1997 Men's Soccer Outlook
Young Irish Squad Looks to Build on the Success of 1996 Campaign
Bill Savarino will likely see the most playing time as
a midfielder in order to give the Irish more depth and experience there. (Click photo for larger version)
The 1996 campaign proved to be the most memborable in Notre Dame men's soccer history as the Irish celebrated a BIG EAST tournament championship and a first-round NCAA tournament victory.
The Irish reversed their fortunes of a losing record the previous year to fashion a 14-7-2 overall mark last season and 6-3-2 record in league play. Notre Dame finished the season ranked 17th in the final Soccer America rankings and 20th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Umbro final poll.
The upcoming 1997 campaign will bring about change and new challenges for eighth-year head coach Mike Berticelli and his squad. Gone is a group of five seniors who won three conference championships during a four-year span and made three NCAA tournament appearances. While the experience and leadership they provided a year ago cannot be replaced right away, the nucleus of this year's squad, despite its youth and inexperience, has the incentive to get Notre Dame back into the NCAAs.
"The players on this team take a great deal of pride in having won the BIG EAST and getting to the final 16 of the NCAA tournament," Berticelli says. "We know, however, that that is behind us. We need to build for the future."
With the loss of five seniors -- Tony Capasso, Brian Engesser, Peter Gansler, Konstantin Koloskov and Chris Mathis -- this will definitely be a rebuilding year for Berticelli. The void of experience and talent that has been left, however, can only be replaced with time.
"Last season set a new standard for players in this program now," Berticelli says. "This year, we're starting all over again with a group of players that are committed to getting us to that next level again and beyond. We're working to establish a new precedent and set of standards."
There is a lack of depth and experience on defense and in the midfield and there aren't a lot of players at every position. Some of the returnees may be forced to play out of position, while the younger players will have to step up quickly.
Junior Ben Bocklage will look to become one of the scorers on this year's team.
From the onset, the one thing Berticelli and his staff will be searching for are players who will accept the responsibility of scoring goals. With the losses of Capasso and Koloskov, the Irish need to find a "go-to" person. Seniors Ryan Turner and Bill Savarino, junior Ben Bocklage and sophomores Andrew Aris and Ryan Cox will look to become the scorers on this team. And as it was a year ago, defense will be a key and again be stressed.
"With our young team, we need to establish goals which will be attainable to reach," Berticelli says, "Our first goal will be getting back to the BIG EAST tournament and after that we'll take it one step at a time."
Berticelli expects his '97 squad to get better as the season progresses and to reach its potential by season's end. This will be a team that will have to make improvements week-to-week in order to attain its goals.
"Each week will be a learning experience for us," Berticelli says. "Every game will be a learning experience. The key will be to win some games while learning. In order to do that, we must play solid defense."
Berticelli doesn't expect intensity to be a problem for his ballclub. After two seasons in the competitive BIG EAST, his team knows what it has to do in order to be successful and the focus it must maintain.
"A big part of winning a second conference championship is having the experience of winning the first one," Berticelli says. "It's a tremendous advantage for us to have already been there before. Our players know what it takes, and as long as we stay focused, we have the confidence and assurance of knowing that our goals are attainable. It makes getting there the second time somewhat easier."
Up front, Notre Dame has the most depth and experience of any area of the field. Berticelli can use several different forward line combinations which will be effective at giving the Irish offensive production.
Senior co-captain Ryan Turner is Notre Dame's most explosive goal scorer. He battled back after missing the entire 1995 season with a serious back injury to start 17 of the 20 games he played in and to finish as the team's second-leading scorer in '96 with five goals and four assists (14 points). Turner had the game-winning goal in the 1-0 Irish first-round NCAA tournament victory over UNC Greensboro.
Senior co-captain Ryan Turner is Notre Dame's most explosive goal scorer. (Click photo for larger version)
Turner has the most potential to be one of Notre Dame's "go-to" players. His status at the beginning of the season may be in question after sustaining a foot injury that required surgery in late spring.
"The key for us is to have Ryan remain healthy," Berticelli says. "He made a tremendous recovery last year from a serious back injury and came on late in the season to score some big goals for us."
Junior Ben Bocklage, Notre Dame's leading scorer in '95, will see time either at forward or in the midfield. He will be a key factor in every game either as a scorer or in setting up goals. A starter in 15 of the 22 games he played in as a sophomore, Bocklage will be one of the players to fill the void left by Konstantin Koloskov and Tony Capasso; one of his responsibilities will be to organize the attack. He had three goals and an assist in '96, but will look to become more of a dominant scorer this season.
