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Men’s Soccer: A new season unzipped

Matt Gamber | Friday, August 29, 2008

After posting a 1-0-1 record in exhibition play, No. 3 Notre Dame opens its season tonight in Bloomington, Ind., with a 5 p.m. match against No. 12 Akron.

The Irish will take on Duke at 2 p.m. tomorrow as part of the 26th annual Adidas/IU Credit Union Classic, a four-team event on the campus of Indiana University.

“It’s certainly going to be two good games, without question,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We play a very good schedule without many gimmes, and I think the team’s excited for this weekend.”

The Irish boast a strong cast of returners, including seven starters from a team that fell to eventual national champion Wake Forest 1-0 in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Senior defender Matt Besler, a two-time captain and preseason All-American this season, is one of three all-Big East honorees back for the Irish. He is joined on the back line by fellow senior and all-Big East player Jack Traynor.

Sophomore midfielder Matt Armstrong, an all-Big East honorable mention a year ago, also returns.

After combining to play in just two games a year ago, senior Bright Dike and junior Tamba Samba return to bolster an attacking unit that also includes sophomores Jeb Brovsky and Steven Perry. The major question, however, is whether the Irish can replace the production of Joseph Lapira, a two-time All-American and the 2006 Herrmann Trophy winner.

“You can ask me in December [if we replaced his production],” Clark said. “It’s always a difficult one – goal-scoring. If we’re going to be a good team, we need to get 40-plus goals out of 25 games. You’ve got to get some goals, but where they come from doesn’t really matter.”

As a junior, Lapira scored 22 goals to lead the nation and capture the Herrmann Trophy. Notre Dame’s top returning scorer, fifth-year senior midfielder Alex Yoshinage, scored three goals last year.

“Joe was a predator – he scored goals,” Clark said. “You’ve just got to hope that someone’s going to step up now and get it going. There’s quite a few potential scorers.”

On the other side of the pitch, the Irish will look to a pair of new goalkeepers with the departure of three-year starter Chris Cahill. Senior Andrew Quinn and junior Philip Tuttle continue to compete for net time for the Irish.

“They were both very solid over the spring,” Clark said. “We haven’t made the decision yet, and you could go either way.”

This weekend marks the ninth time the Irish have played in the event, including Notre Dame’s sixth straight trip. The Irish return home to host Dartmouth and South Florida next Friday and Sunday, respectively, in the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament before opening Big East play Sept. 11 with a home contest against Marquette.