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Men’s Soccer Commentary: Optimism surrounds Irish

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, August 30, 2007

Before his team had played any games this season, Irish coach Bobby Clark said Notre Dame’s goal was to improve upon last year’s Elite Eight finish in the NCAA Tournament.Apparently, Clark sets realistic goals.In its two preseason games, No. 10 Notre Dame scored six goals, conceded zero and, in general, looked more than capable of becoming the first Irish team in program history to reach the Final Four. Clark, however, isn’t convinced.When asked how indicative his team’s preseason performances were of what’s to come in the regular season, Clark said that preseason games mean nothing and that he’d tell us in December.Luckily for impatient Notre Dame fans, they won’t have to wait until December to get a better idea of whether the 2007 Irish are capable of reaching the Final Four.On Friday, Notre Dame’s first regular season game will pit the Irish against No. 2 UCLA, which fell to UC Santa Barbara in last season’s NCAA final. Later in the weekend, the Irish take on No. 9 Maryland – the 2005 NCAA champion.The Bruins and Terrapins are the type of teams the Irish will likely need to beat in order to reach this year’s Final Four in Cary, N.C., and while no season outcome is determined in August, this weekend’s games should show whether Notre Dame can play with the top teams in the country.Judging by their 3-0 victory over No. 14 Northwestern on Monday night, the Irish certainly possess the attacking talent to compete with the very best. Seniors Joseph Lapira and Kurt Martin put on a show, combining for all three Notre Dame goals and setting up many other promising chances.Lapira’s impressive play is no surprise. After all, he won last year’s Hermann Trophy – the equivalent of a Heismann Trophy in football.Martin, however, has the potential to make the Irish attack something special. Despite his solid contributions the past two seasons, Martin has been stuck behind upperclassmen. This year, with seven points in two preseason games, Martin is ready to make his mark.What makes the partnership of Martin and Lapira so dangerous is that their styles mesh perfectly. Martin is best at receiving the ball with his back to the goal so that he can use his deft first touches to beat defenders and slot through balls. Lapira’s top-end speed is sure to allow him to run onto a few of Martin’s passes.Lapira and Martin already appear to be developing a rapport. Take Monday night’s game against Northwestern, for example. In the second half, Lapira received a pass from Martin with his back to the goal, took one touch and back-heeled the ball to an onrushing Martin, who fired a first-time shot over the top of the goal. While the play will show up as nothing more than a statistic, it indicates a developing partnership that will likely give Notre Dame a healthy scoring average this season.Though Clark is being cautious with his words regarding the potential of this year’s team, the performances of Lapira, Martin and the entire Irish squad Monday night have the coach guardedly optimistic.”I think there’s a lot of talent on this team,” Clark said. “This could be a fun team, but it’s too early to say anything.” With two top-10 opponents on deck for this weekend, we’ll be talking soon enough.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.Contact Greg Arbogast at garbogas@nd.edu.