Aug. 31, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a five-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2010 Notre Dame fall sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish men's soccer team, which advanced to the second round of last year's NCAA Championship following a stirring run to the BIG EAST Championship title match.
Even though the 2010 Notre Dame men's soccer season will not officially begin until Sept. 3 against UCLA, the foundation for the campaign was laid during the spring season and in Scandinavia.
The Fighting Irish embarked on a two-week trip to Sweden and Denmark in late May. The squad played six games over a nine-day stretch during the journey. Notre Dame posted a 3-3 record and started to put the pieces in place for what hopes to be a successful 2010 campaign.
"The lucky thing we had coming into this season is we had a very strong spring season plus a foreign tour," says head coach Bobby Clark, who is entering his 10th season on the Fighting Irish sidelines. "I think in all we played 14 games. I think the signs were there, especially in the foreign tour, that we've made strides in the spring. I felt that people who hadn't played very much prior to the spring suddenly grew up and will hopefully assume starting and leadership roles."
The trip provided the Irish coaching staff with a valuable opportunity to assess the team, which lost a significant portion of last season's squad that made the program's ninth straight NCAA Championship appearance and finished second in the BIG EAST Blue Division and was runner-up at the conference tournament.
"When you lose four players that go to the pros, you have to find replacements," adds Clark. "If you're going to have a good team, you'll always graduate strong players and there's no question we did. You're losing a very strong goalkeeper in Andrew Quinn and then you lose a fullback like Justin Morrow and Michael Thomas in the midfield, plus the top scorer in the BIG EAST over the past two years in Bright Dike, you have to fill these holes. I think we're in a position to do that. I think the spring and the foreign tour will have played a big part in that. It was a strong class that we passed on, but I do feel that we've got the personnel coming through that can fill these gaps and hopefully take us a little bit further."
One of Notre Dame's strengths lies in its attacking unit, where they boast talent and experience. The top returning scorer for the Irish is senior forward Jeb Brovsky, who tallied four goals and four assists last season. He earned a start in 15 of the 22 matches that he played in one season ago. Brovsky, a third-team all-BIG EAST selection in 2009, will likely be the starter as the underneath forward, while fellow senior Steven Perry will occupy the high forward spot. Perry played in all 23 matches, including 10 starts, last season and tallied two goals and one assist.
Providing valuable depth to the attack will be senior Andrew Luttrell and sophomore Danny O'Leary. Luttrell, who played in three matches last season, struggled with injuries during the spring, but will look to be healthy this fall. O'Leary did not see game action as a rookie, but figures to be a factor this season after a strong spring campaign.
"Danny O'Leary is a very, very strong athlete and very fast," says Clark. "He's really just learning how to fit in with our squad in knowing how to make runs and timing runs. There can't be a stronger athlete on our team than Danny. Hopefully he comes in fit and ready to compete for time. We need two high forwards. We know Steven Perry will be there and there's an opening for Danny to step in."
"I think Harry Shipp is certainly the best drop forward that I've seen in the country," adds Clark. "I think Harry can understudy Jeb Brovsky, but can also push Jeb even as a freshman. Hopefully he can give us some minutes."
"Leon Brown is a really well-balanced athlete and has a good nose for the goal," states Clark. "He can play out at the wide area or as a striker. He has a lot of attacking qualities. Alex Priede is another one who can play high. Alex is such a lively player that can cause all sorts of problems with his speed and his enthusiasm with his willingness to be involved in the game. We saw him at camp and I said he reminded me a lot of Joe Lapira. If Alex can have anything like the career that Joseph had, we'll be very happy."
Kyle Craft is another freshman addition on the Fighting Irish roster. Craft can play wide or up top, but Clark feels his best role will be at the wide position.
Notre Dame returns a young and talented group of midfielders headlined by sophomore Dillon Powers, who will be counted on to anchor the central midfield. Powers played in 18 matches, including four starts, and dished out five assists, which were the second-most on the team, during the 2009 campaign. He missed five games as he was with the United States team at the U-20 World Cup in Egypt, yet returned to provide a valuable spark to the Irish lineup en route to garnering BIG EAST all-rookie team accolades.
"Adam Mena had a terrific spring," says Clark. "He has good mobility and athletic ability and he covers ground and wins balls. He's good in the air and has good feet and can shoot with either foot and can score goals from second range. He did very well on the Scandinavian tour because Dillon Powers had picked up an injury and didn't play much so Mena possibly played the most minutes of anyone during our trip."
"I feel this is the first time Chris Sutton has really gotten himself fit since coming here. He's a very good defensive midfielder. He's a good long passer and I think once he gets his confidence and his fitness he can be a terrific anchor for the team."
Juniors Brendan King and Michael Rose are expected to start in the wide areas of the midfield for the Fighting Irish. King played in 22 matches, starting nine, and notched three assists one season ago. Rose saw time in 13 games, including two starts, before seeing his season come to an end due to a leg injury. Rose notched one goal and an assist.
