due to scheduling conflicts, the Irish had to compact six matches into a nine-day span. The challenge was increased even more as some of the professional teams opted to suit up their top squad against the Irish as opposed to one of their youth teams.

“When you’re playing against a professional team you get to see how they operate and how they prepare themselves for games and how they conduct themselves on the field,” Irish senior midfielder Andrew Luttrell says. “You can really take away some good pointers and learn from them. It was just a great environment to compete in and we really were able to take it all in.”

Since a quick turnaround was often needed to prepare the Irish for their next match, the team used the cool waters of the Baltic Sea as their traditional postgame ice bath to rejuvenate the muscles.

“The six games in a short amount of time meant everyone had a chance to play,” Clark adds. “That was good and it’ll help us this season. The trip gave us a jumpstart on this season and forced the new seniors to lead since the ones who graduated weren’t there.”

It was not all practice and games for the squad as they had ample opportunity to enjoy themselves. One of the more popular recreational activities at the team’s base camp was kicky putty, which is a mini-golf course that uses soccer balls instead of golf balls.

“I learned that Craig (Krzyskowski) and myself are pretty competitive in just about anything we do, especially on the kicky putty course,” junior goalkeeper Will Walsh laughs. “We don’t take kindly to losing.”

The Pensionat Maglarp also featured three soccer fields for training, a tennis court and a pond, yet some of the fondest memories may be of the kitchen since the players woke up several mornings to the sweet aroma of team doctor, Dr. James Moriarty, cooking breakfast.

In addition to cooking, Dr. Moriarty and other members of the travel party, including coaches, had to double as chauffeurs. The Irish took vans to their games, which sometimes were several hours away. Driving stick-shift automobiles in a foreign land often caused laughter, and sometimes fright, for the players in their respective vans.

The Irish were able to use a safer mode of transportation, their feet, while touring Malmo, which is Sweden’s second largest city behind Stockholm. Malmo, located on the southern tip of Sweden, is separated from Copenhagen by a narrow strip of the Baltic, which can be crossed by a suspension bridge.

In Malmo, the group was able to see, among other things, St. Peter’s Church, the old shopping district and the Malmo Opera House along with a contemporary art and design museum.

Another seemingly simple sightseeing adventure produced a curveball for the group. When the team traveled to downtown Copenhagen to see the famous Little Mermaid statue, they were surprised to learn the figurine was at the World’s Fair in China. The live video feed of the statue in China did not suffice the group so they proceeded on to other adventures, which for some meant blazing through the streets of Copenhagen on rented bicycles.

“One of the best things that happens when you’re together for such a long time is that people tend to let their guard down,” senior defender Craig Krzyskowski says. “When you’re living together like we did for an extended period of time you see everyone’s true colors. I think everyone can agree that we mesh really well as a group.”

The humorous escapades were often documented in the player blogs that were posted on the Notre Dame athletics web site, Several of the Irish student-athletes were able to put their writing skills and wit to good use for their family and friends to read back home.

Although some of those friends were actually able to experience parts of the journey firsthand. The players and coaches had the good fortune to spend time with former Irish standouts, and recent graduates, Ryan Miller and Michael Thomas, who are now playing professionally in Sweden.

It was appropriate that the squad was able to spend time with their former teammates since a member of that fraternity is what made the trek to Scandinavia possible in the first place.

The trip was funded by an endowment started by former Irish soccer player Tom Crotty, who also was a lead donor for Alumni Stadium, the new home for the men’s and women’s soccer programs at Notre Dame. The endowment has been supplemented by donations from other alumni, family and friends of the program and is known as the `Crotty Challenge’ to the Irish soccer family. The `Crotty Challenge’ will make future foreign trips a possibility for the Irish.

This was the third foreign tour for the Irish under Clark, whose teams visited Scotland in 2002 and Brazil in 2006. The journeys are special in many ways, but for some the enjoyment stems from the simple fact of being able to play the game they love.

“I thought the best part of the trip was just playing soccer,” Walsh remarks. “That’s why we went over there in the first place. We played against six really good teams and they weren’t afraid to show their real skills against us. It was a really good experience to see the professionals play at their level and that’s where we want to be and I think we can get there.”

The Fighting Irish hope to reach a new level in 2010 and if they do, odds are it had something to do with Scandinavia.

Powers Captures Milk Cup Title, MVP Honors
The Scandinavian adventure was just one of the overseas highlights for the Irish this summer. Once the team trip was over, sophomore midfielder Dillon Powers kept his passport handy as he competed with the United States Under-20 national team at the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland in late July.

Powers helped the U.S. win the title with a 3-0 record and he was named tournament MVP. The Plano, Texas native played in all three matches, including two starts. The Americans opened tournament action with a 1-0 win over China and followed that up with a 3-2 triumph of Denmark before taking down the host country Northern Ireland 3-0 in the final.

“Our goal was to win the tournament,” Powers says. “The Milk Cup is a really big deal in Northern Ireland. The crowds were really into it and it definitely was an exciting atmosphere. It was kind of interesting to have the whole town against you in the final (against Northern Ireland) but they were very friendly to us. We won the game in pretty good fashion and they gave us a hand for that. It was fun and exciting to win.”

The Milk Cup was not the first major international competition for Powers, who competed with the U.S. at last September’s U-20 World Cup in Egypt. He played in two of the three matches and earned one start as the U.S. went 1-2 and narrowly missed advancing to the Round of 16.

“When playing with the U.S., there’s a lot of pressure and expectation to act like a professional because they treat us like professionals and they want us to play like a professional,” Powers comments. “It’s a good experience to be in that environment. It feels good to play for your country because it gives you a lot of pride. I’d love to keep playing with the U.S. and hopefully be on the Olympic team and then make the World Cup roster some day. That’s the ultimate goal.”