Fifth-year senior midfielder/forward Michael Rose ('12) will share his insights from the road as the Notre Dame men's soccer team makes its annual run through the NCAA post-season. The Severna Park, Md., native has posted career totals of four goals and six assists, and was named a BIG EAST Academic All-Star in 2011. Rose is serving as a team captain for the Irish this season. He is interning for the Monogram Club this fall.
The Monday after our BIG EAST Tournament victory, the NCAA Championship draw was announced and we were awarded the No. 1 overall seed. The NCAA men's soccer tournament is formatted differently than NCAA basketball or even the women's soccer tournament for that matter. There are 48 teams that get a chance to play for the national championship. The top 16 teams are seeded and get a first round bye.
Our draw for the bracket is interesting with us getting the winner of Cleveland State and Michigan State in the second round. Looking ahead, even though we have made it a point this season to not look too far forward and to just focus on the game at hand, we will most likely see Indiana in the Sweet 16 and the No, 8 and No. 9 seeds in our bracket are UNC and St. Louis, respectively. While it's definitely cool to see that people have taken notice of our body of work this season, it also feels like a target has been put on our back, and that every team that comes into South Bend to play us will have nothing to lose. It also looks like, for at least the first two rounds, that we will be playing two teams that we have already played this season: Michigan State and Indiana.
I'm Somewhere Between Ray Hudson and Bob Hope
Some interesting developments this week along with our tournament draw. First of all, fellow senior Adam Mena volunteered us to speak at the football pep rally on Friday. If there is one thing that I've learned about myself in college, it is that one of the things that scares me most in this world is public speaking. If you ask me to take a penalty kick or do anything athletic in front of thousands of people, I don't get the least bit nervous. But talk? I'm sweating bullets. We are talking like a class presentation in front of 20 kids here…. just a few more than will be at the pep rally.
Adam and I get out there and after some nervous moments, and me almost dropping the BIG EAST trophy in front of a packed Purcell Pavilion crowd, I manage to escape only minorly embarrassed with my performance. Basically, all we had to do was talk for two minutes about our BIG EAST win and to put in a plug for our second round game against Michigan State, who won their game on Thursday against Cleveland State, 2-1.
I came out of it also amazingly impressed with how our current leprechaun is able to talk in front of packed crowds on a regular basis with such ease. Let's be honest though, this guy is the Leprechaun at an ND pep rally - he could talk about how great of a Scrabble team we have here and the place would go nuts. But I will give him his due - he was doing really well.
The second development this week is that Sean Carroll, our media relations director, has given me the go-ahead to do some color commentary for the game on Sunday, which I am pumped for. I have mixed feelings about if I'm going to be awesome at it, or just awkward. After all, I am a part of the American Mumblers Association, along with Dillon Powers and former captain and housemate of mine Aaron Maund. Regardless of how I do, I think it's going to be a blast.
Pregame Preparations (Ryan Finley pictured left against Michigan State)
Home games here at Notre Dame with the guys are always a great experience. To start with, our traditional pancake pregame meal has to be one of the coolest traditions in college soccer. Three hours before every game, the whole team comes to Boss's [head coach Bobby Clark] house where his wife, Bette, makes us pancakes and sets up all sorts of breakfast food for us. Coach [Greg] Dalby's wife, Stacey, has also started to come and help Bette with the food.
To make it even more of a family affair, Coach [BJ] Craig usually brings along his three Musketeers (aka his sons Noah, Micah, and Jonah). I prefer that nickname to what Grant calls them: the minions, but you guys take your pick on which one you think is the best. Once everyone gets to Boss's house, and gets their food, everyone has their own routine. Some gather in his living room to watch whatever soccer games are on at the time, some go down to the basement to watch another TV, or play ping pong.
I have my superstitious routine of my own waffles, and a cup of tea in my favorite mug that reads "Vermont: Whatever happens here stays here, but nothing ever really happens here" under a picture of a moose looking bored on a log. After everyone has eaten, Boss will give us the lineup and our pregame talk, just like he would before our games on the road, but in the comfort of his own basement. As a fifth year senior, I can attest to the fact that almost nothing has changed about the home pregame routine, because I even remember coming to this same pregame meal on my official visit during my senior year of high school.
