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Notre Dame splits weekend series in Empire State

Brennan, Kevin | Monday, September 19, 2005

New York City can be an unwelcoming place.

The Notre Dame men’s soccer team has learned this lesson many times, as the Irish have not won a game at St. John’s in program history. That trend continued Friday as Notre Dame fell 2-1 to the Red Storm – but bounced back Sunday to hand Syracuse its first defeat of the season with a 1-0 road victory.

Notre Dame got off to a sluggish start in its first Big East matchup of the year, as St. John’s set the pace early. In the 13th minute, Matt Groenwald beat Irish goalkeeper Chris Cahill from 16 yards out to give the Red Storm a 1-0 lead.

Notre Dame had a chance to tie the game with 11:20 left in the first half. John Stephens took a shot off of a rebound of a Greg Dalby free kick, but Red Storm goalie Jason Landers was there for the save. The play would prove to be Notre Dame’s only shot on goal in the game.

Early in the second half, St. John’s stretched its lead to 2-0. In the 54th minute, Groenwald again beat Cahill – this time from just inside the box.

The Irish then failed to convert on another scoring opportunity. Freshman striker Bright Dike received a long pass from Stephens and beat one defender, but his shot sailed left of the goal.

Notre Dame finally got on the board with 7:30 left in the game when St. John’s scored on its own goal. Irish striker Joe Lapira fired a pass across the box, but St. John’s defender Sam Matthews inadvertently headed the ball in to make the score 2-1.

The Irish were unable to even the score in the final seven minutes, however. St. John’s controlled the play all game.

“To be honest, I thought we didn’t find our game at all,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said. “It was a very difficult night for us.”

Clark thought that a lot of his team’s struggles came from St. John’s’ tremendous home field advantage. The Red Storm have a large fan base and a unique stadium that makes it difficult for opposing teams.

St. John’s has only lost six games at home in the last 10 years.

“They’re a very good team to take nothing away from them, but they know how to play the tough field very well,” Clark said. “It was a tough environment and, to be fair, we didn’t get a hold of it.”

The Irish regretted their performance Friday because they knew they missed out an opportunity for a marquee win over the 10th-ranked Red Storm.

“Obviously you are disappointed because we thought maybe we could’ve done something, but we didn’t,” Clark said.

Clark was thrilled, though, with the way the Irish responded Sunday against Syracuse. The Orange entered the game with an undefeated 4-0-1 record, but Notre Dame took control from the start of the game.

“They were coming out a very confident team, but we just took over the game,” Clark said. “We controlled the game pretty well start to finish.”

Junior forward Justin McGeeney tallied the game’s only goal in the 52nd minute off of an assist from Stephens. McGeeney totaled five shots in the game. Midfielder Ian Etherington added five shots of his own, while forward Tony Megna barely missed a goal early in the game when his header sailed over the crossbar.

Syracuse made the game interesting late. The Orange added a third forward and threatened to score on several occasions late in the game, but could not find the back of the net.

The Irish defense put forth another superb effort against Syracuse. Coming into the year, defense was the major question mark surrounding the team. Cahill and the backs have proved up to task, however. Cahill recorded his third shutout in the last four games Sunday.

Clark was proud of how well the Irish played Sunday after Friday’s setback.

“Although we only scored one goal, I felt we possibly put in our best performance of the year so far,” Clark said. “Today is the happiest I’ve felt with the way people are starting to find their role.

“We are starting to get a good feeling about what the team is going to look like.”