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Men’s Soccer Commentary: Morrow directs Irish attack from midfield

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, November 29, 2007

If you were looking at the box score from Wednesday’s game, Justin Morrow’s name would not be the one that catches your eye.

In 68 minutes, the sophomore midfielder registered three shots, one of which forced a save by Oakland keeper Steve Clark. Those statistics, though, don’t do justice to the relevance of Morrow’s performance Wednesday night.

From the opening whistle, Morrow was the most active player on the field for the Irish, constantly demanding the ball from his wide left midfield position. Nearly every time he received the ball, Morrow immediately looked to attack the Grizzlies defense, and he often succeeded.

Five minutes into the contest, the sophomore midfielder beat two defenders down the left flank and got off a vicious shot that was saved by Clark. Eighteen minutes later, Morrow beat Oakland defender Logan Lyon outside the box, forcing Lyon to foul him with the resulting free kick nearly ending in a goal for fellow Irish midfielder Michael Thomas.

In the 84th minute, Morrow beat a defender down the left flank and threaded a through-ball that was inches away from putting forward Joseph Lapira one-on-one with the keeper. The rest of the night, Morrow’s galloping runs down the left sideline resulted in several dangerous crosses that nearly extended Notre Dame’s lead.

“We talked to him,” senior midfielder Alex Yoshinaga said. “We said, ‘It’s postseason. We need you to step up, to play big.’ And obviously he did [tonight].”

What’s most important about Morrow’s performance against Oakland, however, doesn’t concern last night’s game. Despite the offensive chances created by Morrow, he didn’t actually play a part in any of the goals that put the Irish through to the NCAA Round of 16.

The noteworthy part of Morrow’s play against the Grizzlies is what it means going forward for Notre Dame.

The Irish will have to travel to California in their next game to take on No. 7 seed Santa Clara and its miserly defense, which has allowed only 0.62 goals per game this season. Should the Irish advance to the Elite 8, No. 2 seed Wake Forest and its even stingier defense (0.55 goals allowed per game) will likely be waiting to greet them.

Against such stout defensive opponents, the Irish will need more on offense than just long balls played into Lapira’s path. To create good offensive chances, Notre Dame will need players to penetrate and break down the opposing defenses. That’s exactly what Morrow can give the Irish.

“[Morrow] can go at defenders and take people on,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “It’s great to have people that can go at players. There’s nothing that unsettles a defense more than someone that can take the ball and run past you.”

All this brings us back to Wednesday night’s game.

Morrow’s confidence in his ability to beat defenders was unmistakable, and that confidence surely grew each time he blew past an Oakland defender. Given the way the Irish will need Morrow to play in the upcoming days, he couldn’t have picked a better time to be attacking with confidence.

Hopefully for Morrow and the Irish, next game, it will result in a goal or two.

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

Contact Greg Arbogast at garbogas@nd.edu