I've been told this tradition has even been left at schools that Boss has coached at before Notre Dame. My older sister, who attended Stanford, told me a few years ago when she was still there, that the men's soccer team there still goes to the coach’s house for pancakes before every game.
Once Boss's pregame talk ends, it's off to Alumni Stadium, which after being opened in 2009, has turned into one of the premier soccer facilities in college soccer. Everyone has their own routine once they get there, which is important for players because it helps them focus and just feel comfortable with how they've prepared for the game. I'm usually responsible for warming the guys up, even though [strength and conditioning coach] Matt Howley is really the brains behind the warm up (because I just took what he did the first games during preseason and replicated it).
He's not always with us on the road, and it takes a little bit of a load off of the seniors to be told what to do for a warm up, instead of having one more thing on their minds before the game. Once the warm up is done, and we join in the locker room for our routine of the Lord's Prayer, I head up to the press box for my debut in sportscasting.
They even gave me my very own headset!
After stumbling through my first few points in the broadcast, I got comfortable and thought I did reasonably well for my first time. I got a few unsolicited compliments about doing well, which felt good on my brain. To be fair, the guys in the booth were also really helpful in asking me good open-ended questions for me to talk about.
The game itself was pretty routine, with us coming away with a 3-0 win. First half was a little bit back and forth and both teams were trying to get a feel for each other. In the second half, it was pretty clear that Michigan State just ran out of answers for our attacking five, in particular Dillon Powers, Harry Shipp and Pat Hodan. Towards the end I think it was evident that it was getting a little bit chippy just because at 3-0 with less than 10 minutes to go, there was a bit of frustration with their season coming to an end, which isn't anything unusual.
In the 73rd minute though, our reaction to the Michigan State frustration came back to bite us. Luke Mishu's reaction to a little shoving after what I thought was a little unnecessary contact with Will Walsh while he was in the air collecting a crossed ball, resulted in a red card for our starting right back. I don't think there is any arguing that both Luke and the Michigan State player deserved reds, and Luke would be the first person to say that it was a stupid thing to do and that he shouldn't have done it. He won't be able to play this upcoming Sunday against Indiana, who won 4-1 against Xavier.
It was a little bit eerie in the locker room afterwards, especially since we had to wait for our five players that were given an NCAA drug test right after the game. It was just very quiet and didn't seem like we had just made it farther in the tournament than any Notre Dame team since Joseph Lapira and the 2007 team made it to the Elite Eight. We didn't even get to do our usual routine singing in the showers because Boss waited until after the drug tested guys came back to give us the post game talk.
I think our calm post game attitude is just because with all the work we have put in, it will be, as our sports psychologist Mickey Franco says: "Agony or Ecstasy". We expect to win, not because it will come easily to us, but because we expect nothing less than everything that everyone has got every game. If everyone gives everything in a given game, it's simple: we don't think that there is any team in the country that can beat us. I don't think that is a cocky thing to say. It's a strong belief in our ability that we know is absolutely necessary to be crowned as a National Champion.
Indiana on Sunday
As mentioned above, our next game is home against 16th-seeded Indiana on Sunday at 3 p.m. I've been invited back to do the color commentary again, so if you want to hear some monotone, mumbling insight into Notre Dame Soccer from me, listen in on UND.com. Or even better, come to our game! I think my heart may fail on me if I have to go talk at another pep rally, so I guess this is my plug to get fans to come. Also, good luck to our women's team who is down playing top-seeded Florida State this upcoming weekend with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Coach Bobby Clark Scottishism of the Week: "It's a great day for the race!"
This is usually a declarative statement that Boss will make on nice days, or on really really really crappy ones when we are out on the practice field. Once he says it, he will wait for a response from somebody. Usually that somebody is a freshman who is told by an upperclassman to ask, loud enough so that everyone can hear them: "What race, Boss?" Boss responds excitedly with: "THE HUMAN RACE!" and laughs to himself.
BACK TO THE EAST COAST
So it's Friday morning and after having breakfast in the lobby at the same time as the tremendously lovely young men of the Marquette soccer team, we are bussing to our walk through at PPL Park-- the home stadium of Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union.