"Ben has a strong mentality and focus," Berticelli says, "along with a strong physical presense on the field. What we need him to do is get himself into a goal-scoring position more often. The success we have will be dependent on his role this season."
Senior Scott Wells will by vying once again for a starting job. Wells was a starter in the '96 lineup prior to suffering a concussion in the third game of the season. How he comes back from the injury to start the year will determine his effectiveness on the team.
"Scott came back and had a good spring," Berticelli says. "He plays with a great deal of confidence and should be a real factor in our success. Scott has an excellent first touch with the ball and will be another player we are going to rely on to score some goals for us."
Two sophomores with goal-scoring potential, Andrew Aris and Ryan Cox, also return. Aris had a great freshman year as he tallied three goals and dished off five assists (11 points) and proved to be a big-game goal scorer for the Irish on several occassions. He played in all 23 games and started seven contests. Aris has the potential to be one of the team's leading scorers because of his strength and mentality.
"We're going to count on Andrew to do more goal scoring for us this season," Berticelli says. "A lot of his success will be determined by the quality of his first touch."
Cox, a BIG EAST All-Rookie team selection in '96, has the ability to take people on and to be one of the team's most creative players with the ball. He played in 19 contests a year ago and earned nine starts in the lineup. He will create goal-scoring chances for himself and others around him.
"Ryan is a very gifted player and is creative with the ball," Berticelli says. "What he needs to do though is use that creativity within the structure of our team. If Ryan can do this, he will create more scoring opportunitities for himself and everyone else on the team."
Junior Matt Johnson is one of Notre Dame's most experienced returning midfielders. (Click photo for larger version)
With the losses of Tony Capasso, Konstantin Koloskov and Chris Mathis, there will definitely be some rebuilding to do for the Irish in the midfield. The returnees with the most experience are junior Matt Johnson, senior Joe Gallo and fellow senior Bill Savarino, who has played both in the midfield and on the forward line. Savarino will likely see the most playing time as a midfielder in order to give the Irish more depth and experience there.
There is no true returning playmaker in the midfield, but there are potentially some players who will be able to do that. Johnson, who has been a starter since his freshman season, will be the one to organize the team defensively. He is the heart and soul of the defense in the midfield for Notre Dame, but does have the potential to be an offensive threat.
"Matt is the steadiest player on our team," Berticelli says. "He's consistent and displays a great deal of composure with or without the ball. The players obviously have a lot of respect for Matt because they elected him one of our co-captains for this season."
Gallo, who started 17 of 22 games last season, has a tremendous work ethic and is the real energizer of this team. He is capable of picking up the slack when others get tired on the field. Berticelli is looking for Gallo to become more of an attacking player and will look for him to get involved more offensively.
Senior Joe Gallo, who started 17 of 22 games last season, has a tremendous work ethic and is
the real energizer of this team.
"Joe has a strong work ethic and is one of our best conditioned players," Berticelli says. "He can play wide in the midfield and get from penalty box to penalty box for 90 minutes in a game. We never have to worry about Joe getting tired in a game."
Like Gallo, Savarino has an outstanding work rate and also is capable of being a big-goal scorer. As a starter in six games last season, he had a goal and an assist. Savarino can play both as a forward and midfielder, but because of the lack of depth in the midfield, he will probably be used most often in this area of the field.
"Bill is one of the players we are counting on to step up and score more goals for us," Berticelli says. "He has a strong shot and is capable of coming up with some big goals for us. Bill has the ability to be a playmaker for us in midfield; he can pass the ball as well as score goals."
Incoming freshmen Griffin Howard and Reggie McKnight will see playing time this season and give the Irish more depth at this position. Howard comes in with strong credentials, a great deal of experience playing in the midfield and a strong background. McKnight is a talented player with speed and quickness. Both will in some way figure into the Irish plans.
Jason Jorski had a strong spring and will contribute this season coming off the bench. He definitely will see more playing time in '97 mostly in the midfield, but could see some time at forward. Jorski is dangerous with the ball and could develop into a scoring threat this season.
"Jason has great speed, intensity and an outstanding work rate," Berticelli says. "He is dangerous with and without the ball, especially around the goal area. As Jason gets more playing time, he could develop into a key goal scorer for us."
Sophomore Peter Bandera contributed early on in the '96 season (played in four games) and will give the Irish depth either at forward or in the midfield, as will sophomore walk-on Bart Lanahan.
The defense returns two starters -- sophomores Alan Woods and Matt McNew. The Irish, however, will need to replace the experience and leadership of Peter Gansler. Gansler was the stalwart in the lineup a year ago, especially when Brian Engesser, a starter throughout his career, suffered a career-ending injury. A strong defense with the emphasis on fundamentals and basics will be once again be critical to the success of this year's team.
