Monardo: Defense key to Notre Dame’s hot start (Sept. 19)
Joseph Monardo | Tuesday, September 18, 2012
After graduating three-quarters of last year’s starting backline, the Irish entered this season with Grant Van De Casteele and three question marks protecting the Irish goal. But through seven games, the Irish defense has been a major highlight in Notre Dame’s undefeated start.
After the departures of Michael Knapp (12 games started), Greg Klazura (39) and four-year starter Aaron Maund (77) from 2011’s starting defense – with the latter two reaching the MLS – Notre Dame has plugged in three new starters and is playing even better than before.
Through seven games last season the Irish had allowed seven goals and posted two shutouts. Through this season’s first seven outings the Irish have allowed only four goals and posted four shutouts. More importantly, this year’s No. 3 Irish are 7-0-0, a significant improvement from last year’s 4-1-2.
Junior Luke Mishu, who made six starts last year due to injuries, joins senior Van De Casteele as the only defensive starters to have made a start before this season. Mishu and sophomore Max Lachowecki man the outside posts this season with junior Andrew O’Malley occupying the other central defensive spot alongside Van De Casteele. Each member of the four-man unit has logged the maximum 644 minutes of field time thus far.
As great as Notre Dame’s defensive unit was last year, perhaps the forced infusion of youth is just what the Irish needed. Heading into the season, Irish coach Bobby Clark pegged the defense as his biggest concern. While the inexperience that haunted Clark before the season’s start has made itself evident at times, it comes mostly as momentary lapses in the impressive displays of athleticism and talent from the backline. O’Malley has been solid in the middle, but Mishu and Lachowecki have been stars on the outside.
With the liberty to control the ball through the midfield and into the attacking zone granted by Clark, the outside backs have repeatedly utilized their speed to propel the Irish offense. A converted midfielder and forward, Lachowecki is most adept at turning defense into offense. And his former position shines through in the sophomore’s play. Lachowecki has made a habit of charging down the sideline and into the opposition’s box, both with and without the ball at his feet.
In Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Oregon State on Sept. 7, Lachowecki made such a run, accepted a pass from Irish junior forward Leon Brown and scored the game-winning goal from 14 yards out in the 81st minute. While Lachowecki has no other points to show for his efforts, he has at times looked to be as dangerous as any of Notre Dame’s very skilled attacking players. He has unleashed 10 shots, the fourth most on the team.
Still, the defense’s primary objective is, obviously, to play defense. And the Irish defenders have not neglected their role as the last line of protection in front of senior goalkeeper Will Walsh. If they can continue to turn teams away, the Irish will be able to compete against any team in the country.
The Irish are, after all, out to the program’s best start in 25 years. This after knee injuries sidelined fifth-year senior midfielders Adam Mena and captain Michael Rose, likely for the remainder of the season.
Having suffered such key losses early on, the Irish are lucky they have gained three new productive starters on defense.
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