Our journey started Wednesday afternoon when we bussed to a hotel next to Chicago O'Hare airport so that we could catch our 9:45 a.m. flight to the City of Brotherly Love. The coaches, particularly Coach Dalby, did a great job of finding the most efficient and convenient travel plan on such a short notice. Originally, just like the last two years, the BIG EAST semifinal was scheduled to be played at Red Bull Arena, which is the home stadium of the New York Red Bulls, in Harrison, N.J. However, due to Superstorm Sandy changing around the Red Bull's schedule, and also because of the damage to the surrounding area, the BIG EAST decided to change the venue to PPL Park.
PPL Park incidentally also played host to the MLS All-Star game this past sumer, in which our former teammate Justin Morrow (’10) started at left back against Chelsea FC, and helped the All-Stars to a 3-2 victory. Morrow (JMo as we call him) has been one of the bright spots in the MLS this year, and is one of the long list of former ND players impressing at the next level. Since I've been here, ND has been one of the biggest exporters of players to the MLS with 13 players getting drafted.
While some players end up exercising their option to play overseas instead of in the MLS, guys both here and abroad have excelled. In the last three years, we've had two players called in to US National Team camps - Ryan Miller ('08) and Matt Besler ('09) - with Besler being a part of the first U.S. squad to ever come out of Mexico City with a win. Bright Dike ('09), within the last few days was just called into camp with the Nigerian National Team as well. Both Besler and Morrow have been selected to MLS All-Star games with the likes of international stars Thierry Henry and David Beckham.
Even more ND soccer alumni have taken the bull by the horns and secured starting spots all over the league. It's a testament to our player development here and the type of kids that we bring in to the system. Our recruiting classes, for the most part, don't have the wealth of youth internationals or superstar recruits that schools like the UNC's, Maryland's and UCLA's of the world have (not to say we don't get a few of them here and there), but Boss [head coach Bobby Clark] does a great job of bringing in smart, technical players that are going to work harder than you can imagine at their own personal development so that when it is their time to get on the field, they can do what they need to do to help the team.
Boss always preaches, rightfully so, that individual success and awards like the ones mentioned above come from team success. But I think that he omits the other factor: that it also comes from the ridiculous amount of work that players put in. It's the 6 a.m. runs before the 7 a.m. lifts, the two-a-days in the summer and the hours put in before and after practice where guys put in time working on finishing, or their touch, or whatever else they think needs improvement, and that will push them over the edge to succeed. We take pride in being one of the hardest working teams when it comes to practice, strength and conditioning as well as extra time on our own. This is what Notre Dame brings out in a lot of people, and the guys mentioned above, as well as others from the past and present, have put that time in to achieve their goals on the field.
I guess that's a good segway into mentioning BIG EAST awards, as seven of our players received all-conference honors: Ryan Finley (Offensive Player of the Year), Dillon Powers (first team all-BIG EAST), Grant Van De Casteele (third team all-BIG EAST), Nick Besler (third team all-BIG EAST), Harrison Shipp (third team all-BIG EAST), Max Lachowecki (All-Rookie Team) and Pat Hodan (All- Rookie team). We also won the Team Fairplay Award, mostly due to the fact that center back Andrew O'Malley (“Soft O” as we call him) was injured for a few games, which kept our yellow card and foul count to a reasonably count.
Semifinal Victory over UConn
Our 1-0 victory over UConn on Nov. 9 was a well-deserved win and some sweet revenge from earlier in the season when we fell to UConn 2-1 in Storrs. Our rivalry with UConn has become one of our biggest, because every time we play it proves to be a close game. The last three meetings before this season went to overtime, including last year when No. 1-ranked UConn came into South Bend 8-0-0 only to find themselves playing for a tie towards the end of the game, and finishing the game 0-0.
After watching Georgetown come away with a 2-1, sudden death overtime win against Marquette in the other semifinal, we started the game off brightly. On the bus ride over, the guys were quiet, but seemed to have a quiet confidence about them. It seemed to show on the field. Maybe the confidence came from our police escort (Who says ND Soccer isn't #relevant?), but I think it was just from their pregame focus. Our goal came in the 11th minute from Dillon Powers off of a nice dropped ball from the endline from Alex Priede. The second half does not go as smoothly as the first half for us, even though I'd say that we still had the better of the play overall. It may have been just the time in the game but there were some nervous moments in the second half with no extraordinarily clear cut chances for either team.
