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Men’s Soccer: Raining wins

Brennan, Kevin | Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bobby Clark feels like he’s gone home.

For the second straight game, the Notre Dame head coach watched his team battle through pouring rain and strong winds – conditions much more commonly found on the pitch in Clark’s native land.

“It’s like playing back in Scotland,” Clark said. “This is par for the course back in Scotland. That’s two games in a row. We’re getting used to it now.”

While the weather remained the same, the result improved for the Irish. After falling 2-1 to No. 15 Cincinnati Sunday, Notre Dame (6-3, 2-2 Big East) rebounded with an impressive 1-0 win over the Bradley Braves.

Notre Dame controlled the match for most of the night. In the first half, the Irish continually put pressure on the Bradley defense, out-shooting the Braves 8-3 before the break. Sophomore forward Joe Lapira led the Notre Dame attack with a game-high six shots, while junior forward Justin McGeeney and freshman forward Bright Dike each recorded three shots.

Dike put the Irish ahead early with the game’s only goal. Just 5:13 into the contest, senior tri-captain John Stephens sent a free kick into the middle of the box where Dike was waiting to send it past Bradley goalkeeper Chris Dunsheath.

“It was a great goal,” Clark said. “It was a good free kick played in by John Stephens, and Bright just met it. He just put a nice surface on it and put it away.”

The Irish continued to set the pace for much of the second half, but Bradley seemed to come alive in the final six minutes. The Braves kept the ball on Notre Dame’s side of the field and had several scoring opportunities.

With four minutes to go, Bradley got what might have been its best opportunity to even the score. When Irish defender Greg Dalby deflected a Braves shot, the ball ricocheted to a Bradley forward in front of the Irish goal. Senior defender Ben Crouse broke the play up from behind, however. Bradley called for a penalty kick, but no call was made and the Irish cleared the ball.

Clark was disappointed in his team’s inability to close out the game in the second half.

“I didn’t feel we handled the end of the game as well as we could have,” the coach said. “We kept them in the game. We had several opportunities to kill the game.

“But having said that, it’s hard to criticize anyone on a night like tonight.”

Notre Dame came away impressed by the Bradley team. The Braves, who entered the game with a solid 6-2 record, were the runner-up last season in the Missouri Valley Conference. Clark had nothing but praise for Bradley after the game.

“Bradely is a very strong, direct team,” Clark said. “They’re not a pretty team, but they’re an effective team.

“They have always given us problems. You’ve got to compete when you play them and they keep you very honest, so I think that’s a tribute to them.”

The Notre Dame victory was secured by yet another solid performance out of the defense, despite some significant injuries in the back. Senior tri-captain Dale Rellas was sidelined, so Clark elected to move Dalby back from center midfield for the game. In addition, freshman defender Jack Traynor went down with a foot injury in the second half. Dalby, Traynor, Crouse, junior Ryan Miller, and freshman Matt Besler limited Bradley to just ten shots for the game.

Junior goalkeeper Chris Cahill notched his fifth shutout in the last eight games Wednesday. Cahill and the Irish defense have combined to give Notre Dame a solid 0.78 goals against average for the season.

Notre Dame resumes Big East play Saturday when the Irish host West Virginia, the only conference opponent Notre Dame lost to in the 2004 regular season. The Irish, 2-2 in conference, are hoping to go on a run and finish atop the Big East standings for the second straight year.

The victory over Bradley gives Clark reasons to think optimistically about this goal.

“We were very good in the first half,” Clark said. “There were spells in the second half when we were brilliant. It was a very good win – a great win for us.”