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Men’s Soccer: Follow the leader

Greg Arbogast | Tuesday, September 25, 2007

As the cross floated in, Irish then-junior midfielder Alex Yoshinaga eyed a header and perhaps his first goal of the young 2006 season.

What he didn’t see was Creighton goalkeeper Matt Allen crashing from his blind side in a move that would take Yoshinaga’s feet out from under him and send him crashing down on his shoulder. Just two games into his junior season, Yoshinaga’s year was ended by a broken collar bone.

What did Notre Dame lose when Yoshinaga’s injury ended his season?

“Tremendous drive, energy and enthusiasm,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “Those are the things you think of when you think of Yosh.”

“A big part of our team,” senior forward Kurt Martin said of his teammate. “He was our central midfielder, so obviously we had to make some changes.”

The Irish lost all that -a player who started 42 games in his first two seasons in South Bend, racking up five goals, three assists and 13 points.

But despite all Notre Dame lost when Yoshinaga went down, they might have gained something too – a new team leader.

After realizing his playing time was over for the rest of the season, Yoshinaga set out to contribute in other ways off the field. Last January, he attended a leadership conference set up by the Notre Dame athletic department for senior athletes. There, he received a book on how to become a leader. Throughout the spring semester, Yoshinaga went about reading one chapter a week with Clark, and the results were clear.

“He began to think about how he could become a leader, and all the lessons were put forward in the book,” Clark said. “He started to put them into practice with the team, and he’s become an excellent leader.”

Yoshinaga immediately began to display his newfound leadership skills, leading pre-game rituals to help the team focus on tasks ahead. He also supported teammates who weren’t getting their desired playing time. And the other Irish players took notice, voting Yoshinaga one of this year’s team co-captains along with senior defender Ryan Miller and junior defender Matt Besler.

“As a leader, he’s grown a lot,” Martin said. “Him getting injured forced him to become more of a leader, and he’s proved it this year. Now, he’s more involved.”

Yoshinaga also recognizes that the experience affected him in how he approaches the game both on and off the field.

“I had had up until then adequate playing time every year, and going from that to watching on the bench gives you a different perspective on things,” Yoshinaga said. “After I came back, I didn’t take it for granted, but, and this sounds kind of cheesy, I gave it my all every time. I think it was a blessing in disguise.”

Although Yoshinaga and his teammates admit that he benefited greatly from his time on the sideline, all are glad that the senior midfielder is roaming the center of the pitch for the Irish once again.

Since his return, Yoshinaga has wasted little time in making his presence felt once again. In Notre Dame’s first game of the season against then-No. 1 UCLA, he scored the game-winning golden goal in addition to assisting on the team’s first goal of the game.

And despite that performance, he is still motivated by last year’s injury.

“To tell you the truth I haven’t contributed as much as I should have these past couple of years, and last year I didn’t contribute at all,” Yoshinaga said. “I just want to contribute as much as I can.”

Thanks in part to last year’s injury, he is more capable than ever of doing just that.

As the cross floated in, Irish then-junior midfielder Alex Yoshinaga eyed a header and perhaps his first goal of the young 2006 season. What he didn’t see was Creighton goalkeeper Matt Allen crashing from his blind side in a move that would take Yoshinaga’s feet out from under him and send him crashing down on his shoulder. Just two games into his junior season, Yoshinaga’s year was ended by a broken collar bone.

What did Notre Dame lose when Yoshinaga’s injury ended his season?

“Tremendous drive, energy, and enthusiasm,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “Those are the things you think of when you think of Yosh.”

“A big part of our team,” senior forward Kurt Martin said of his teammate. “He was our central midfielder, so obviously we had to make some changes.”

The Irish lost all that – not to mention a player who had started 42 games in his first two seasons in South Bend while racking up five goals, three assists, and 13 points.

But despite all Notre Dame lost when Yoshinaga went down, they might have gained something too – a new team leader.

After realizing his playing time was over for the rest of the season, Yoshinaga set out to contribute in other ways off the field. Last January, Yoshinaga attended a leadership conference set up by the Notre Dame athletic department for senior athletes. There, he received a book on how to become a leader. Throughout the spring semester, Yoshinaga went about reading one chapter a week with Clark, and the results were clear.

“He began to think about how he could become a leader, and all the lessons were put forward in the book,” Clark said. “He started to put them into practice with the team, and he’s become an excellent leader.”

Yoshinaga immediately began to display his newfound leadership skills, leading pre-game rituals to help the team focus on tasks ahead. He also supported teammates who weren’t getting their desired playing time. And the other Irish players took notice, voting Yoshinaga one of this year’s team co-captains along with senior defender Ryan Miller and junior defender Matt Besler.

“As a leader, he’s grown a lot,” Martin said. “Him getting injured forced him to become more of a leader, and he’s proved it this year. Now, he’s more involved.”

Yoshinaga also recognizes that the experience affected him greatly in how he approaches the game both on and off the field.

“I had had up until then adequate playing time every year, and going from that to watching on the bench gives you a different perspective on things,” Yoshinaga said. “After I came back I didn’t take it for granted, but, and this sounds kind of cheesy, I gave it my all every time. I think it was a blessing in disguise.”

Although Yoshinaga and his teammates admit that he benefited greatly from his time on the sideline, all are glad that the senior midfielder is roaming the center of the pitch for the Irish once again.

Since his return, Yoshinaga has wasted little time in making his presence felt once again. In Notre Dame’s first game of the season against then-No. 1 UCLA, Yoshinaga scored the game-winning golden goal in addition to assisting on the team’s first goal of the game.

And despite that performance, Yoshinaga is still motivated by last year’s injury.

“To tell you the truth I haven’t contributed as much as I should have these past couple of years, and last year I didn’t contribute at all,” Yoshinaga said. “I just want to contribute as much as I can.”

Thanks in part to last year’s injury, Yoshinaga is more capable than ever of doing just that.