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MEN’S SOCCER: The ‘other’ football team rises to prominence

Kate Gales | Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Athletes dream of putting on the jersey with the letters “U,” “S” and “A” emblazoned across the front. At that elite level, competition is only a dream for most players.But for soccer standout Greg Dalby, that dream became reality as a member of the U.S. Under-20 national squad, who recently qualified for the world championship this summer.”It was just a great honor to represent our country in a world competition [and] world qualifying,” Dalby said. “I had a lot of fun doing it.”The United States will compete in the FIFA World Youth Championship this summer after going 3-0 in qualifying competition this winter. The team defeated Trinidad and Tobago, Panama and Costa Rica to clinch a berth in the championship tournament. “It’s just great experience for him,” Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark said. “Playing in the international stage with and against some of the top players in the world – that’s just a great learning experience.”Dalby agreed.”It was a really good opportunity for me, being exposed to it,” he said. “It was good for me to get experience doing that.”Dalby also captained the national Under-18 squad before coming to play for the Irish. This winter, his teammates included professional players like Freddy Adu and other collegiate players. They lived together for a month, training with two-a-day practices and then competing as a team.”A lot of the pro guys and [college players] had played together at other times so it wasn’t too unfamiliar,” Dalby said. “Everyone had to get to know each other better on the field and off the field to make things work.”The Poway, Calif. native played all 90 minutes in the first two matches and came off the bench in the third as a defensive central midfielder.In addition to the experience gained against the world’s top competitors, playing for the national team was a time to enjoy the sport Dalby has grown to love.”As far as the whole tournament went, the second game we played – which is the game that sealed our qualifying-is definitely the thing I remember the most,” he said.As a coach, Clark considers Dalby a top-notch player.”The big thing that Greg brings is that he’s a very dependable in everything he does,” said Clark. “That’s both on and off the field – he’s the sort of lad that anything he does, he gives it 100 percent.”But it isn’t just Dalby’s dedication that sets him apart.”He’s got a great ability to make the game look easy,” Clark said. “I always say that’s the true trademark of any great player, that they make their job easy. Good players aren’t turning and twisting and dribbling … he seems to find easy avenues. He connects with his teammates. He just makes the game look easy.”Clark knows that the experience with international play will be important for Dalby’s development as a player, who was named a second-team all-Big East selection after the 2004 season.”You can’t give someone that experience without being involved in it, and he’s very, very fortunate to be involved in it,” Clark said. Dalby credited the coaching staff at Notre Dame with his development between playing with the national Under-18 and Under-20 teams.”Before I came to Notre Dame, I was a central defender,” he said. “For the last year and a half I’ve been playing defensive midfield and learning a lot from the coaches how to play that position.”Dalby said his time with the Irish soccer program led to positive experiences with the national team.”I’ve been successful on this team and I hope I’ve contributed to my teams experience in qualifying,” he said. “I came a more mature player coming into this than I ever was on the Under-18 team.”Clark attributes that not just to Notre Dame’s influence on Dalby’s soccer but the greater lifestyle of being a student-athlete.”That’s part of being an athlete at this school,” he said. “I think the team should be competing and playing at the highest level and we should also be attending to our academics, [and] Greg is a great example of a great student athlete who’s very organized – the ideal student-athlete.”Next fall, the Irish will return a number of top players, but they also will lose three of the nation’s top defenders to Major League Soccer (MLS). With only Ryan Miller returning to anchor the defense, much of the burden of maintaining the traditionally stingy Irish defense will fall to Dalby.However, after competing at the international level, the sophomore is ready for anything in the future, from a national title run with the Irish to a try at playing professionally.”It was really good, getting the opportunity to get exposed to [international play] and challenge myself – to see where I stand at that level,” he said.