All-American Lesch will play soccer at Notre Dame
Published 5:32 pm, Friday, February 4, 2011
Brendan Lesch will go down as one of the greatest Staples boys soccer players.
A senior tri-captain, he led Staples to three straight FCIAC titles, two Class LL finals appearances, earned All-FCIAC and All-State this year. Most significantly, he is the team's First American since 1998 when now-retired Major League Soccer player Kyle Martino earned this honor and was selected as the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association's Player of the Year.
"Brendan would probably be on any Staples soccer observer's list of the best team of all time," Wreckers Coach Dan Woog says. "He is our first All-American since Kyle Martino in 1998, and deservedly so."
Receiving these accolades would inflate many egos but not Lesch's, who is focused on helping the University of Notre Dame next year.
"During the season, my goal is to help the team out," Lesch says. "These accolades are nice and are end of the season side notes but my focus now is to play college soccer and I still have a lot to learn."
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Lesch's love for the game contributed to his success. He began kicking a soccer ball up and down the hall when he was only 18 months old,
"From the time I could remember, I lived to play soccer and I always loved it," Lesch says. "Going out to practice or play was never a chore for me."
The game fits Lesch's persona, which fuels his passion for soccer.
"I grew up kicking a ball around and I loved it ever since," Lesch says. "I love playing a team sport and the creativity that comes from it. I love trying new things. Soccer is a fluid game with a lot of room to create."
Playing at center midfield gives him the opportunity to generate things on the field. Being on the field is satisfaction enough for Lesch, who would be content playing at any position. At center midfield, he gets to play both offense and defense, which involves him in every facet of the game and it's something he relishes.
"From the time I was young, I loved playing there because I could do some creating," Lesch says.
He had 13 goals and six assists this year and has been deft in distributing the ball throughout his career.
"I've always been lucky enough to have a good cast around me," Lesch says. "There are so many people who can get the job done. When you have talent around you, it's easy to get them the ball in good position."
Not only he's a good passer, Lesch is a lethal finisher as well. His strong toe and nose for the goal enabled to score against some of the tougher goalies.
"The main reason I'm able to score because I have talent around me," Lesch says. "[Senior] Greg Gudis, [senior tri-captain] Sean Gallagher from the backfield and [senior tri-captain] Frankie Bergonzi were able to get me the ball where I have the opportunity to score. Having played for a long time and having great teammates helped me greatly and I learned a lot from them."
Being a mover and shaker on offense isn't his only strength. Lesch is also expert at blue collar tasks, such as winning many balls in the air, which helped Staples control the ball.
"That's always something I really enjoy," Lesch says. "I like the physical part of soccer of going for a header because it's a good way of winning possession for your team. Practicing over the years help me improve and I always embrace improvement."
His willingness to be the best he can be and go beyond it impresses Woog.
"Brendan has many attributes. He has a great game sense, understanding the flow of a match, the rhythm, and what needs to be done at any given time," Woog says. "He is great with the ball at his feet in tight spaces -- confident, quick and clever. He is a very strong defender, a solid distributor, and he scores in an enormous variety of ways. He's scored headers -- leaping high and diving low. He's scored long-range rockets, and tap-ins that came from being in the right place at the right time. He has great kinesthetic awareness. He worked hard in the off-season developing his weaker foot -- something many players ignore. In the course of one game he can clear a ball off the goal line at one end, and win the match by scoring in the final minutes at the other end. He's a big-time player: His best games are the ones that count the most. Brendan says he'll play anywhere, anytime, and he really means it."
Defensively, Lesch deftly executes his tackles and kept opposing attackers away from his goalie.
"Soccer is a game where everyone has to play offense and defense," Lesch says. "You have to learn how to defend and playing defense is something I enjoy. Playing against them helps me become a better defender."
Dedication and toughness are two other attributes that define Lesch. In the FCIAC quarterfinals against Trumbull, Lesch twisted his right ankle and was taken off the field. Being the gritty competitor he is, he said to Staples athletic trainer Gaetana DiLeo and her assistant that he wants to go back into the game.
"It was still a tie game, Trumbull is a great team and it was playoff time and I didn't want to sit," Lesch recalls. "If we lost, we were out and I wanted to contribute whatever I could. I never enjoy sitting out, even for an injury and I love to play every second. I felt I could overcome a sore ankle. It's painful to take a break from playing."
Woog was cautious and didn't reinsert Lesch until he was cleared by DiLeo. Nevertheless, the coach is impressed with his captain's heart and willingness to go in even with a sprained ankle.
