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ND Women’s Soccer Commentary: Team needs to improve for UNC

Fran Tolan | Monday, November 19, 2007

Yes, the Irish crushed Loyola on Friday night. And, yes, they shut out Illinois on Sunday. But they will have to be even better to have a shot of beating No. 4 North Carolina next Saturday.

The Tar Heels showed why they are the most storied program in the country as they rolled over UNC-Greensboro Sunday to reach the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the 26th straight year.

The No. 11 Irish are technically unbeaten in their last 15 matches. But despite getting credited with a tie against West Virginia last weekend, they fell to the Mountaineers in a shootout to lose the Big East championship. West Virginia was the only team the Irish faced during their streak that can even compare to North Carolina talent-wise.

And the Tar Heels have been playing terrific soccer lately. They beat High Point 6-1 in their first-round matchup and then won 3-1 over UNC-Greensboro. In the second round contest, UNC-Greensboro goalie Katherine Ryan was forced to make 11 saves to even keep the score respectable.

So the Irish defense and senior goalie Lauren Karas will have to deliver for the Irish to have any chance when they head to North Carolina for next weekend’s matchup. The back line must perform better than it did against Illinois when the unit surrendered 10 shots. In that contest, the Irish were often careless, especially as they were often unable to immediately clear balls away in their own zone during the second half.

The good news for the Irish is that Karas has been perfect during the team’s two NCAA games. Against the Illini, the goalie made a tremendous diving save at the end of the first half to preserve Notre Dame’s two-goal cushion.

But if the defense replicates its sloppy play from the second half of that game, the goalie will have no chance of stopping the ACC-champion Tar Heels. The team is No. 26 in the country in goals per game, despite playing against some of the nation’s top teams.

Notre Dame played North Carolina to a 2-2 tie in a preseason match Aug. 19 as the host Irish outshot the Tar Heels 14-7. But Saturday’s game will be played in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels are attempting to continue their march toward defending last year’s national championship.

The Irish must be more error-free than they were Saturday to avoid falling behind early and allowing the Tar Heels to get the crowd into the game. Because if the visitors fall into an early hole, their own national title hopes will fall as well.

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

Contact Fran Tolan at ftolan@nd.edu