We hold on for the 1-0 win to move on to our first BIG EAST title game since 2009, trying to win the tournament title for the first time since 2003, when Brian Weiss was an assistant coach here.
Almost Mirror Images
Brian Weiss is the head coach at Georgetown now, after playing for Boss at Dartmouth, coaching with him at Stanford, as well as at Notre Dame. He's taken Georgetown from being just a slightly above average team to one of the best programs in the BIG EAST, as well as the country year in and year out in the matter of only a few seasons. The fact that both us and Georgetown have made it to the tournament final in the most competitive conference in NCAA men’s soccer speaks volumes for programs that are doing things the right way.
When I say that, I'm talking about two programs that develop entire individuals at schools that are well-known for academics and don’t cut corners to succeed. I actually worked Georgetown's overnight soccer camps a few summers ago, and got to know some of Georgetown's players well, so can safely say that our two programs are almost mirror images, with their players being as close as it gets to ours in terms of work ethic, humility and passion for the game. Our styles of play on the field are also very similar. We talk about how when we play them, it will be like we are playing ourselves for the most part. One thing is for sure though - the game today will be a great advertisement for BIG EAST soccer, as well as NCAA soccer as a whole.
The Heart Attack Kids
On the bus ride to games, for the most part, guys will put their headphones on and blast their music, try to focus and make sure they don't get too pumped up for the game too early. A lot of the guys play their music too loud, letting us hear what pregame music they listen to. Vince Cicciarelli, for instance, consistently listens to a mix of Hanson, Abba and Pink. Being the softest kid on the team, this doesn't really come as a shock to any of us.
Anyways in the background, the coaches always put on Manchester United's ‘98-‘99 "The Treble" DVD, out of a mix of superstition and motivation. As a kid growing up, this actually is the team and season that piqued my interest in the game of soccer from a hobby to a passion. I used to watch this same DVD (actually it was a VHS) on repeat, studying every goal and highlight from that season. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this legendary season, it’s the year that Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United team won The Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League title (hence the term: The Treble) in the same season.
There are so many games in that season that came down to the wire. Between Ryan Gigg's wonder-goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final replay, Andy Cole's second half game winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the final game of the season to seal the Premier League title, and the two goals in Barcelona’s Camp Nou against Bayern Munich (from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer) within a minute of each other to tie, and win the Champions League Final, there were more than enough lessons in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Apparently, the guys were paying more attention to these lessons than it seemed.
The game, for the first 89 minutes and 28 seconds of regulation was everything that I had expected it would be -- a back and forth game, with waves of each team taking hold of portions of the game, as well as a game with some close calls on both sides of the field. About a minute left to go, down 2-1, we look to our right and see that they have brought out the BIG EAST Tournament trophy and were getting it ready to present it to Georgetown.
What happened next I don't think anyone could have expected though. About 30 seconds later, Danny O'Leary finds himself free on the left, and puts a ball across to the back post. Who else but Nick "Big Shoes" Besler rises and buries the header for his first career Notre Dame goal. At this point, they wisely decide to take the trophy off of the presentation table and put it back in its case.
I kind of laugh and say "You really couldn't write this [stuff]" to their captain Tommy Muller at the coin toss before the start of overtime. I know him pretty well from working their camp and I could tell he was in a little bit of shock after the equalizer. Little did I know there would be even more to come.
Sudden death overtime starts, and again, we decide to leave it till the end. Ryan Finley scores the golden goal, in eerily similar fashion to Solkjaer's goal in '99 off of a corner kick to finish off what had to be the most dramatic BIG EAST Final in tournament history. The obligatory storming of the field ensues, and Notre Dame has its first conference tournament title since 2003 when Greg Dalby, Chad Riley, Kevin Goldthwaite and company beat St. John’s for the title in Storrs, Conn.