"Brendan King looked very good on the Scandinavian tour," states Clark. "Brendan can play in the middle of the midfield or he can play on either flank. Technically he's one of our better players. He has a very good soccer mind and he has a good work rate. This could very well be his best year yet. The other likely starter is Michael Rose. He can also play up front, but he's been doing very well, especially on the right side of the midfield. Brendan tends to play on the left side where he can come in under. Michael is more of a flank player like a winger. He crosses a terrific ball. He's very, very strong athletically. I think he also has the ability to get goals from the wide area. Both Brendan and Michael can get goals."
"Kyle Richard has good ability to play on either flank, play high or play underneath," says Clark. "He can play in any of the attacking roles. He grew a lot over his freshman year just understanding the system and understanding how to defend. He has terrific confidence with the ball and has a nice knack of getting into goal-scoring positions. Bob Novak is not the tallest player, but he certainly manages to make his presence felt in games. He's another one that has a really good eye for the goal. He's always looking there and he hits the target and gives us quite a lot of penetration in the wide area. It'll be interesting to see how these two lads do in preseason if they can find a niche for themselves in the team and find a role. They certainly showed a lot of promise in the spring."
Another option at wide midfield is sophomore Eric Tilley. Tilley also can shift to fullback.
Junior central defender Aaron Maund is the mainstay of the central defense. He has started all 39 games that he has played in since coming to Notre Dame. Maund missed five games last season as he was with Powers and the U-20 squad in Egypt.
Sophomore Grant Van De Casteele will most likely be called upon to partner up with Maund in the central defense. Van De Casteele did not see game action as a freshman, yet the coaching staff was impressed by his performance during the spring.
"In the spring, Grant Van De Casteele looked like a very good partner for Aaron Maund," comments Clark. "Grant came in and played very, very well. He looked at home, especially by the end of the spring. He had settled down and was good cover. Grant has all the attributes that come with being a big guy. He's good in the air, strong, but he also had very soft feet for a big defender and he can play nice passes and gives us a nice balance at the back."
Others that could see time in the center of the defense is senior Craig Krzyskowski and freshman Andrew O'Malley. Both Krzyskowski and O'Malley will look to get on the pitch for the first time in their Fighting Irish careers in 2010.
Starting right back Bilal Duckett returns for his senior season. Duckett played in 22 matches last season and along with aiding the Irish defense, he deposited the golden goal in a 1-0 victory at Georgetown.
"Bilal Duckett grew in confidence throughout the spring," says Clark. "He played most of last season as our starting right back and I feel he's getting more athletic and just starting to use his strengths of greater athletic ability. He's very strong in the air and he just has to settle down. I feel he can give us more in the attacking side of the game because he can get forward and place good crosses into the box."
The left back position is up for grabs after the graduation of Morrow, an all-BIG EAST performer. Senior Greg Klazura and junior Sean McGrath expect to battle it out for the starting spot. Klazura saw time in six games last year and started once. McGrath was a starter in all six games in which he played.
"Greg Klazura and Sean McGrath both shared the spring and I'd have to say Greg Klazura was one of our better players," states Clark. "He had a fantastic spring and did superbly well. He's worked very hard and has earned some bonus points as far as being a starter. Sean McGrath will fight him all the way for the left back position."
Providing depth to any spot on the backline will be junior Michael Knapp, who played in one game in 2009, which was his first season with the Fighting Irish. Clark likes his versatility and the coverage he provides in the back. Knapp will certainly push for increased playing time this season.
Fifth-year senior Philip Tuttle figures to be the starter in goal when the season commences. He split time as a starter last season with Quinn. Tuttle posted a 7-3-2 record with five shutouts to go along with a 0.71 goals-against average and a .743 save percentage. Tuttle's 2009 season came to an end when he broke his thumb versus Louisville during the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship. Remarkably, Tuttle stayed in the match and helped the Irish advance in a penalty kick shootout, 4-3, over the Cardinals.
"It's great having Phil Tuttle back," says Clark. "He was tremendous last season. To have him back for a fifth year is an absolute bonus for us and we're thrilled with that."
Junior Will Walsh will likely be the backup to Tuttle between the pipes. Walsh has yet to see time in a game during his Fighting Irish career, yet the coaching staff envisions a bright future for the New Jersey native.
"As anyone will tell you, you need two goalkeepers," adds Clark. "We lost Tut (Philip Tuttle) in the semis of the BIG EAST Tournament and we were lucky we had Andrew Quinn. Will Walsh grew a lot in the spring. He has all the tools to be one of the best goalkeepers in the country. He has size, strength and he's quick. He has great feet and I think he'll be good."
"Pat Wall has had a great club and high school career," comments Clark. "Adam LaPlaca was a high school All-American. I think both of them are capable if anything happens, but I think initially we'll be looking to Philip (Tuttle) and Will (Walsh)."