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Men’s Soccer: Irish look to right ship against Pirates

Greg Arbogast | Friday, October 19, 2007

In the midst of suddenly rough waters, No. 4 Notre Dame will try to right its ship when the Pirates of Seton Hall come to South Bend Sunday for Notre Dame’s last home game of the regular season.

After its 3-2 loss to No. 12 Indiana Wednesday, Notre Dame finds itself winless in its last three games – a 1-0 loss to No. 6 Michigan State, a 3-3 draw with No. 1 Connecticut and the loss to the Hoosiers. Those results have sunk Notre Dame’s record to 8-3-3 (5-0-2 Big East).

Before Notre Dame’s loss to Michigan State on Oct. 10, it had been smooth sailing for the Irish. They were riding a nine-game unbeaten streak that improved the squad’s national ranking to No. 2. Irish coach Bobby Clark, however, doesn’t believe his team’s recent results stem from a drop in level of play.

“The last five games have all been against teams ranked in the top 20, and Indiana is a team that could win the national championship, as is Connecticut,” Clark said. “The key is, we’ve played all these teams pretty evenly. [In the Indiana game], we were as close to winning the game as they were, but that’s the way the ball swings.”

One area in which the Irish have struggled during their winless streak has been on defense. In its last three games, Notre Dame has allowed seven goals – including three against both Connecticut and Indiana. During their nine-game unbeaten streak, the Irish allowed only three goals total, never surrendering more than one in a game.

“The last two games, you’ve played against two fairly potent attacking teams,” Clark said. “Having said that, we’re looking at it from a team point of view. The whole team attacks and the whole team defends.”

Notre Dame’s defense will need to return to its early-season form by Sunday, or it could be in for a long day against a Seton Hall offense that has scored in bunches this season.

The Pirates have a 2.15 goals-per-game average (as opposed to Notre Dame’s 1.57), and Seton Hall has scored four or more goals in five games this season.

The Pirates’ offense has been especially potent as of late, averaging 3.75 goals per game in the team’s last four games – all wins.

After enduring an early-season tumble in which they lost six of seven games, the Pirates have outscored their opponents 15-3 during the team’s current four-game winning streak.

Those wins have helped the Pirates rise from last to fifth place in the Big East Blue Division with a conference record of 3-3-0 (7-6-0 overall).

“Seton Hall is always a good team, and they’re always well- coached,” Clark said. “They’re a heady young team, and that’s starting to come together. They can score goals in bunches, so that speaks for itself.”

If Seton Hall is able to continue their recent scoring binge, Notre Dame can take comfort in the return to form of senior forward Joseph Lapira. Last season’s national player of the year scored only two goals in the team’s first 12 games this season, but Lapira has tripled that output by netting two goals against both Connecticut and Indiana.

“He came in with a calf injury, and then he picked up a hamstring, so he’s been a little unfit from the start,” Clark said. “A goal scorer needs precision, and now that he’s starting to get his fitness back, he’s starting to score.”

Sunday’s game will carry important implications in seeding for the Big East tournament. Currently, the Irish control their own destiny. Although they’re two points behind Blue Division leader Connecticut, the Irish have four conference games remaining to the Huskies’ three. If both teams were to win the remainder of their games, the Notre Dame would have the top seed going into the Big East tournament.

Sunday’s game is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. at Alumni Field.