This is part of what every single one of us has been working for since we were told mid-practice last year in early November that we weren't selected to be in the field of 48 for the NCAA Tournament.
That afternoon, we didn't stop practicing. We made it clear to everyone that we had to start working for the next season at some point, and that point was right then and there. I think the amount of time, like I mentioned above, put in by these guys to get to the final and win it in the closing minutes can't be overstated. It was either that, or my lucky white running shoes. (No but seriously I'm convinced about the shoes, I wore my gray ones during losses at Northwestern and at Marquette, and wasn't on the road with the team for our other two losses).
Back to the Bend
Fast forward a few hours to while I'm writing this section, and the trophy has its own seat next to me in Concourse E of the Philadelphia International Airport. At this point in time, a lot of random thoughts are coming through my head about this whole thing. First of all, for anyone that knows me well, they are aware of my obsession with the local breakfast nook in South Bend that we unofficially call “Biblers.” Every time that we check out of Biblers at the front area, I've had to stand there and look at a picture that is behind the cashier’s register of the 2003 ND team that won the last title. It would remind me every time of what we hadn't won, so now I can't wait to bring in a picture for them to put next to it.
Ironically, Georgetown's head coach Brian Weiss is in that picture along with a long list of players that have written their names in Notre Dame Soccer lore, including Chad Riley. For those of you who don't know Chad, he was one of our assistant coaches when I arrived as a freshman, up until part way through last spring, when he moved up the coaching ladder to the top assistant job at Dartmouth.
While our coaches have obviously done an awesome job this year, and we couldn't have picked a better replacement for Chad in Greg Dalby, I can't help but wish Chad was at PPL Park today. I say that because of how much of an influence he has had on the program and individuals--especially the older guys like me, Dillon, Will [Walsh], Grant and others who have spent a few springs with his help developing into the players we are today. He bleeds blue and gold and I think that he deserves a piece of this championship. Hopefully he will get a chance to be there when we get to Hoover, Ala., for the Final Four.
The plane ride home is going by quickly and we are joined at the back of the plane by Loyola of Chicago's women's basketball team. It's good for a lot of the guys sanity because for almost everyone, this is their first face to face contact with girls since Wednesday, except for our student manager, Ciara, and our sport administrator, Beth Hunter, who joined us for the weekend. As you would expect, it's a little bit of a party back here.
The NCAA draw will be out tomorrow afternoon and we will be shocked if we are not a top-four seed, and I personally will be shocked if we are not the No. 1 or 2 seed along with Maryland, who won the ACC. Both games from the weekend were RPI and Poll boosters against top-tier opponents. This means that we will get to potentially play all of our tournament games at home up until the NCAA Final Four. Our first game would be Sunday, and I hope that we get a huge turn out from our students.
Coach Bobby Clark Scottishism of the Week: "Overly" -- Used when describing something that has a certain characteristic, but doesn't have too much of that characteristic. Usually it leaves us baffled, particularly when Boss starts using the word to describe opposing players. For example:
"He's left-footed, but he's not overly left-footed." or "He's fast, but he's not overfast."
Like I said… kind of confusing the first few times you hear it, right?
On the Road Again
It's late Thursday afternoon (Nov. 1) and after a few light regeneration days and practices on Tuesday and Wednesday we are on the road to Syracuse. We've gotten creative lately with our regeneration days for the guys who play a lot of minutes, with a 45-minute swim being thrown in for cardio to save our legs. It's funny to see the contrast between how athletic a lot of our players are on land and how slow they are in the water. A few lanes over from me, there is a pregnant woman lapping Nick "Big Shoes" Besler (to explain the nickname, just google his brother, Matt) over and over within the 45 minutes we are in the pool. He continues to insist he is the fastest swimmer on the team.
The rankings came out on Tuesday and they were pretty much as expected, with us being the top-ranked team in the RPI computer rankings after Maryland tied Clemson over the weekend. (When I was writing this I actually didn't know that things would get even more shaken up for next week's rankings because Maryland lost Thursday night to Wake Forest). Usually we don't pay too much attention to rankings, because we've learned (sometimes the hard way) that rankings really don't mean much once you step out onto the field, because as the saying goes…. That's why you play the game. Anything can happen once the whistle blows. The only reason we have been looking so closely at the rankings as of late is for tournament seedings. For men's soccer, the top 16 teams in the NCAA get byes in the first round with the top four seeds getting to play every game at home until the NCAA Final Four that is hosted at a neutral site in Hoover, Ala.
