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MEN’S SOCCER: Versatile Dalby helps in back, midfield

Kevin Brennan | Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bobby Clark needed to make a change. With the Irish trailing 2-0 midway through Friday’s match with St. John’s, the Notre Dame head coach had to get something going offensively.

Clark quickly turned to his most versatile and perhaps most valuable player – junior tri-captain Greg Dalby. Clark moved Dalby up from the center back position to play as a defensive midfielder. The change allowed outside defenders Jack Traynor and Ryan Miller to move up the field and help the Irish offensive attack.

“When you let your fullbacks get going forward, we felt we needed somebody that could anchor the midfield,” Clark said. “And nobody does that better than Greg.”

Notre Dame has relied on Dalby’s flexibility all season. The junior has flip-flopped between playing midfield and defense throughout the year.

“Greg has the ability to both defend well and also to be creative in the midfield,” Clark said. “So it gives him and it gives us that luxury of having someone that can play two positions.”

In the team’s opening exhibition game against New Mexico, Dalby started at center midfield, but went down with an injury at the end of the first half. In Notre Dame’s next game against Michigan, Clark, concerned with the play of his back line against New Mexico, shifted Dalby to center back.

Dalby stayed with the back four for the next five games, helping the Irish go 4-1 over that stretch. After moving back to center midfield during the St. John’s game, Dalby remained there for Sunday’s 1-0 win over Syracuse.

Dalby, who was unanimously voted to the 2005 pre-season All Big East team, is one of the rare individuals who can play two different positions at a very high level.

“No matter where you put him he is going to be effective,” junior midfielder Nate Norman said of his classmate. “He’s probably one of the few guys in the country that can be very successful at both positions.”

When playing center midfield, Dalby is mainly relied upon as the last line of defense before the back four. His teammates insist, however, that he adds much more to the position.

“Dalby brings more stability to the midfield,” Norman said. “It gets Dalby around the ball a lot more, and he has good vision so he can find the open passes. He’s able to challenge for a lot more balls.”

Senior defender Dale Rellas, one of the team’s other captains, likes having Dalby playing in front of him in the midfield.

“When we’re playing defense and we have trouble, we can always find him in the middle,” Rellas said. “He’s a great outlet to get our offense started.”

Rellas equally appreciates Dalby’s value as a defender.

“It’s great to have him in the back because he’s so solid,” Rellas said. “You know he’s always going to be there when you need him. And he’s very vocal which is very important for us to in the back.”

Clark said Dalby’s superior ball skills and creativity make him a significant improvement over the traditional “basher” style of defender.

Dalby said he does not find switching between the two positions difficult because he has played in both spots throughout his life. Dalby played center midfield in high school and on his club teams. He has played center back, though, for the majority of his games with the under-18 and under-20 U.S. national teams.

Dalby entered Notre Dame in the fall of 2003 as one of the most heralded recruits in program history. He was selected as the 2002 Gatorade National Player of the Year and was twice named the California high school player of the year. But Dalby never expected to be playing two positions in college.

“I had no expectations to play midfield at all,” Dalby said. “I came in as a center back recruit, and I played center back for the first half of the season.”

Dalby played center midfield for the second half of 2003, and for the entirety of his sophomore year. Dalby played mainly midfield this summer while representing the U.S. at the 2005 World Youth Championships with the under-20 national team.

His teammates and coaches say that Dalby’s willingness to change positions during games and the season is a reflection of his unselfish attitude and leadership capabilities. In addition to captaining the Irish in just his junior year, Dalby has also served as the captain of the under-18 national team and the under-20 national team this summer. Clark thinks that Dalby is continually called upon to lead his teams because of his great maturity.

Norman, who also played with Dalby on the under-18 national team, said that Dalby is always held in high regard by his teammates.

“I think people just tend to respect Dalby because he treats everybody on the field well,” Norman said. “He never loses his composure. He’s not making mistakes or getting flustered.”

Clark is unsure which position Dalby will play for the rest of the season. Dalby would like to settle in at center midfield, but mostly just wants to do whatever he can to help the team win.

“I’d prefer to play midfield to be honest – just because you are kind of in the midst of things and you can be involved in the attack,” Dalby said. “I’m more than happy to play either one, though.”

Dalby’s team-first attitude is what most impresses Clark.

“He’s such a team person that he’ll do what is best for the team, and that’s a big plus just on him as a person,” Clark said. “He puts the team first rather than himself first. That’s just Greg.”