Pat Wall is the starting goalkeeper for Notre Dame's men's soccer team. Fresh off a National Championship run with Notre Dame, Wall was named second team goalkeeper in the ACC after leading his team to a 17-1-6 record. I wrote about Wall back in October and after finishing his fourth year he has his fair share of options on the table. I talked to Wall last week about his Championship run and moving forward as a goalkeeper.
I read in your AMA on Reddit that you worked with NASA. How does a collegiate soccer player end up working at NASA?
Going to school at Notre Dame you get a pretty good education that you don't want to waste. I reached out to a lot of Notre Dame alumni who graduated with the same degree that I did and I got in contact with Bob Zehentner. I sat down with him for a couple of hours and asked him how to pursue playing professionally as well as trying to get a job in the real world. He actually offered me an internship at a company called L-3 Communications and it turned out I got to work as a subcontractor at the NASA Space Center (in Houston). I was fortunate enough to work on some projects like the Orion Flight Software. It was always a goal to help put something in space some time in my life and I was fortunate enough to do.
What was something that contributed to Notre Dame's success that most people couldn't tell from the outside looking in?
Honestly, I think there were two things that most people wouldn't really think about. Well the first one, probably some do… The first one is fitness. During the summer, we have a strength coach that really changed and amped up our fitness guide for the summer. Through that, I think our players got to be in the best shape out of any college team in the country. If you look back at our College Cup run, we only used thirteen different players through the last four games, including the final. So being able to have guys stay healthy and being able to play with the intensity that we did really gave a shout out to our fitness. Another thing that I don't think anyone really knows that we do at Notre Dame is our sports psychology training. We have a guy named Dr. Mick Franco who really works with us on getting all the potential out that we possibly can. I don't think a lot of other schools do that but it's a special thing about Notre Dame and it's been a big part of why we've been successful.
There's the idea that college stunts the growth of soccer players. As someone who is on the tail end of their collegiate career, what are you thoughts on college as a development program for players?
To be honest, a lot more people look down on the college game than they should. I think the college game is essential for 90% of American players out there. You can look at certain programs and say "That's not where you want a player developed at" but, a little plug for Notre Dame, if you go to a school like Notre Dame you're basically a professional. You're treated with top quality coaches. Playing for a guy like Bobby Clark is an incredible experience. Being able to spend four years with him to get to learn from all little tidbits he has, it really helps you get to the next level. A lot of people debate on if you should stay through college through the four years or if you should even go at all. But Matt Besler was a Notre Dame grad who obviously has done really well and he stayed for four years. Dillon Powers, the MLS Rookie of the Year, stayed for four years and he's an incredible player. If you go to the right places, going to college is a great path for some Americans.
[Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark was named Coach of the Year after winning the title.]
You were in the Dynamo Academy. When did you sign with them and what was that experience like?
I can't remember what year I signed with them… I think I was… 14 or 15 years old at the time. That's when I originally signed with the academy. Let's see… back when I was fifteen years old, a guy named Mike Toshack was the goalkeeper coach there. [Toshack is now the goalkeeper coach for the Portland Timbers.] He invited me to train with the first team in Houston. Having that experience to be able to go with them even at the age of fifteen really helped start my career. And ever since then, for the past seven summers, I've been fortunate to be invited in at to train with the first team. Getting to meet all the assistant coaches and goalkeeper coaches that have come through Houston, getting my name out there, and learning what Houston is about was something special.
Did the academy try to get you to sign with them?
They always try to encourage us to sign with the first team as early as possible. The academy's whole purpose is to get players to the first team. For me, I thought it was pretty important to develop my game at a different level first. If I would have gone to, say, the MLS out of high school. I would have been sitting on the bench for three to four years, regardless. Right now, there are very few high school goalkeepers, if any, that could really step up in a league like MLS and make a major impact. So I decided I should go to college and find the best program that I could, and I did.
So what's your decision going forward? Are you looking at a fifth year with Notre Dame, a homegrown contract, or the MLS draft?
I talked with a lot of different people, some people throughout my life that have been pretty influential. I made a deal with my parents that if I was going to start my degree at Notre Dame then I would finish it and that will happen in May for me. So I'm going to stay for my fifth year at Notre Dame and try to develop more as a player and a person under the great staff we have. I looked at the MLS-option, I think that would be a great thing. I am very excited for the opportunity when that comes up but even if I were to sign in the next month or two, I would basically have two to three years to move up from a number three goalkeeping spot to a number two goalkeeping spot. And before I want to jump into that challenge, I want to make sure I'm as developed as I possibly can be.
You've talked about the necessity of getting games to grow as a player. The Fall is full of games but the Spring y'all are out of season. How do you combat this to make sure you're still getting better as a player?
The spring season for us is not exactly an easy down time. I think for a lot of programs, Spring is a little bit more of a relaxation time. For us it's completely opposite. They're killing us fitness-wise and we actually get some pretty good games in the spring as well. We play Indiana pretty much every year. We played the Mexican U-20 National Team, which was a great game. Then, for me personally, to get to train with an MLS team in the summer really helps me get ready for my season as well and to be a prepared player for the MLS, if that is what happens. There's an eleven month cycle for me and fortunately I'm in the month where I get to rest. We start in January and work all the way through December.