Shuttle To Syracuse
Our game isn't until Saturday night, but we decided to break the trip up into two legs. After training Thursday we would bus to Cleveland, and spend the night there. Then we will bus the rest of the way Friday morning and train once we get to Syracuse in the afternoon. There are a lot of pros to this plan as opposed to flying. To begin with, it's about a nine hour drive, and by the time we would able to get to an airport, get through security, take a flight from South Bend, and connect somewhere in order to get to Syracuse, (no direct flights from SB to Cuse), then load up our bus and get to our hotel, it would have taken about the same time to get there as bussing.
The pros to this are that we are able to bring as much gear as we want and we also have our trusted bus driver, Harry. Harry has been doing most of our trips for as long as I can remember. He has become a part of the program over the years by doing everything from giving us a free bus tour of Washington, D.C. (Apparently he used to give paid bus tours of DC before coming out to ND) to giving us short pre-game pep talks on the bus while rocking his Notre Dame Soccer hat. Tradition is to give him an overzealous applause which will occasionally turn into us chanting his name at the end of each trip.
So now it's Saturday morning, and after two days of traveling, five hours worth of study hall on the bus, and The Adventures of Tin Tin and Gladiator in the DVD player, we finally made it to our Embassy Suites hotel. No rest for the weary though, with a film session and short training session as soon as we have finished the final four-hour leg of the trip. During training, I realize that Upstate New York is pretty much exactly how I imagined it would be… cold, drizzling, and windy.
Dinner With A Dose Of "Friday"
For dinner - per tradition on the road - we eat at a local Italian place. The best part of dinner, not to say that the food wasn't good, was our waitress's response to our spontaneous movie quoting at the table. We couldn't figure out the rest of the line from the movie Friday: "Ya'll got Koolaid no sugar…." and our waitress walks by, laughs, and just says "ham, no burger!". Our initial reaction was "wow this lady is insane, what is she talking about"…. but then we thought about it…. and it was the end of the line. We asked her about it, and apparently she has the entire movie Friday memorized, so would just drop a line from it every time she walked by.
On the road, we usually all participate in some sort of traditional shenanigans to let Boss [head coach Bobby Clark] know that we are all done eating and are ready to go. They sound pretty stupid when written out, but are pretty hilarious in practice. (I know this sounds like the terrible joke explanation of "You had to be there, bro") Instead of the usual dead silence straight into the loud chair scooting, we went with all setting our alarms for the exact same time. So at 9:10, 24 phone alarms went off, showing boss that we were ready to go (meaning that we left at about 9:30).
Don’t Look Ahead
Pregame preparations go the same as usual, with our game day dynamic stretch, talk, and we also watch a little bit more tape on Syracuse and see more of how they run their set pieces. Even though we lost in our first game last year of the BIG EAST Tournament, with our success, at this point in the day I'm worried that this could be a trap game for us, because many of the guys have their sites set on a possible rematch with UConn next week if we win this game.
As an injured guy on the team, I know that words from me, and from my teammates can be cheap, and that even if when guys say that they are aware that we need to take it one game at a time, and that Syracuse needs to be taken just as seriously as UConn, (as they later proved, but we'll get to that later) there is still that lingering thought in the back of a players' head that may pull some of their focus away from the game at hand. When this becomes a problem, I put my trust in senior leaders who have learned the hard way to not take games like this lightly. Guys like Dillon Powers, Grant Van De Casteele and Danny O'Leary have had their seasons ended because of games we thought we would be able to pull out relatively easily. They know how to set the tone and keep the tempo of the game as high as we like. Little did I know at the time that a freshman would actually be the one rescuing us.
