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Men’s Soccer: History in the making

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, November 16, 2006

Joseph Lapira didn’t see much of the ball Wednesday night.

Illinois-Chicago made sure of that, choosing to man-mark the nation’s top scorer for the entire match. The one time Lapira did get behind the defense, however, he didn’t waste the chance – scoring the only goal in Notre Dame’s 1-0 victory over the Flames in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve seen tape on [Lapira], and we knew how good a player he is,” Flames coach John Trask said. “Fair dues to the Hermann Trophy candidate. He got his one sniff on goal, and he finished it. That’s what a big time player does.”

The play started just two minutes before halftime when sophomore forward Bright Dike received a pass at the top of the box. With his back to the goal, Dike flicked the ball into the path of an onrushing Lapira, who outran his defender to the ball and – despite shooting from almost at the end line – buried a low shot in the far corner of the net.

“I don’t how that shot went in,” Lapira said. “I didn’t have much of an angle. I think I got a little bit lucky.”

The Irish were fortunate the score was still tied at zero when Lapira scored his goal. Notre Dame, playing its first game in 18 days, was clearly outplayed by the Flames in the first 10 minutes of the game.

Only three minutes in, Illinois-Chicago midfielder Baggio Husidic ripped a shot off a cross, which rebounded back off the Irish crossbar. Two minutes later, Flames forward Eric Cervantes unleashed from 25 yards and appeared to have Notre Dame keeper Chris Cahill beat – but the shot sailed just wide of the goal.

“Maybe that was your answer,” said Irish coach Bobby Clark, referring to whether Notre Dame would be rusty after the long layoff. “We hadn’t played a game for 18 days, and it took the boys about 10 minutes to adjust to the pace of the game.”

After weathering the initial storm from Illinois-Chicago, Notre Dame proceeded to rain down shots on Flames keeper Jovan Bubonja. In the 20th minute, senior forward Justin McGeeney received a through ball from midfielder Ian Etherington, putting him in on the keeper, but his shot was deflected out for a corner kick by Bubonja.

Four minutes later, senior midfielder Nate Norman thought he had opened the scoring, bending a low shot toward the corner of the net, but a diving Bubonja again denied the Irish.

“They won the battle for the first 10 minutes, but after that we quickly got our act together and started taking control of the game,” senior co-captain Greg Dalby said. “We created a lot of chances after those first 10 minutes.”

On the evening, Notre Dame out-shot Illinois-Chicago 18 to nine – a high number of chances given the rainy conditions. As the game progressed, the field became more and more of a mess, with players struggling to keep their footing.

“In these conditions, that was a superb game,” Clark said. “There was only one goal, but there were quite a few chances. [Illinois-Chicago] maybe didn’t have great chances, but they got close enough to make my heart skip a few beats.”

With their win, the Irish will advance to play at No. 7 Maryland – last year’s NCAA champion – who dispatched St. John’s 2-0 Wednesday.