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Captain’s Corner No. 8

Nov. 2, 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 Furman/Maryland Games

After our loss to Virginia, we knew that our last five games would be extremely important. More specifically, we needed to win them all. It was a great opportunity to increase our status in the region as well as in the conference. We were able to get two great results on the road at Davidson and at Wake Forest and now it would be time to play Furman.

They are having a great year so far, they were ranked higher than us in the region, and they were undefeated in their conference and had only lost 2 games up until this point. This being said, we have been playing our best soccer in our last five games, it was our last home game of the year, and it was also the last home game for the seniors.

Last year, our game against Furman was an emotional one as we battled for 119 minutes, came back from a 2-1 deficit, and wound up scoring on ourselves with 51 seconds left in the second overtime sending them to the NCAA Tournament and us to regroup for the following year. Granted we weren’t as strong as our teams had been my first two years, we still competed with limited depth, and seemed to just fall short each and every time we stepped out on the field. Needless to say, this was a much anticipated game for all of us who were on the team last year. For me and the rest of the seniors, it was a chance to leave Riggs on a good note, and pass on the Clemson tradition to the underclassmen.

We knew that they would come at us from the very beginning. Some of our scouting reports were conflicting, in that at times, they would sit in and rely on counters, and at other times, they would try to play. We figured that since we weren’t a team that played direct so much, they would try and play and create chances from the flow of the game. It turns out that they sat back for the most part in the first half and gave Pablo and I all the space we could ever want. It seemed as though their game plan was to let us have the ball in the middle and try to prevent our outside backs from getting into the attack. They were also man-marking Lisi and trying to prevent him from getting into any rhythm.

On paper, that may be an effective way to stop our attacks from the back, but there was one flaw to that which we picked up from the very beginning. They were playing with three in the back, and establishing their first line of defense quite high. That would mean that driven, diagonal balls to the corners were on. With the amount of time and space we had in the back, it was quite easy to pick their defense apart with driven balls to the corners.

Now this isn’t how we usually play, but each game has different circumstances that you must adjust to in order to be effective and this seems to give us a big advantage over them. Their backs did have some speed so it was difficult at times for our front runners to beat them for speed, but we were also able to win most of the second balls and build our attacks in their defensive half rather than build out of the back like we usually do. At times, however, the opportunity to build out of the back was on and we were able to utilize that as well, but for the most part, the driven ball to the corner was most effective.

The first half was back and forth for the most part as each of us had opportunities. They hit the bar, we had two quality chances that were saved by their keeper, Doug made some great saves as did their keeper. I felt as though we had most of the possession in the first half but they were still able to break our pressure and at times, put the pressure back on us. I can remember about a 5 or 10 minute span where I felt like we struggled to get back into our rhythm but for the most part, we went into the locker room with a good feeling at 0-0.

One minute into the first half was the turning point in the game. Pablo had a long throw in from the right hand side and as he threw it on a line to Gooch, he was able to flick it to the back post. Nathan and I had both made runs to the far post so we were there to put it in. As I dove to head it in, one of their defenders swatted the ball away with his hand, which resulted in an automatic red card and a penalty for us. After a lot of arguing and confusion, Mark stepped up and tucked the penalty away nicely to give us a 1-0 lead.

As unfortunate as it was for them, it would have been a goal either way. If their player hadn’t of swatted it away, Nathan or myself would have put it in. Now they were a man down for the rest of the game. We, once again, had to adjust to the circumstances and possess the ball more. At first our guys wanted to keep playing direct and over the top. As soon as we settled down, we began to see what was effective. We made the ball do the work, and tired them out. As they began to tire, we got our second goal from Gooch who hit a shot from about 20 yards out through a crowd of defenders that the keeper didn’t see. After a great celebration, it would prove to be the goal that broke their spirit. They did get one good chance off of a miss clearance by one of our defenders but, Douglas made a great save to give them no hope. The rest of the game was basically a series of possessions on our part as we were able to frustrate them, tire them further, and leave Riggs with a 2-0 result against a ranked team and an in-region opponent.

Going back to Maryland is always a great trip for me. I spent most of my life there and at times, I do miss it. Our game was important in that it was an opportunity to get another ACC win, beat a good team, and continue on our quest to win the last five games of the regular season. We knew that they had a lot of injuries, and limited depth. However, they were coming off of a five game winning streak without letting up a goal and they needed a win against us to have a shot at the post season.

We had a great trip up to Maryland as we left on Friday morning and were ready to play on Saturday night. It’s always good to go back home to play because we have a lot of fans. Pablo, myself, and Gooch are all from Maryland, and Keneth is from Virginia. That night, we had a number of old friends, family, and supporters tailgating before the game, making a lot of noise, and showing us how much they do love Clemson Soccer. It was great to see.

Our game against Maryland was an exciting one. They chose to sit back, absorb our pressure, and get chances through counter attacks. We chose to go at them, play in their half, and possess the ball. As a result, we put a lot of pressure on their backs with crosses and runs from behind. This allowed us to play our style right away and dictate the tempo of the game. Since they left Abe up top alone, we were able to play through Oscar and switch the point of attack forcing their defense to shift and make adjustments. They did get some chances and put some pressure on us, but for the most part, I felt as though we had the majority of possession.

Our hard work, and organization finally paid off as Steven Rhyne slotted a cross from Ross Goodacre into the near post as he made a great early run to beat their defense. That goal lifted our spirits and we went into the half time with a 1-0 lead. The second half proved to be even better for us in terms of the quality of our play. Mark was able to get a goal off of a throw in from Pablo and then score another brilliant goal as a result of combinations with Ian and Ross.

We found ourselves up 3-0 after about 20 minutes and felt comfortable with where we were at. It was then that the game changed a little bit as we made a mental error with a backpass and were punished for it. That goal gave them hope and enabled them to put some pressure on us in the last 15 minutes. Their pressure resulted in another goal with about 7 minutes left off of a miss hit by Beckett Holanbach that went to one of the attackers who hit a quality shot past Douglas. However, despite their efforts towards the end of the game, we were able to leave Maryland with a 3-2 victory on the road, and come out 3-3 in the ACC.

It was a good week for us as we now are 4-0 in our last four games. All we have left in the regular season is Charlotte on Sunday at Charlotte. We set out to win the last five games after our loss to Virginia and so far we have pulled through. They are a good team, who have beat some quality schools this year and it is always a battle with them but we must win. It is another in-region game and it’s on the road. It is also a tremendous opportunity to go into the ACC Tournament with a five game winning streak and a 13-3-1 record.

I just want to take the time to thank all of you who supported us this week both at the Furman game and up at Maryland. We truly appreciate all of your support. From all of the seniors, thanks for making it a memorable last game on Riggs. For all of you who were at Maryland, once again, thank you for your support.