The first half started out as about expected. It was a little bit hectic and neither team really dominated the first 15 minutes or so. We were having problems handling their transition (what most American sports call a counter attack). That's exactly what ended up coming up to bite us with them scoring off of a cross in transition in the 15th minute. With only one really great chance for us to score in the first half, we weren't getting a hold of the game how we wanted to. To add fuel to the fire, Syracuse get a second goal off of a half volley shot from just outside the box. It looked like Pat Wall was going to make a relatively comfortable save but with the combination of the movement of the ball mid-flight, and the slick turf, the ball found its way behind the line - 2-0, Syracuse. I don't know if it was this goal, or just the point of the game when it opened up or our superior fitness, but at this point we wake up and start firing on all cylinders.
If you haven't heard the name Pat Hodan, then a) you didn't read my blog entry last week, and b) you'd better get used to hearing it. The night proved to be the freshman's coming out party and it was a surprise party for everyone except anyone that has been a part of the program, or those who've has watched our games this season. Without going through too many details, the kid first hit the post off of a rocket from the corner of the 18 early in the second half, and then went on to score two goals and have an assist. He set up even more opportunities for himself and others that were only stopped by some last minute defending.
None of that would have been possible without the rest our dynamic core of attacking players, with Ryan Finley, Harry Shipp and Dillon Powers proving to be too much for Syracuse to handle when it comes to movement off the ball and with their technical ability on the ball. Finley continued his impressive scoring streak by adding a goal and an assist, and played one of his best games of the year when it comes to connecting passes and moving off the ball. Syracuse didn't have an answer for us once we switched on in the second half. After our first two goals came in the span of 17 seconds, you could see a few of their players literally turning towards their bench and asking their coach what to do. It was one of the best halves of attacking that I've seen from us all season, as the game finished 4-2 in favor of the good guys.
On to the Next One
Our bus ride back on Sunday was a long one, but didn't feel as bad as you would expect a 10 hour ride to feel. We only had a few mental breakdowns on the bus with a runway walk-off between Grant and Vince down the middle aisle of the bus. The ride started with the usual study hall, and then we went with Braveheart for our movie selection. I'm sure it made Boss feel like he was back at home, and it was good for all of us to see exactly what Boss's life in Scotland was like back before he decided to come over to the states.
Next stop will be PPL Park in Philadelphia, where we will play UConn in the second BIG EAST semifinal. All four teams in the final four of the BIG EAST will be from our division-- UConn, Marquette, Georgetown, and us. Most guys are pretty pumped not just for the opportunity to win a Big East title, but also because of the fact that we will be leaving Wednesday afternoon, which will mean a nice four day break from classes.
Coach Clark Scottishism of the Week: "Sure as God made small apples" -- A preface to saying something that will definitely happen. For example: "Sure as God made small apples, this ten hour bus ride will be absolutely brutal."
To get you through until my post next week, here's a great video of our Men's Soccer Paintball Trip during fall break in October.
Soccer is a funny game. It can be cruel, and unfair but that may be what makes the high points full of ecstasy. Playing at Marquette, in Milwaukee seems to be full of the former emotion for us though. After beating Marquette on Oct. 24, 3-1, at Alumni Stadium in a dominating performance against a team that was ranked in the top five in almost every major soccer poll in the country, we were confident that we could replicate the same performance in Milwaukee.
Even though the winner of our game would be given a share of the Big East title (three-way tie between the winner of our game, Georgetown and UConn), it seemed to be business as usual for us. On Friday, Oct. 26, we hit the road after training, and got to our hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin--the hometown of one of our freshmen midfielders, Pat Hodan. Per usual, Saturday morning began earlier than most college kids would agree with -- at an 8:30 a.m. breakfast. At this point, all of us are convinced that Boss [head coach Bobby Clark] has already been up for four hours working out and practicing his fake Scottish accent (kidding, it's real).
From there it's a walk through at Marquette's field, and a light dynamic stretch on their practice field. Next on our game day agenda is our pre-game talk. Being here for five years, I can tell you that the pre-game talks haven't varied much at all, because the way we play defensively isn't rocket science. It just takes a collective mentality, awareness and an understanding of a few simple concepts. Offensively, we have some of the most dynamic, creative players in the country, which is a huge asset. We have offensive wizards like Harry Shipp, Dillon Powers, and a forward with the most proven goal scoring record in the country--Ryan Finley. The rest of the day is spent at lunch and "getting our feet up" (Scottish for napping).
