Mar 21, 2013, 3:56 PM EDT
A three day trip across the border and a heavily attended coaching clinic made for a very hectic spring break for the Notre Dame men’s soccer squad.
The crew traveled to Toronto over the first weekend of the break and trained on Sunday and Monday at Toronto FC’s pristine training facilities. The Irish have strong ties to this particular MLS squad. Toronto’s head coach is Ryan Nelson, who played for current Notre Dame skipper Bobby Clark at Stanford. Nelson went on to play for D.C. United and multiple English Premier League teams, including Blackburn and Tottenham. He also captained New Zealand’s national team for a time.
“I don’t just have former players playing in the MLS, but I have former players coaching now,” Clark joked. “For me catching up with Ryan was pretty neat.”
The Irish played two games on Tuesday, one against Toronto FC’s reserve team and the other against the host club’s U19 team.
Head coach Bobby Clark trotted a more experienced lineup out for the first tilt and gave his younger, less seasoned players a chance to shine in the later game. Notre Dame won the first matchup, 2-1, and was defeated in the second by the same score.
The games marked the return to competitive gameplay of Brendan Lesch and Vince Cicciarelli, two sophomores whose careers thus far at Notre Dame have been heavily hindered by injuries. Lesch, who played in the first game against the Toronto FC reserves, tore his ACL during his freshman campaign and broke his ankle prior to his sophomore season. Cicciarelli, who notched the Irish’s only goal in the second, tore his ACL last spring and therefore did not play last year.
“Brendan Lesch has had a really tough time with injuries so it was good to get him some time,” Clark said. “I thought he played well and is starting to look really fit again. Vince also did really well.”
Starting defenders Luke Mishu and Grant Van De Casteele did not play on the trip, which freed time for young defenders in the first game. Clark was especially impressed with the performance of freshman Michael Shipp.
“Michael Shipp didn’t play and was redshirted as a freshman, so it was good to see him playing in a really competitive game,” Clark said. “He played in that first game even though he’s one of our younger players. So it was good to see him starting to step up. We very well might need a lot of him next year.”
In addition to training and playing, the squad took in an MLS match between Toronto and Sporting Kansas City. The game surely had a little extra significance for sophomore Nick Besler, whose brother Matt, a 2009 Notre Dame graduate, plays for Kansas City. The Irish also attended an NBA game between the hometown Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Upon returning to campus, the team hosted a clinic that was attended by roughly 130 high school coaches. Steve Swanson, the current head coach of Virginia’s women’s team and a former assistant to Clark at Dartmouth and Stanford, was one guest clinician. Swanson also coached the United States’ U20 women’s team that won the World Cup in Japan in the fall. Bob Gansler, who coached in the MLS with Kansas City and Toronto and headed the U.S. men’s national team in the 1990 World Cup, was the other. Gansler’s son, Peter patrolled the pitch for the Irish in the late 1990’s.
Notre Dame will practice this week in preparation for a Saturday jaunt to Detroit. The Irish are slated to participate in back-to-back exhibitions against Oakland and Michigan.
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