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Irish face another challenge

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, October 7, 2011

Another Big East game, another ranked foe.

For the third consecutive conference game, the No. 11 Irish (5-2-3, 1-1-0 Big East) will face a top-15 opponent when they welcome No. 1 Connecticut to campus.

“Our schedule been pretty tough [all] the way through,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We played St. John’s and Louisville and they’re all good teams. That’s the way we like it. It lets you see where you are and prepares you for the NCAA tournament.”

The Huskies (11-0-0, 2-0-0) enter the game off a 3-0 win over Manhattan on Tuesday. In that game, three different players scored and UConn extended their shutout streak to eight consecutive games. Freshman goalie Andre Blake increased his personal scoreless streak to nearly 771 minutes. Blake ranks third in the nation in save percentage, stopping over 95 percent of shots on goal.

Additionally, UConn has allowed just two goals all year long and not one since their 4-1 victory over California on Sept. 4.

“They’re a strong team. They always are year in and year out,” Clark said. “It’s going to be a great game if you’re a soccer fan. It’ll be tough and we’ll have to turn up and play.”

The Huskies, the lone unbeaten and untied squad remaining in the country, also have some firepower. Sophomore forward Mamadou Diouf leads UConn with six goals this year while junior preseason All-American forward Carlos Alvarez has chipped in three scores himself.

Huskies senior midfielder Tony Cascio could also pose problems for Notre Dame. The Big East Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Cascio was just one of two players unanimously selected to the preseason All-Big East team. The preseason All-American has two goals and five assists this year.

“They’re certainly very strong up front and it’ll be a test,” Clark said. “We hopefully got players that are up to the test and hopefully we’re prepared enough. We have to defend very well individually. It’s important to defend well as a team also.

The Huskies will also feature a unique blend of talent from around the world. UConn’s roster consists of players from the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Finland, Senegal and Trinidad.

“We’re very happy with recruiting American players and now, the young American players can hold their own,” Clark said.

“Foreign players are usually a bit older, a little bit more experienced. It’s a good experience to play against different styles of players.”

Notre Dame will enter the match after tying Northwestern 1-1 Wednesday night. The Irish will try to rediscover their winning touch against a conference foe this time.

“We don’t approach it a different way,” Clark said. “You play every game to win it. You want to win the league. At the end of the day, you have to collect wins against good competition. A win on Saturday would be a feather in our cap.”

Two super-subs lead the Irish. Junior forward Ryan Finley has notched a team-high four goals, while senior midfielder

Adam Mena follows with three goals and four assists. The duo has a combined two starts in the 10 Notre Dame games.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu