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Men’s Soccer: Irish fall to Huskies in Big East finals

Dan Murphy | Monday, November 19, 2007

STORRS, Conn. – Connecticut midfielder Dori Arad scored two goals in the first 20 minutes Sunday, which was more than enough for the Huskies to hold off Notre Dame 2-0 and capture their third Big East crown in the past four years.

No. 2 Connecticut, who now has seven total conference championships, attacked the Irish right out of the gate, needing only 20 seconds to force its first corner kick. The Huskies had five corner kicks in the game, two of which led to goals.

“Set pieces win big games,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “It’s one of the things we talk about, full marks to Connecticut but from our point of view it was disappointing.”

Connecticut’s first goal came in the eighth minute following an Irish defensive miscue. No. 11 Notre Dame turned the ball over deep in its own half and the ensuing play led to a corner kick for the Huskies. Akeem Priestly took the kick and Arad headed it inside the near post for the early lead.

Arad stuck again less than 10 minutes later. This time sophomore Mike Pezza took the corner kick, sending a ball to the far post where Arad was waiting for the goal. Pezza led the nation in assists during the regular season with 15.

“It’s not what I tried to do this season, I tried to work hard, win balls, do the other stuff,” Arad said. “I was lucky, but the most important thing is that we won.”

The senior midfielder started all 20 games in the regular season for the Huskies without scoring a goal but scored three this weekend, including one in Connecticut’s 4-1 semifinal win over Louisville. Arad was named to the All-tournament team and also won the Most Outstanding Offensive Player Award.

Connecticut opened up a two-goal lead in the last meeting between the two teams Oct. 27. That game, which was in South Bend, ended in a 3-3 tie, but this time around Notre Dame was unable to mount a comeback.

“Their goalkeeper had a couple big saves at key moments in the game. If he doesn’t bring these saves, you know the whole game revolves around goals, but full marks to him for that,” Clark said.

Notre Dame was able to increase the pressure in the second half with five shots on net, but Connecticut freshman goalkeeper Josh Ford was ready for each one.

“The environment helped us, being at home with out field and all our fans behind us,” Ford said.

Ford made a diving safe to deny freshman Jeb Brovsky with 10 minutes left in the first half and several more in the second. He was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player, allowing only one goal in three tournament games.

Senior Chris Cahill started the game in net for the Irish but he was replaced in the second half by junior Andrew Quinn.

“We felt we wanted to play further up the field and Quinn has better feet,” Clark said. “He did very well, it was nothing on Chris Cahill, more that Quinn just has excellent feet.”

Quinn made a series of good saves to keep the game in reach, while the Irish looked to pour on the pressure in the second half.

Clark also moved Lapira back to outside midfield and worked Brovsky, Kurt Martin and Tamba Samba in the two forward spots in an attempt to create more chances up front.

The plan seemed to work when Samba poked one in with a little under five minutes left on the clock, but the goal was disallowed because Ford had controlled the ball before Samba pried it free for the shot.

Notre Dame 2, DePaul 1

No. 11 Notre Dame hung on to a slim lead through an action-packed second half Friday night to advance to the Big East finals with a 2-1 win over No. 19 DePaul at Connecticut’s Morrone Field.

The Irish jumped out to an early lead when sophomore Michael Thomas netted his second goal of the year in the fourth minute. Thomas one-touched a cross from freshman Steven Perry and lofted it into the top right corner.

Perry, who was making his first collegiate start, also picked up his first career points with the assist. Freshmen have played a big role in both of Notre Dame’s conference tournament wins this year – forward Josh Thiermann scored the team’s lone goal in a 1-0 win over St. John’s in the quarterfinal round.

Perry got the start to give senior forward Joseph Lapira some rest to make sure he was ready to go for the rest of the game.

“Perry did very well,” Clark said. “We wanted to spare Joe [Lapira]’s legs a little bit. It was quite nice.”

The strategy paid off as Lapira pitched in with his team-leading seventh goal in the 67th minute to give Notre Dame a 2-0 lead. Senior Alex Yoshinaga started the play with a shot on net. The rebound bounced to the front of the net and Lapira was in position for the easy finish.

Lapira, who was named to the All-Big East first team Thursday night, sparked an aggressive Irish attack all game. He created chance after chance for his teammates throughout the second half.

DePaul goalkeeper Brian Visser made several spectacular saves to keep the Blue Devils in the game until the very end. Visser was named the Big East goalkeeper of the year Thursday night.

“He’s an excellent goalkeeper,” Clark said. “He put on a great show tonight with a few very good saves and handled things well.”

The junior made a diving save in the 82nd minute to highlight his performance, robbing what looked to be a game-clinching goal from Yoshinaga.

DePaul had scored eight minutes earlier to move within one goal. Sophomore midfielder Erich Reichmann ripped a shot from 30 yards out that sailed past Irish keeper Chris Cahill.

The Blue Devils kept the pressure on until the final whistle but were unable to produce any more threatening chances.

Notre Dame was able to use the 33-degree temperature and high winds to their advantage. The Irish have played several of their last games under cold and windy conditions.

“I thought we handled the game well, getting the ball down and playing,” Clark said. “We made some very good chances.”

Note:

uSenior midfielder Ryan Miller was also selected to the All-Big East first team. Junior defender Matt Besler and Cahill were named to the second team, senior forward Kurt Martin and junior defender Jack Traynor made the third team and freshman defender Matt Armstrong picked up an honorable mention.