Mar 17, 2013, 2:26 PM EDT
The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital. The more you bleed in peace, the less you bleed in battle. You practice how you play.
These clichés are just three in a sports world stocked full of sayings that underline the importance of practice. During no time of the year does a squad practice more than in its offseason. In fact, that is usually all it does, excluding a handful of exhibition games. For this reason, many coaches view the offseason as perhaps more important than the season itself. Notre Dame men’s soccer skipper Bobby Clark shares this sentiment, claiming that the two go hand in hand.
“This is when we lay the groundwork for the season,” Clark said. “We possibly work harder in the spring than we work in the fall. The fall is really about competing. We are playing two games a week from the season’s start, so the guys are really just preparing for a game then regenerating for another one. There’s not a lot of hard work going into it, whereas the spring is the time where you really start putting your team together.”
The way in which Clark’s men spent their spring break gives credence to these words. Instead of heading south and lounging on beaches with their friends, the players spent the early portion of their spring break in Toronto, where they played a pair of exhibitions against the Toronto FC Reserve and Senior Academy soccer teams.
Clark primarily uses these exhibitions as a way to evaluate those who could potentially fill a void left by a graduating senior.
“It’s a time where you start to find who can fill the slots made by our great players last year who graduated,” Clark said. “When we play the spring games, although we try to win them, we have a bigger picture. We try to look at everybody and give everybody a game. We try to get a feel of who can do what and hopefully we’ll get a good idea of that.”
Clark pointed to three games in particular as marquee exhibitions: Indiana on April 13th in Fort Wayne, Xavier a week later in Cincinnati, and Mexico’s U20 squad on April 26th. The Irish were knocked out of the NCAA tournament last year by the Hoosiers, who went on to claim the national championship.
“We always draw a big crowd when we play Indiana in Fort Wayne,” Clark said. “It is always a tremendous game. Usually three or four thousand come out for that one, so it’s a fun experience for the boys.”
The Xavier tilt is a charity game that benefits children with Down syndrome. It likewise draws a large crowd. But perhaps the Irish’s largest audience of the spring will occur at Alumni Stadium when they square off against a supremely talented Mexico squad at home. The nation’s U17 teams have won the past two World Cups and Mexico’s U23 team just won gold at the Olympics.
“Mexico’s U20 team is arguably the top youth team in the world,” Clark said. “It’s a huge game. We usually sell out the stadium. The Hispanic population from miles around comes to that game.”
Notre Dame will participate in four other exhibition matches before finishing with these three. The Irish will kick it all off by traveling to Detroit the weekend of the 23rd to do battle with Michigan and Oakland.
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