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Men’s Soccer: Squad falls in quarterfinals

Greg Arbogast | Monday, November 17, 2008

If No. 9 Notre Dame wants to advance to the program’s first ever Final Four, it’s going to have to do it the hard way.

Two second-half goals propelled No. 8 South Florida to a 2-1 win over the Irish in the Big East tournament semifinals played this weekend, at the Bulls’ home field in Tampa. The loss left Notre Dame wondering what it might have lost in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding, which will be released today.

“If we’d won both games down here, I think we had a fair shot at a top-four [NCAA Tournament] seed,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said, referring to the semifinals and finals of the Big East tournament. “If we’d won one game, I think we had a chance at being a top eight seed. Now, I think we have to hope for a top 16 seed which is where we’ve been for the last two years.”

Should Notre Dame receive a top 16 seed, it will receive a first-round bye and second-round home game, but the Irish would need to win two subsequent road games to reach the Final Four. Knowing the tournament path that most likely awaits his team, Clark said he saw Friday night’s road contest at South Florida as a positive despite the loss.

“I look at it as a great test for us,” Clark said. “Hopefully later in the season, we’re going to have some similar games, and we’ve got to go and win them. We were close to managing it tonight, but we didn’t quite get a hold of it.”

The game looked good for the Irish early on. Notre Dame dominated the first 25 minutes of play, repeatedly winning the ball in midfield and counterattacking down the flanks with crosses. The early pressure nearly resulted in the opening goal in the 12th minute when senior defender Matt Besler saw his header ricochet back off the left post.

The Irish would find the back of the net seven minutes later. Sophomore forward Jeb Brovsky fed a ball into the path of fellow striker Bright Dike, who ripped a shot into the lower right corner of the goal from 15 yards out. The goal was Dike’s 12th of the season – tops amongst Big East players.

“The opening 25 minutes were as good as we’ve played all season,” Clark said. “I felt the game for us slowed down [after that]. Somehow in the second period we never found our rhythm. We didn’t connect as well as we had in the first half.”

South Florida was only too happy to take advantage.

After not putting a shot on goal the entire first half, the Bulls managed to tie the game in the 69th minute when midfielder Francisco Aristeguieta took a pass from forward Zak Boggs and fired past Irish keeper Phillip Tuttle from the left side of 18-yard box. Thirteen minutes later, Aristeguieta scored the decisive goal when he rocketed a shot past Tuttle from just outside the 18-yard box.

The Irish also had their chances in the second half. Forward Steven Perry’s shot flew just over the crossbar in the 58th minute, and midfielder Justin Morrow nearly tied in the game in the 85th minute when he put a low shot just wide of the far post. Both teams registered six shots in the second half.

“It was a psychological thing, not a tactical thing,” Clark said of South Florida’s comeback in the second half. “They were a goal down, and they had to get in the game so they upped the tempo.

“A good thing was I felt we matched that energy, and then we got caught again on a freak [second] goal. It was a great goal, but it wasn’t a classic buildup or anything.”

The Irish now return home to await their NCAA Tournament pairing. The pairings will be released live on ESPNews tonight between 6 and 6:30.