The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



MEN’S SOCCER: MLS teams draft three Irish players

Kate Gales | Tuesday, January 18, 2005

It’s not unusual for children to imagine themselves growing up to be professional athletes. But to succeed at that most competitive level, it takes talent, dedication and hard work. Only the best will be paid to perform at the sports they love.On Friday, Jack Stewart, Kevin Goldthwaite and Chris Sawyer proved they belong at that level. The three captains from the 2004 Irish soccer squad were selected in the first two rounds of America’s MLS draft. Their dream of professional soccer has become a reality.”It’s still so surreal,” said Stewart, who was picked 10th overall by the Chicago Fire. “It’s like your dream is finally coming true. I wanted to be in Chicago … I’m just stoked out of my mind to be there right now and living my dream.”Goldthwaite, who was selected 17th overall by the San Jose Earthquakes, echoed similar sentiments.”Growing up we always watched soccer, you’re always playing sports dreaming one day that you could actually be in their shoes,” he said. “Now that it’s the reality it obviously feels great.”Chris Sawyer, the 24th pick by Kansas City, will join former Irish teammate Justin Detter with the Wizards. “He was my roommate sophomore year, so we’re very good friends,” Sawyer said. “It’s great to be going into a team where you can get a feel for what life is like as a professional soccer player.”The three players were freshmen in coach Bobby Clark’s inaugural season with the Irish. It is the first time in school history that three Notre Dame soccer players were chosen in the draft, setting an impressive precedent by going in the first two rounds.”It shows that they’re obviously made themselves into top players, to go in the top two rounds of the draft,” Clark said. “That’s the top 24 players in the country.”Although Clark will miss three members of one of the nation’s toughest defenses, he looks forward to watching his standouts play at another level.”I think they’ll do well,” he said. “They’re all first class young men and I look forward to following their careers with great interest.”Goldthwaite said playing at Notre Dame tremendously helped the three to the attention of MLS scouts.”At Notre Dame, I think our program [is] run it as professionally as possible,” Goldthwaite said. “In that aspect … it prepares us to go to a professional team.”He added that the quality of players in the Irish system allowed them to maintain a high level of play, even in practices.”The players on the team, those guys all being such good players, playing with them day in and day out helps also,” he said.Stewart pointed out that Clark and assistants Mike Avery and Brian Wiese have been important in developing the talents of this year’s drafted players.”They’ve been tremendous help [to me] as a player and as a person,” he said. “The things I’ve learned here as a person [as well as soccer] skills.”Sawyer, a goalkeeper who earned All-America honors in his junior year, called Wiese a significant influence on his career.”In my case … my goalkeeping coach, Brian Wiese, has been a huge partof my development as a keeper,” he said.The development of the Irish soccer program was an important goal for Stewart during his four years with the Irish, which also marked Clark’s first four years as head coach at Notre Dame.”This program has come and done a complete 180 thanks to all the guys, the Notre Dame family,” he said. “They took it to the next level – every year we want to take it to the next level as a team.”Clark knows that the members of his first Notre Dame recruiting class have done special things with the Irish program.”All three had outstanding careers at Notre Dame,” he said. “They’ve been big contributors through their time.”But their careers aren’t the only things Clark takes pride in. “They all bring so many little different things, that’s something – that Notre Dame helps them really grow up,” he said. “The school teaches them, gives them an education but I think it gives them a lot more than an education. They grow up as people. … They’ll go out into the world aware of how lucky they’ve been and a lot of the pluses they’ve had going for them in their lives.”Academically, Stewart, Goldthwaite and Sawyer graduated in December, a semester ahead of the senior class, in order to be able to train for the MLS preseason – another accomplishment Clark emphasized.”For me that was a positive, not only did they get drafted but they also went out with a degree in their pocket,” he said.”That was, for me, very important. … There’s nothing better than getting paid for a game you like, [but] it’s tremendously reassuring to know they’ve got a good solid degree in their back pocket.”Graduating early, especially with Notre Dame’s rigorous academic requirements and the time commitment needed to be a varsity athlete, was an impressive accomplishment for the players.”All three of them graduated in three and a half years,” Clark said. “One of the great things that they were able to get drafted but also graduate early, and that means they can join their respective teams and not have to worry about any more studies.”Goldthwaite said Notre Dame offered the academic support necessary for the athletes to be able to graduate early.”I definitely had a lot of support, everything we needed,” he said. “If we were ever in trouble academically, we were always helped out with tutors and all.”Although players at this elite level are accustomed to hard work on the field, the academic challenges were rigorous.”It was tough because we weren’t allowed to drop a class,” Goldthwaite said. “Our goal was always to be able to get out a semester early.”The three will train on campus to prepare for their first preseason as professionals. “This is a great place, I think they really just don’t want to leave Notre Dame,” Clark said. “They’re coming up to prepare themselves for going into camp.”They are also role models for another generation of players who could look to play at the professional level. However, for now the three former Irish standouts are enjoying the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and the promise of an exciting future.”It’s absolutely amazing,” Sawyer said. “This was obviously a goal of mine ever since I started playing soccer – it’s sort of one of your dreams and you just want to make the best of it.”