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Captain’s Corner No. 3

Sept. 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 to see what the Hunt Valley, Md. native has to say about the Tiger soccer team throughout the year.

The NC State Game

The ACC is a conference unlike any other in the country. The reason I say this is not because of the tradition, the rivalries, or the rankings. (Don’t get me wrong, those are intricate parts that not too many conferences have.) However, the main reason for why I say this is because when it comes to in-conference matches, anyone can beat anyone at any time. It doesn’t matter what your record is going into the game or how the other team has been doing so far in the season, its always a battle and if you’re not mentally prepared and physically ready, you can be beaten.

Going into NC State, we knew that they haven’t had the type of season that I’m sure they had hoped for so far, but for us, they have always been a team that is perfectly capable of beating us. Freshman year, they beat us at their place in the pouring rain in double overtime when Shaker Asad hit a rope off of the post past Matt Jordan in the closing minutes. Sophmore year, they scored in the first three minutes and although we still won 3-1, they were a handful for us. Last year, I felt as though we dominated the overall flow of the game, but we were extremely lucky to escape with a tie (2-2) as they came from behind to put some pressure on us. We scored a late goal to send it into overtime but couldn’t seem to put away our chances in the end.

This year, we knew that they hadn’t won a game all year, they were vulnerable at the back, and not as organized as some of the teams we’ve seen so far this year. Despite those circumstances, they did have some incoming freshmen from Bolivia, they are a good team despite their record, and our most recent results haven’t been too favorable when it comes to victories. By no means were we about to take them lightly. We simply had to put together 90 minutes of hard work, commitment, and intensity without any mental errors and let the result take care of itself.

Our warm-up was sharp and everyone seemed to be ready to go. (The game was also being televised which proved to be extra motivation for some of the new guys.) From the opening whistle, we went after them. We played in their half and didn’t let them out. Our aggressive presence finally took its toll in the first six minutes. Similar to our game last Wednesday night against Charleston Southern, we were up 3-0.

The first goal came off of a brilliant header from Gooch. Pablo took a long throw in on the right hand side right into his path and he jumped over nearly everyone to put it to the keeper’s right side and into the back of the net. The second goal came about a minute later when Pablo got the ball on the right hand side as a result from our combination play through the midfield and drove a 40 yard ball into the box to Gooch who, once again, outjumped everyone and put it right past the keeper on another brilliant goal.

After the second goal, they began to panic a bit and decided to sit back and defend. About three minutes after Gooch’s second goal, we got a throw in on the left hand side. Pablo threw it short to Kenny who turned and played a great ball across the box to Mark Lisi who was wide open on the six yard box. Mark brought the ball down off of his chest and showed tremendous composure as he slotted it right past the keeper who did get a hand on it but wasn’t able to save it.

After our third goal, I felt as though their spirit was broken. We dominated the entire half, working the ball in and out of pressure, combining through the midfield, and getting around the back for some solid crosses which created many decent chances. Fabio was able to get behind their defense and create several one on one’s with their backs, Oscar sat in the midfield well keeping us balanced, and Lisi, Kenny, and Heck won the second balls and gave us a chance to get forward fast. Our defense was solid, Gooch and Ricki were able to get around the back and Pablo and I held down the center.

Going into the locker room, for the first time against NC State in my four years here, we were confident and comfortable with our performance and a three goal lead.

The beginning of the second half was a true test for us. They put three (sometimes four) guys up top and came out of the locker room with high spirits and believing that they were still in the game. About three minutes in, one of their guys passed a ball into our box to a forward who I thought was offside given the line Pablo and I set, but who was actually kept onside by one of our defenders who was on our six marking a far sided midfielder. They tucked away their chance and now it was 3-1.

Back to what I was saying earlier about any team can beat any team on any given day, they had just scored a goal, felt as though they were still in it, and were flying at us with everything they had. Although they didn’t get any chances as a result of their high pressure, we maintained our composure, got our legs back and possessed the ball like we did in the first half. As a result of our patience and combinations, Ross was rewarded for his brilliance in the box as an NC State defender had no choice but to take him down after he went past him. Ross took the penalty and slotted it into the corner for our fourth goal.

That goal proved to be the turning point in the game as their spirit was once again broken, and we were in full control. Fabio, who had his best game of the year so far, came in off the bench and score two tremendous goals to give us a 6-1 lead. The first goal came from a through ball from Mark. Fabio beat his defender to the ball and went one on one with the keeper. As the keeper went to ground, Fabio chipped it right over his head and into the far corner. Then about 15 minutes later, he got another through ball and slotted it into the far corner first time and had the keeper beat the whole way. (He had another great goal which he backheeled first time out of the air off of a cross from Steve that got called back as a result of an offside call…it was truly something special to see).

Six to one proved to be enough to win and we are now 1-2 in the conference. Although it isn’t something to be extremely proud of yet, it was good to see that we continue to build on what we started up at Duke. Eveyone played well, some of the newer guys got a chance to get some experience in an ACC game, and we got a chance to rest some guys who were carrying injuries. Now we have the entire week to work hard and prepare for our tournament.

Friday night we play Brown and Sunday afternoon we play Cal State Fullerton: Two teams who are very good and also ranked in the top-10. It will be a test to see how far we’ve come and it will be a great opportunity to compete against two quality teams who are respected around the country. I feel as though things are coming together and although we are never satisfied,and we know that things can always get better, the gap of dissatisfaction that we were experiencing earlier in the year is slowly narrowing. Hope to see you this weekend!