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Men’s Soccer: Irish look to answer questions on defense

Joseph Monardo | Friday, August 17, 2012

Following a season filled with expectation that concluded in disappointment, the 2012 edition of the Irish will look to veteran captains for leadership after several key departures.

Last year the Irish (9-4-4, 5-3-1 Big East) failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years after they were ousted as the No. 4 seed in the first round of the conference tournament by fifth-seeded Villanova. Selected by the Big East coaches to finish second in the division this year, the Irish are poised to show significant improvement from last season’s campaign, co-captain senior midfielder Dillon Powers said.

“I think the team made some strides over the spring,” he said. “I think there were some guys on the team who were really fed up with not getting the results we want. Some guys have grown up and become more competitive.”

Powers will serve as a team captain for the second consecutive year and will partner with co-captain and fifth-year senior midfielder Michael Rose, who assumes captaincy duties for the first time.

Notre Dame returns the team’s top six point scorers from last year, including 2011 points leader senior forward Ryan Finley, but faces significant questions on defense after the graduation of three seniors from the starting back line – Michael Knapp, Greg Klazura and Aaron Maund. Klazura and Maund joined former Irish midfielder Brendan King as players selected in January’s Major League Soccer draft.

The departure of three tenured defenders leaves senior defender Grant Van De Casteele as the only returning starter for the Irish defense, but senior defender Luke Mishu has also seen significant action coming off the bench.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of new faces in the defense,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said.
“It’s a little challenge, an unknown.”

With preseason play already underway, Notre Dame kicks off the regular season with an August 25 home matchup against Duke before meetings with Clemson, San Diego State, Oregon State and 2010 national champion Akron in the first two weeks of the season.

“We have a phenomenal schedule, we play a lot of good teams,” Clark said. “I think we try to play teams from different regions. The trick is not just to play them, but to play them and beat them. That’s the trick if we really want it to give us an advantage [in NCAA tournament qualification].”

After several tied games and overtime losses last season, the Irish are working to ensure they finish this season with more victories than last year’s nine, Powers said.

“One big thing is to try and develop the killer instinct,” he said. “Our practices have a competitive atmosphere – we are trying to finish things off right, finish things off stronger.”

Clark said he is confident his team is off to a promising start under the guidance of the co-captains Rose and Powers.

“This is both of their final year at it, so they want to make this a success,” he said. “It’s important for them. They are two terrific young men, just if they can carry on just the way they’ve started here I think we can have two terrific captains. When you have good leadership, you are halfway towards a successful year.”

The Irish will conclude exhibition play when they host Xavier Monday at 7 p.m.