Oct. 27, 2014
Patrick Hodan has the bruises to prove he's a marked man on the soccer field.
"A lot of the teams we've been playing lately have been pretty aggressive," said Hodan, a 5-foot-9, 155-pound junior midfielder for the University of Notre Dame top-ranked men's soccer team.
"They're always looking to give you a knock, to scare you off. You really can't let that bother you. You just have to stay positive and focus on the next play."
Hodan fought off Virginia Tech's targeting on Saturday night and helped the Fighting Irish continue to set the pace in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where they own a one-game lead over North Carolina for first place in the Coastal Division. Hodan scored off a free kick in Notre Dame's 3-1 victory against the Hokies. He used a power dribble and then blasted a goal inside the right post that gave the Irish a 2-0 lead.
Irish coach Bobby Clark has said Hodan is a small guy who turns into Superman when he puts on the blue and gold Irish colors. Hodan has been the Man of Score for the Irish lately. Scoring one goal in Notre Dame's first nine games, the junior flash has scored six goals in his last six games. Hodan has 24 goals in his Irish career.
More impressively, Hodan has scored nine post-season goals. He sparked the Irish run to last season's NCAA title with his offense, including both goals in the 2-0 victory against New Mexico in the semifinals of the College Cup.
Hodan's resume on the soccer field has brought him plenty of attention from opponents and he's responded by lighting up the scoreboard.
"The thing that's impressive about Patrick is he can go past players and still has the calmness to score goals," Clark said.
"He's done it since he was a freshman. Patrick's change of pace is special. It's not pure speed that makes him prolific as a scorer, it's his change of pace. That's the same with a lot of guys who are special. They can speed up, they can slow down, and they're timing when they make the move. Patrick has that, and he can put a really good touch on the ball. You put that all together, and those are great talents."
Clark said Hodan also has a special awareness on the soccer field and the ability to attack from either side.
"Patrick understands when do you pull, when do you go past, when do you go left, when do you go right," Clark said.
"That's one of the great things about Patrick, also, he can go left or he can go right. He's left-footed, but he can go to his right as well, and that makes a big difference. Teams can't just say, take away his left foot, because he has a good right foot as well."
Hodan hasn't started every match because Clark has a history of bringing in top offensive players midway through the first half in order to give the Irish offense a jump-start.
Hodan has certainly been finishing. He has four game-winners for the Irish and nine in his career. His goal against Virginia Tech Saturday was the difference-maker, since the Hokies scored immediately after that to cut the Irish lead to 2-1.
"I think as the season has worn on we're becoming a lot better offensively," Hodan said of his scoring surge of late.
"We've gotten better at moving the ball from the back into the midfield. Then we've been able to score on the chances we've created.
"We've had numerous guys step up and score in big moments. We really don't care who scores. We've moved the ball tremendously the past few games, a lot better that the start of the year. We're unselfish with our play, and we find the open guy."
Hodan often isn't the open guy because opponents are shadowing him.
"I think it's through the support of my teammates," Hodan said about breaking loose to get off a shot.
"I know I'm going to have numerous guys who are making runs and people who are able to cover me. My teammates make it a lot easier for me to get open."
Clark said great scorers learn how to deal with intense targeting.
"That goes with the territory," Clark said of Hodan being marked.
"If you're a guy who is going to score goals, you're always going to be marked. I think Patrick enjoys pressure. He handles it well. The great thing is it opens up space for (right back) Luke Mishu. Patrick will draw attention, one or two men. It's great having a player like Patrick. I wouldn't mind having a couple more.
"Harry Shipp was the same way," Clark said of the Irish star from last season.
"Patrick and Harry are both guys who can handle pressure and handle marking. They've been doing that their whole lives. They're special players. Guys like (Lionel) Messi and (Luis) Suarez, Neymar ... if you're a special player, you know how to deal with that, and Patrick's a special player. You don't coach that. You're fortunate to scout it and recruit it."
As Notre Dame gears up to seek a second consecutive national championship, Hodan's scoring outburst is arriving at a perfect time.
"Once you start getting to the end of the regular season, every game really matters," said Hodan. "It's especially important for us to take our chances when we get them. In the big games, you never know which moment is going to be the game-decider. You have to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them."
Hodan has thrived under the coaching of Clark and Irish assistants B.J. Craig and Greg Dalby.
Clark said Hodan reflects the skill and principles Notre Dame values in its student-athletes.
"The nice thing is that Patrick is a 3.95 finance student," Clark said.
"He's a good student. That's the most important thing when you leave Notre Dame. He's very similar to Harry Shipp, who was a 3.95 finance student, and he also has a good future in the MLS. But first things first, he needs to get back to school this week and be working on getting that degree."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent