Plotkin Looking for Winning Connection Against No. 17 Louisville
CHICAGO - Foremost in Mark Plotkin's soccer world is that he wants his teammates to feel safe.
That's how Plotkin felt the last three years when center midfielder John Kornfeld's steady play provided a sense of security.
"I'm trying to fill a void left behind when Kornfeld graduated," Plotkin said. "I try to make everyone feel safer with me out there.
"I played center mid all through club soccer, but my first three years here, I was outside mid or outside back. It feels good to be back in the middle. That's where all the action is, and I love tackling and getting after it against guys from the other team."
Plotkin will cast his figurative safety net onto Wish Field at 1 p.m. Saturday when DePaul (5-4-0, 2-2-0 in the BIG EAST) tackles No. 17 Louisville in its BIG EAST divisional opener.
"This is huge because it's against a team in our division," Plotkin said. "After losing at West Virginia last Sunday, it's important to get back to winning again."
Louisville is 5-1-2 overall and 2-1-1 in the BIG EAST. The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 17-7, outpointed them 45-19 and outshot them 118-72.
Midfielder Freddie Braun leads Louisville with four goals and two assists while goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux has given up just seven goals with four shutouts.
That will pose quite a challenge for a Blue Demon offense that has scored 16 goals in nine games this season after scoring 13 goals in 20 games last year.
"The team is doing awesome," Plotkin said. "Since I've been here, we've never had this kind of a team. We have the ability to score two or three goals in a game. That takes the pressure off the defense.
"It's a collective effort. The midfielders and forwards are working so well together. Steffen Vroom and Alex Mangan are best friends and know each other so well. (Freshman) Antonio Aguilar is playing unbelievable out there and has fit in so well. It's like he has been with us for years."
And, a certain senior midfielder named Plotkin is having a career year with two goals and three assists midway through the season.
"It's been great," Plotkin said. "It took me 2½ years to get my first goal, and now I've already got two this year. This is the best offense I've played, and I knew I could do it.
"I'm like the connector for our attack. I get the ball from the defense and try to connect with Vroom, Aguyilar or Mangan up top."
Plotkin had two assists against UC-Irvine and a goal against Buffalo, but his signature moment came in a 2-1 loss to Notre Dame.
"That was one of the best goals I've ever scored in my life," Plotkin said. "After I scored, I sprinted from their goal all the way to midfield. My friends who were watching said that's the happiest they had ever seen me.
"My mom's (Nancy Plotkin) side of the family are huge Notre Dame football fans. It's a big deal in our family when we play Notre Dame. My grandmother (Mary Devine) was born in Ireland.
"Of course, when we play the Irish in soccer, the whole family is cheering for DePaul."
Plotkin has given his family plenty to get excited about this season.
"Our captain, Patrick Hopkins, was right when he said that people are just now beginning to appreciate Mark Plotkin," said Blue Demons coach Craig Blazer. "In the process of this team's evolution, we've had some great play from Mark.
"He's had an impact offensively and defensively. The goal he scored against Notre Dame was outstanding. He was good defensively against Pittsburgh (1-0 victory) and had an excellent game against West Virginia (2-1 overtime loss).
"All the seniors are assuming leadership roles. Hopkins is the leader of the back line and Plotkin has become the leader of the midfield."
Plotkin believes DePaul can finish strong in the second half of the regular season.
"This is the best team we've had in a while," he said. "The last two years, we were scrappy and tried to win games in all kinds of ways.
"This team can score two or three goals and not have to pull it out at the end.
"It's like we're in control of our own destiny."