"Those are innate, personal qualities and I suspect it comes from his parents," Woog says. "Both Brendan Sr. and Jeanne were high-level athletes themselves. They have always supported Brendan -- and his three siblings -- but allowed them to choose their own paths. They gave him the opportunities, and he took full advantage of them."
Even with a twisted ankle, Lesch was injured throughout the tournament but remained undaunted and scored the only goal of the game. The Wreckers scored five goals in the tournament and their captain played a role in all of them by tallying three goals and assisting on two.
Although his performance was yeomen-like and heroic, Lesch remained modest about it and deflected credit to others, especially Woog for moving him to center forward.
"Instead of running, I tried to focus on getting in good position," Lesch says. "Gudis and Frankie got me the ball and I was able to finish."
Lesch played in the Class LL tournament despite not being 100 percent and took two months off after the season, which was emotionally tough for him because he'd play 24-7 if it was physically possible.
The 6-0, 175-pound Lesch was a four-year starter for Staples, which is something he takes pride in.
"That was one of my goals in middle school, I wanted to be on varsity and I wanted to play," Lesch recalls. "I worked hard over the summer [before my freshman year] to make sure I reached that goal."
As a student of the game, he likes watching soccer on TV and England Arsenal of the English Premier League is his favorite team. For the most, soccer is the only thing Lesch watches on TV.
"I enjoy watching great players on TV and I want to learn from them," Lesch says. "When I see a new move, I try it outside. It's fun to watch players who are so talented."
One player he watched and has played with is Martino. Lesch relishes this experience.
"Kyle Martino is a fantastic guy and is one of my idols," Lesch says. "He's been great and very helpful to me. To know him is a cool thing. Not many people can say they have their idols in their phone book."
With Lesch being the first All-American since Martino, coupled with the fact they are friends and play soccer together, it's only natural to compare the two.
"I never like to compare players, and Brendan and Kyle certainly have different styles, but they share something very important: an incredible passion for the game, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get to the top," Woog states.
Growing up, Lesch played baseball and was the catcher on the 2003 9 and 10 year Westport National League Little League All-Star team that won the state title. He played until freshman year before hanging up his glove to focus solely on soccer.
"It was hard because I always loved baseball but when it came down to it, I always loved soccer," Lesch recalls. "If I had to miss soccer because of a conflict with baseball, I was upset and it was a clear indication of what's right for me, which is to play soccer every day of the year."
Leadership is a strength of Lesch as he served as captain. He led the Wreckers by example through his work ethic, play and desire.
"It was a great honor and I really enjoyed it," Lesch says. "We were a tight knit team and everyone contributed to us going in the right direction."
Woog says, "Brendan is not a big talker -- he lets his actions speak for himself. I think our entire team got a great lift by watching his reaction after being injured in the FCIAC semifinal this year. His ankle was bad -- he was maybe 30 percent of himself for the rest of the FCIAC and state tournament -- but he never complained. He continued to give everything every time he stepped on the field. That's leading by example, and it set the tone for our entire post-season run. Many people helped make Brendan who he is -- and his tremendous work ethic played an enormous role too. In terms of coaching, Brendan was like another coach on the field. He assessed situations and made moves before we had to ask him -- for example, withdrawing himself into a more defensive role when we were under the gun, or moving forward into the attack when time was winding down."
Academically, he takes AP courses. Economics is his favorite subject.
"It's not too difficult if I stay on top of things," Lesch says. "I try to get done what I need to get done."
Lesch is looking forward to playing for the Fighting Irish and like Martino, hopes to play professionally afterwards.
"It's going to be a challenge because they have talented players but I'm looking forward to it," Lesch says.
Woog says, Notre Dame is a great fit. It's a top-tier school, academically and athletically. Brendan thrives on facing the best competition. I admire Coach Bobby Clark tremendously. He is a superb coach, but more importantly a wonderful human being. He looks out for his players on and off the field, and creates a true family environment. I know Brendan's many Westport fans are happy he's playing in the Big East, so they can see him in this area against teams like UConn, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Rutgers. Playing professionally has long been Brendan's dream, and I learned long ago that when he sets a goal, he does everything in his power to reach it."
If Lesch plays professionally, he will fulfill his daily desires.
"Playing professionally has always been one of my goals," Lesch says. "It won't be easy but I want to give it a shot. I want to play at the highest level possible and for as long as possible."