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Men’s Soccer: Mena scores winner in final exhibition

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Notre Dame pushed its exhibition record to 3-0-1 on Monday with a 1-0 victory over Xavier in the ninth installment of the annual match for Grassroots Soccer, an international soccer charity.

Irish senior midfielder Adam Mena scored the difference-making goal off a free kick in the 37th minute to give the Irish the shutout victory in the charity event. Admission to the game was free, while fans and guests made donations to the Grassroots Soccer Organization, which aims to combat the spread of HIV. The eldest son of Irish coach Bobby Clark, Dr. Tommy Clark, founded the organization in 2002.

“Well, it was a good crowd,” Bobby Clark said. “I hope they all dipped in their pockets. It was really nice. I think Grassroots Soccer has … been one of our things, and for me, it’s special obviously with Tommy being so involved. It’s amazing how many years we’ve been doing it … but it was fun.”

While playing for a good cause, the Irish put forth a winning performance. Notre Dame controlled the game’s action in the first half, earning a bulk of the scoring opportunities and outshooting Xavier 7-4 through 45 minutes. Mena netted the game’s lone goal in the 37th minute. Following a Musketeers’ foul 5 yards above the top of the box, Mena squeezed a low shot through the Xavier wall and off senior goalkeeper Justin Marshall to put the Irish in the lead.

Xavier answered with several scoring chances before the break, but the Irish defense proved equal to the task as senior goalkeeper Will Walsh denied the visiting team an equalizer.

Notre Dame carried its 1-0 lead into the second stanza and turned to junior goalkeeper Patrick Wall to preserve it. Wall recorded two saves, one of which required him to come to the top of the box to meet a Xavier attacker and make a flying save.

Making the most of Notre Dame’s final exhibition contest before regular season play, Irish coach Bobby Clark replaced his entire team with new 10 players for the game’s final third. The Musketeers pressured the fresh Irish lineup immediately before Notre Dame regained control and closed the game.

“It was really nice, I thought, for the last 30 minutes we put on what you would call your reserve team,” Clark said. “I was a little bit worried for about three minutes because there was one call after another call, and I thought, ‘How are these young guys gonna handle it?’ But in all fairness, they actually came through quite well. Once they found their feet they actually, I thought, looked a better team than most of their starters that [Xavier] put on.”

The Irish were without co-captains and senior midfielders Dillon Powers and Michael Rose for the entire contest as both players sat out with injuries. Nonetheless, the Irish earned their third shutout win in four exhibition opportunities after losing three defensive starters to graduation.

“I think [the defense has] come together well,” Clark said. “As I have said, I think [senior defender] Grant Van De Casteele, he has been the experienced person that has come back there and he’s done a really good job. [Junior defender] Andrew O’Malley, he’s been waiting for his opportunity for a long time now, and he’s done well … I think we are looking pretty solid. I’m pretty happy with the way it’s looking at the moment.”

Still, as the Irish approach their regular season opener, a home meeting with Duke on Saturday, several questions remain, Clark said.

“There are always tough decisions, and I hope there are because if there’s not tough decisions it means we’ve not got folks pushing for spots,” he said. “We’ve got a few questions. Obviously Dillon will come back, hopefully, and we’ve got a couple of other boys who will come back as well … hopefully Michael Rose will come back as well. We got reasonably good news on that today. Get some of these guys back, it’ll be a very, very strong squad.”

Notre Dame kicks off the regular season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when it hosts Duke in Alumni Stadium.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu