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Men’s Soccer: Irish host USF in Big East Tourney quarterfinal

Michael Blasco | Friday, November 6, 2009

For a team that’s managed to scrape together only two winning streaks all season, there is no better time for the Irish to start a third.

A week after beating No. 8 Connecticut, Notre Dame (10-7-1, 8-3-0 Big East) will host No. 13 South Florida (12-3-2, 6-3-2 Big East) Sunday at 1 p.m. in a quarterfinal match of the Big East tournament at Alumni Stadium. The game will be a rematch of the 2008 Big East semifinals in Tampa Bay, where the Bulls defeated the Irish 2-1.

“I really think [South Florida] will be a tough test,” ninth-year coach Bobby Clark said. “We will need to have the same focus as we had last weekend against Connecticut. It is important that we concentrate on what we bring to the table and not our opponent. If we do that, we will be in good shape.”

The No. 3-seed Bulls and the No. 2-seed Irish also squared off earlier this season in a closely contested 2-1 South Florida victory in Tampa Bay. Despite heavily out-shooting the Bulls, Notre Dame could not overcome losing senior goalkeeper Andrew Quinn to injury only minutes into the match in the sweltering Florida heat.

“It was a match where we were playing without both [sophomore defender] Aaron Maund and [freshman defender] Dillon Powers who were away in Egypt with the US Under-20 team for the World Cup,” Clark said. “Losing Aaron was a double blow having earlier lost [senior defender] Cory Rellas.”

While defensive injures prevented the Irish from keeping a steady starting eleven, the Notre Dame defensive has come into its own since its early struggles.

“I feel that our defense has settled down since then,” Clark said. “Hopefully, it will provide a more stable base than back in September. I am sure that South Florida will also have grown, but we have now found our feet as a team and are beginning to hit our best form of the season.”

The Bulls are coming into Alumni Stadium after a 2-1 victory over Marquette in the opening round of the Big East Tournament Wednesday night. After staking out a 2-0 lead with goals in the 16th and 77th minutes, South Florida cruised to an easy victory over Golden Eagles, who were kept off the board until the 84th minute.

While the Irish offense should keep the Bulls on their heels throughout the match, it will be the Notre Dame defense and goalkeeping that will decide the game.

Still unresolved is the Irish goalkeeping situation during the tournament. Senior Andrew Quinn has a 3-4-1 record with a 1.23 goals against average, while fellow senior Philip Tuttle carries a 7-3-0 record with four shutouts alongside his 0.65 goals against average.

“Both lads have played well this year, and once we see fitness later in the week, we will make a decision,” Clark said. “We are very lucky that we have two first class keepers, and Will Walsh, our other keeper, is not too shabby either.”

Still, Clark acknowledged that wins or losses will result from the actions of more than just one player, and that, if Notre Dame hopes to mount a deep run in the Big East tournament, the Irish will have to play a complete game.

“To go far in tournaments, we need to have good team defense,” Clark said. “This is the springboard for success. If we defend well as a team, then we will be in good shape to transition into attack. I feel this team knows their strengths, and if we work as a tight unit, then we have the players to go far.”