Woods and McNew are both coming off excellent rookie seasons. Woods, a BIG EAST All-Rookie Team selection, is a solid and talented defender with strong athletic skills. McNew, moved from the midfield to sweeper last season when Engesser was sidelined with the injury.
Woods started all 21 games he played a year ago. A strong one-on-one defender, he has the ability to become an All-American in the next couple of years.
"Alan Woods has the potential to become one of the premier defenders in the country," Berticelli says. "All Alan needs to do is improve his team defensive mentality and not just worry about covering just one player."
McNew did a tremendous job changing his role on this team and moving into a new position. His natural position is as a midfielder, but Berticelli will take advantage of the experience he gained last season and use him as a defender.
"Matt made the transition from central midfielder to sweeper a year ago," Berticelli says. "Because of our lack of experienced players in the backfield we will be forced to use Matt as a defender again this season. He has continued to improve at his new position and will once again be critical to our success."
Junior Phil Murphy, a walk-on, has steadily improved over the past seasons and has worked himself into position to become a starter this season. Murphy is one of the team's most versatile players; he can play both in the backfield and in the midfield. Notre Dame will likely use his talents on defense because of the experience he gained playing there last season.
"Phil has continued to improve and get better each season," Berticelli says. "He has worked himself into position to earn a starting job this season. Phil is more confident and has worked on improving all facets of his game. He is our best utility player; he can play anywhere on the field for us."
Freshman Stephen Maio, a member of the Canadian Under-20 National Team and one of the top defenders in Canada, joins the Irish squad this season with the opportunity to become an impact player. His aggressive style of play will benefit Notre Dame's defensive strategies and tactics. He is strong fundamentally and a mature player.
"Although he's only a freshman, we're counting on Stephen Maio to be an impact player for us," Berticelli says. "His is one of the top defenders in Canada and comes from an outstanding background. Stephen is very mature and will be one of our most aggressive players on defense. He is very solid in the air."
Senior David Cutler returns after missing the '96 campaign while studying abroad in Italy. As a sophomore, he played and started all 19 games on defense. In addition, he may see time on defense as well. Cutler is expected to figure into the Irish plans this season either as a defender or midfielder, but how much playing time he sees early on will be dependent on what type of playing condition he returns in '97 after not playing all of last season.
"We're not sure what to expect from David early on," Berticelli says, "because we just don't know what type of playing shape he's going to come back in. After not playing for almost two years, it's definitely going to take him some time to feel comfortable out there again."
Sophomore Matt De Dominicis appeared in just three games last year, but is expected to see more playing time this season. He gives the Irish depth in the backfield and is a player with great intensity and speed who can help raise the tempo of the game.
"Matt is a real workhorse for us," Berticelli says. "Nobody works harder in practice than he does to make himself a better player. Matt just need to get more experience on the field and when he comes into the game, we're counting on him raise the level and tempo of our play."
Senior Matt Zimmer returns to the lineup in '97 after leaving the team following the 1995 campaign. Matt is a strong defender with the ball and gives the Irish depth in the backfield.
Freshman Patrick Moss will challenge for playing time and could be a rookie to surprise people this season. Depending on how he steps up and makes the adjustment to the collegiate game, Moss could be one of those rookies to find increased playing time on the field as the season progresses.
Junior Greg Velho, named Most Outstanding Player of the '96 BIG EAST tournament, will once again be the Irish starter in goal. (Click photo for larger version)
Junior Greg Velho, named Most Outstanding Player of the '96 BIG EAST tournament, will once again be the Irish starter in goal. Velho had an outstanding season and was particularly strong down the stretch for Notre Dame in the BIG EAST and in the NCAAs. He's got to have another outstanding season for the Irish to be successful again this year, especially with such young players on defense.
"Greg is an extremely talented player with the potential to have a big season for us," Berticelli says. "He is outstanding in the air and handles crosses well. Greg is the clog for us behind a young and inexperienced defense."
Junior Gerick Short and sophomore John Krivacic will once again be battling each other for the backup spot. Short played in just one game last season, while Krivacic did not see any playing time in his first season.
The BIG EAST will once again offer the Irish a very tough and challenging schedule. The league had three of its teams in the NCAA tournament a year ago, with St. John's being crowned the national champion. At one time or another during the '96 campaign, five BIG EAST teams were ranked in the top 25.
Outside of the BIG EAST, Notre Dame will be facing another demanding slate that includes the likes of Indiana and SMU.