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Balanced and young, midfield holds strong

Kate Gales | Wednesday, November 10, 2004

It’s never easy to find a formula for regular-season success.

Some teams swear by a rock-solid defense. Others credit an opportunistic offense. Bobby Clark likes to have both. But without a reliable midfield, the two sides of the field will never be able to capitalize on each other.

Luckily, a balanced midfield is just what the Irish have in a talented group of young players.

“I think the midfield is obviously the engine room of any team,” Clark said. “You need a hardworking midfield – you need a midfield that can help defensively, you also need one that can help attack.”

The Irish have found both defensive consistency and sharp shooting tendencies in a quick-transitioning midfield. Sophomore Greg Dalby has been steady in the center for the Irish all year after earning freshman All-American honors in his rookie season. He has worked with Alex Yoshinaga, Ian Etherington, Luke Boughen, Nate Norman, John Moushino and Jon Mark Thompson in a variety of combinations en route to posting a 13-2-2 record for the regular season.

“[Good midfielders] have got to have, obviously, a good work ethic and they’ve got to have ability,” Clark said. “There’s got to be balance in the midfield – not all players can be everything to everyone, but you need to have balance. You have to have some players that are more defensively minded and some that are more offensively minded.”

In the 4-4-2 formation that Clark favors, midfielders are a crucial component of goal scoring. Etherington and Yoshinaga have each put three crucial points on the scoreboard for the Irish this year and Norman and Boughen come in with two apiece. Additionally, Etherington led the Irish with five assists as Boughen added four and Norman put up three. All have taken turns at starting positions for the Irish.

“Whoever starts doesn’t always mean they’re the best players – you put players in for different phases of the game,” Clark said. “It depends what stage we’re at, what we’re looking for in the game – if we’re looking to open the game, get offense [and] generate scoring opportunities.”

The midfielders haven’t just generated offense. Dalby, who saw time on defense last year, is considered the most defensive midfielder and is the only midfielder to start every game so far for the Irish.

“He gives a balance, he gives the poise, he’s got to anchor the midfield,” Clark said. “He’s got to be that person who is usually the deepest, [so] he doesn’t go forward quite as much. But he’s got to be able to see the field-to switch fields-which gives the other three mids much more license to go forward.”

Dalby and the midfield have helped the vaunted defense allow only seven goals all season, leading to a 0.37 goals-against average – the nation’s best.

Although young, the midfield has spent the year beating more-experienced opponents.

“We have got a lot of very hardworking players there, but also players that can create things, especially on the flanks,” Clark said. “The flank players gave us a lot of creativity-Yoshinaga, Etherington and Norman [are] all very key players that can make things happen.”

They have made things happen for the Irish all year. Clark can only hope for more of the same in the NCAA Tournament.