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Captain’s Corner No. 7

Oct. 25, 2000

Senior midfielder Mike Potempa has agreed to give fans an inside look at Clemson Men’s Soccer with his journal, Captain’s Corner. Be sure to check out ClemsonTigers.com to see what the Hunt Valley, Md. native has to say about the Tiger soccer team throughout the year.

The Davidson/Wake Forest Games

Adversity is a tough issue to deal with. Every team goes through it over the course of a season and, in my mind, it is a sign of how far your team has come and a foreshadowing of what lies ahead. This past week, we played Davidson and Wake Forest under some pretty adverse conditions in that Ross was still out recovering from foot surgery, Nathan was nursing a pulled hip flexor, I had to sit both games due to my second red card of the year, and Chase (who suffered one of the worst ankle injuries I’ve ever seen) would also have to sit as well. That would mean that our depth combined with a little extra effort from the guys who have been playing consistently all year would have to overcome the fact that four of our starters would have to watch from the bench.

Davidson is a team who we have developed a certain rivalry with dating back to last year. It was our opening game here at Clemson, we were ranked number four in the country, we were ACC champions, and although we did lose a lot of talent to the MLS, we felt as though we were still good enough to compete for a National Championship. It turns out that the game against Davidson would set the tone for the rest of the year as they beat us 2-0 and embarrassed us in front of our own fans. I would be lying if I said that we played well against them, but the truth of the matter was that they wanted it more than we did as we were too busy reliving the glory days of ’98 and forgetting about the task at hand.

This year, the Davidson game would prove to be one of the most highly anticipated games of the year for all of us who went through the trials and tribulations of last year. The reason for its importance was not that it was such a huge game for us like a Duke, or Virginia, but it was a chance for us to erase the bitter memories of last year. Now I guess I shouldn’t say that it wasn’t a big game for us because it was. They were 10-3-1 at the time, it was an in-region game, and if we didn’t come out with a victory, our chances for the post season would be threatened.

It turns out that the first half was a lot closer than it first indicated. Steven Rhyne scored a brilliant goal off of a great ball by Mark Lisi early and although the narrowness and size of the field prevented us from playing our typical possession style, we were in control of the opening minutes. They found a way to get the equalizer off of a long throw in that caused a frenzy in front of the box. One of their guys happened to be in the right place at the right time and tapped it in. Although it was 1-1, the team looked composed and ready to get back at them. We then scored our second goal as Mark tapped in a loose ball in front of the net off of a free kick from about 40-yards out. Although we were still in control of the game, they found a way to come back and equalize from about 20 yards out due to a lack of concentration on our part.

We went into half time frustrated, but perfectly aware that we were capable of winning the game. We made some second half adjustments and adapted to their direct style of play. For those of you who have never visited their campus, their field is narrow and shorter than most schools’ so everything was long and to the corners. It was more of a physical game: a lot of head balls, defensive clearing, and tackles and no true possession and creativity. Although it was unattractive to watch, the second half was a well fought 45 minutes as we hit the post and scored a great free kick from about 20 yards out. (Mark tucked the ball away nicely into the far corner past the keeper who didn’t even get a chance to see it). That would prove to be the goal that broke their spirit as we left Davidson with a 3-2 victory and another good result on the road.

We then went up to Wake on Friday after training for Saturday night’s game. I was going crazy just training and traveling knowing perfectly well that I wouldn’t be able to play. As I said in a previous entry, there’s nothing more frustrating than watching your friends and teammates out there giving it everything they have without you. Although I don’t regret what I did to prevent a goal against Virginia, I wish that I was able to play and help the team in any way that I could.

We knew going into the game that Wake was a good team who had some great individual talent. We also knew that they would play a 3-5-2 with man-to-man marking in the back. They had an 8 game unbeaten streak going and it would be another tough game on the road. We felt that if we could return to our usual style of play with combinations, dynamic runs, overlaps from our backs, and solid defending, we could disrupt their rhythm and create some chances.

It turns out that we played the best that we’ve played all year and although we only won 2-1, I felt as though the game should have been about 3 or 4 to 1. We played brilliantly in the first half as we out shot them 10-0, hitting the post twice, and missing two chances from inside the six. Several of our players showed their maturity and desire to win as we were able to possess the ball, get our backs into the attack, and create some great chances. Not to mention probably the best goal I’ve ever seen, next to Fabio’s against Virginia, came from Mark Lisi who hit a bomb from about 35 yards out in the run of play that curled perfectly into the side net past their keeper.

Our defense was solid, Nate was able to play in his second game off of injury, and Pablo, Ricki, and Gooch played their consistent selves not allowing a single shot in the first half. Oscar was also solid as usual as he was able to slow down their counters and switch the point of attack. Mark continued in his old form as he controlled the midfield and caused some problems for their defense…Keneth and Ian played extremely well on the flanks as they kept possession for us and got forward into the attack. Fabio was his usual crafty self and Steven Rhyne played his best game all year.

In the locker room, we discussed how we had to play in order to weather the storm that they were going to come at us with. We figured that they had to come at us at some point, Ben Stafford was playing extremely well, and we knew that if we could withstand their pressure for the opening 15 to 20 minutes, we would be able to get another goal and solidify the victory.

It turns out that their pressure created an opportunity that they put away and although it was a soft goal to give up on our part, you have to give them credit for finding a way to equalize. They did establish some possession and were coming at us with everything they had after their goal. However, we were able to stand strong and find a way to win it off of a great goal by Fabio. Actually, he was able to slot the ball into the far corner after Mark played a class ball to split their defenders.

After we scored our second goal, we all had a good feeling about the final 20 minutes. We had worked hard on a few things in practice all week and we executed them perfectly and didn’t give them many chances. In the end, it was a good victory for us, it was an ACC win, and it was on the road.

Like I was saying earlier, adversity is a tough thing to overcome. However, we rose to the challenge this week and got the job done against two good teams. Wake has always been a challenge for us and this year proved no different. They are a solid team and I’m proud of the way that we came out and played. It definitely was a sign of how far we’ve come this year and hopefully, it is a foreshadowing of what lies ahead. In my mind, it showed that we can put any lineup together and be equally competitive in each and every game.

Now we have to get ready for Furman on Wednesday night. Like Wake Forest, they are having a good year. Last year we lost to them with 51 seconds left in double overtime as we scored an own goal and lost all hope of reaching the post season. Like Davidson, it is a much anticipated game by all of those who were on the team last year and an opportunity to erase the bitter memories that we still have left….

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