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Captain’s Corner No. 6

Oct. 18, 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 Virginia Game

Our games against Virginia are always unpredictable. Freshman year, we were outclassed, under constant pressure, and had two penalties called against us (one of which Matt Jordan saved), yet somehow came out of Charlottesville with a draw. All things considered, we actually did have some chances to put them away towards the end but just couldn’t find a way to win it.

Sophomore year, they came to Clemson and we won 2-0 off of great goals by Wojtek and Scott Bauer. That year, they had some great players such as Jason Moore, Chris Albright, and Brock Yetso, but we played extremely well and didn’t give them a chance from the very beginning.

Last year, we went back to Charlottesville and struggled to play the way that we wanted to but came out with a 2-1 victory off of one of the greatest goals I’ve seen in my career here at Clemson (from Matt Elliott). It didn’t feel like we deserved to win the game but, at that time, we took any victory that we could get (especially on the road).

This year, we knew that they had some great individual talent, they were ranked ahead of us, and were looking to come in and get a victory to stay undefeated in the ACC. Our practices had been sharp all week, we had a good win against Georgia State on Wednesday, and we were confident with the way that we were playing. This was an important game for us in that we were 1-2 in the ACC up to this point, and a win would put us in good position for the ACC Tournament and also give us momentum going into the last leg of the season.

We knew that they would play a 3-5-2 and try to make it difficult for us to play through Mark Lisi as many teams do. However, unlike many teams, they were fairly effective with their plan. With their numbers in midfield, and the attention Lisi was getting, it made it difficult for us to play through the middle. However, we were able to make some quick adjustments in the back and play more direct to our strikers and bypass the midfield. When I say that we played more direct, I don’t mean that our overall rhythm was disrupted, I just mean that we had to pick and choose when to play diagonal balls over the top, and when to slow the game down and play simple.

There was no true rhythm to the first 15 minutes of the game. We were having trouble possessing the ball like we usually do. Their plan was to pressure us in the back and try and prevent us from creating chances through combinations. They really didn’t have any clear chances either. Personally, I felt as though they were putting us under more pressure than we were to them, but overall neither team dominated.

It all changed when Fabio scored. At the time, we were beginning to possess the ball a little bit more and were starting to settle down when he received the ball off of a throw in, combined with Steven Rhyne from about 25 yards out, and hit a first time shot with the outside of his right foot that curled into the upper left hand corner of the net. I can honestly say that it was one of the best goals I have ever seen. This gave us a chance to gain our composure, and make the necessary changes we needed to be effective.

As I said earlier, they were playing a 3-5-2, the midfield was clogged, and we needed to play more direct over the top to expose their defenders and use our speed up front to create chances. About 10 minutes later, Chad Prince (one of their defenders) sent a long ball into our area to one of their front-runners who was being marked by Pablo. I saw that he wasn’t going to be able to win it so I stepped up and challenged for it. After I won it, their midfielder played a first time ball over the top to one of their forwards who was running through. This was a mistake by our defense. If we had someone drop off when I challenged for the ball, the problem would have been solved. Instead, it resulted in a breakaway and a goal for them. Even though they scored, we felt as though we still would be able to come back and win the game.

With our more direct style of play, we were able to keep them in their half, and put some pressure on their backs. They were also able to break our pressure at times and put some pressure on us as well.

Shortly after their goal, I played a quick free kick to Pablo who was virtually closed down and the ball came right back to me. I took a touch and saw that their back line was pushing up extremely far. I also saw Ian making a diagonal run behind their defense so I played a long ball over the top to him…he was able to beat his defender with speed and cross the ball first time to Ricki who had no one within 15 yards of him. He was able to tuck it away first time and we were up 2-1.

Going into the locker room, we were comfortable with where we were, what had gone on in the first half, and knew that we had to continue to play over the top when it was on and keep them in their half. For the most part, the second half was a success. We did exactly what we had to for 30 minutes until mental errors took over. Once we gave them a chance to get back in it and tie the game 2-2 with 17 minutes left, anything could have happened. It turned out that they capitalized on another mental mistake that we made 5 minutes later when they converted a free kick from 20 yards out. You have to give credit to Kenny Arena who was able to put the ball in from a very narrow angle, but if we had been properly positioned, I think that goal could have been prevented.

The last ten minutes were spent by us attacking them with everything we had. They sat in and tried to absorb our pressure and get the victory (which was smart). With about 30 seconds left, the ball came out to me and Kyle Martino blocked the ball that I tried to serve into the box as our last effort to get the equalizer. When I turned around, I saw that Douglas was way off of his line so I decided to foul him to prevent a fourth goal.

Looking back and knowing that I had already gotten a red card off of two yellows against Brown, it probably wasn’t worth it. Now I have to sit out two games in a row (Davidson on Wednesday and Wake Forest on Saturday night). There is nothing more frustrating in my mind than sitting out of a game and watching your team battle without you. Now I have to watch two.

I felt as though we played well enough to win the game and at times, we played extremely well. We must, however, eliminate the mental mistakes if we want to compete for a National Championship. It is something that we have worked on a lot this week at practice and hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes and prevent easy goal from happening.

Now we have to regroup once again, and perform well against Davidson on Wednesday night. It will be a tough game to watch but if we continue to play the way that we have been and eliminate the mental mistakes, we’re going to be tough to beat. Now we are 1-3 in the ACC and are 8-3-1 overall. These last five games our vital for us in terms of our development as well as our post season hopes. I feel as though if we are able to eliminate our mental errors and continue to improve, it will all pay off in the end.