Just for a little background, last year, when we came up to Milwaukee, we fell 1-0 after absolutely dominating the game, and hitting the woodwork more times than we care to remember.
Once the game gets under way, it is like we are in an episode of "The Twilight Zone." Marquette gets a goal against the run of play, off of a rebound from a fantastic save from senior goalkeeper Will Walsh. One of our center backs slips on the soft turf trying to get to the rebound of the original shot so their player is able to follow it up. From that close of range though, Will had no chance at the follow up rebound. This is exactly how Marquette makes their living: gritty goals and defending, set pieces, and keeping the game at the tempo that is comfortable for them. It also doesn't hurt to have a 6-foot, 7-inch center back who they throw forward on every corner kick or throw in that is close to the box. But hey, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
As expected, in the second half, after regrouping, we get a stronghold of the game and start to press for the equalizer, but it just won't fall for us. With 10 minutes left, everybody on the bench is up on their feet on the sideline out of pure anxiousness. Finally, in the 88th minute, Finley gets half of an opening and that's all he needed to tie it up, following up with one of his patented controversial celebrations in front of Marquette's student section, "The Birdcage".
The two, 10-minute overtimes mirror the second half, with spurts of us having to absorb them throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us on corner kicks and long throw-ins. Even though Marquette is aware that the winner of this game gets a share of the Big East title, they continue to slow the game down with continuous substations, and begin trying to play the type of game that shows they are happy with the draw. I see it as a sign of respect for us that they are content with a result like this at their own field.
In short, throughout the game, as usual, there's no love lost between the two teams - let's just say we hope to see them again in either the BIG EAST or NCAA Tourney. It's business as usual once again when we get back to the hotel, and while we are disappointed that we didn't get the result, or the trophy, we know that we have still put ourselves in a position to get where we want to be come November and December, a BIG EAST tournament title, as well as the big one: a national championship. We know it's back to work on Sunday, with the bus ride home and a recovery lift/stretch for the players who saw most of the minutes in the game, while the guys who didn't see more than 45 minutes of playing time or so all play in an intersquad game.
The bus ride back to Notre Dame starts out as a quiet one: with everyone maybe still a a little bit asleep. But it never fails that we are still watching soccer on the drive home though (satellite TV on the bus - gotta love the perks of going to Notre Dame!), with one of the more exciting Mercyside Derbys (for you non-soccer junkies, that's a game between Everton and Liverpool in the English Premier League) being played for the first half of the ride. Most of our team eats and breathes this sport, and I don't think many of us would have it any other way. Towards the end of the ride, the back of the bus (including myself) gets a little bit slaphappy. Will Walsh and I over the last few weeks have been spending most of our free time looking up lyrics to popular songs that we can't understand the lyrics to, so Luke Mishu, Will Walsh, Dillon Powers, Grant Van De Casteele, Danny O'Leary and I begin trying to sing along with songs with some of the more hazy lyrics, which turns into chaos.
Seriously, next time you get a chance, try singing along to Shaggy's, "It Wasn't Me" without looking at the lyrics, then look them up afterwards. First you'll feel like an idiot, then you'll feel liberated.
When NSCAA rankings and the RPI (computer rankings) came out Tuesday, we are No. 7 and No. 1, respectively. But our BiG EAST playoff draw is that we get a bye in the first round as the No. 3 seed in the BIG EAST Blue Division. As a result, we will still have to travel to Syracuse for a Saturday night game next weekend. It's a testament to our conference strength that this is our BIG EAST playoff draw after having such a strong season that is getting attention nationally. I think it's safe to say this season the BIG EAST has been hands down the strongest conference in the country, with 10 teams in the top 48 (the men's soccer NCAA tournament is a 48-team field) and four teams in the top 10, week in and week out. Our week of rest and practice will be great for us, with guys needing time to catch up on schoolwork, rest up and recover from nagging injuries.
Coach Clark "Scottishism of the week": "Mintz and tatties session"-- translates directly to "meat and potatoes practice." Used to describe a more difficult, hard working practice that is used to get more into the fundamentals (meat and potatoes) of our system.