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Monardo: Forget stats and style: It’s the goals that count (Aug. 27)

Joseph Monardo | Monday, August 27, 2012

Soccer is a game that relies on skillful touches, prolonged possessions and fluid team play. But like most sports, soccer is also a game that relies, ultimately, on production. 

There is no rating system for skill displayed or difficulty mastered. The only things that matter are goals. This was an unfortunate fact for last year’s Irish, who very often would have earned scores of near-perfect 10 for their performances, but were unable to make the effort count on the scoreboard. 

This year must be different. 

Last year’s Notre Dame squad scored 1.50 goals per game, placing it outside of the top-50 in Division I. Although Notre Dame held its opponents to only .89 goals per game, the team’s limited offensive production caused problems throughout the Irish schedule. The Irish accepted two ties last season – scoreless draws against Indiana and Connecticut – in which the Irish ended up on the right side of virtually every statistical matchup except the only one that really mattered. Notre Dame also suffered two double-overtime losses, against Saint Louis and St. John’s. In each of those games, the Irish netted only one goal. 

This year must be different. 

Last year, Irish coach Bobby Clark expressed a recurring sentiment after each loss or tie in which he felt the Irish played better than the final result suggested. Clark would say, “That’s just soccer.” He is right, of course. Sometimes balls don’t find their way into the net and sometimes one mistake can erase all the successes in a game. 

But this year must be different. 

If the Irish are to turn some of last year’s losses into ties and ties into wins to improve 2011’s 9-5-4 record, they must be able to put goals on the board more consistently than they did in their last campaign.

The first 75 minutes of Saturday’s season-opener against Duke looked like another chapter of last year’s disappointing season in which the Irish failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000. The No. 18 Irish drew 11 corner kicks to Duke’s one, fired 18 shots to the Blue Devils’ four and drew 22 fouls from the visiting team, but had no goal to show for it. Near misses, superb opposition goaltending and failed execution prevented the Irish from cashing in on a bevy of opportunities. 

Finally, in the 76th minute, Irish senior forward Ryan Finley, a Duke transfer, gave Notre Dame the go-ahead goal with a decisive strike from the top of the box. 

Irish senior captain Dillon Powers has spoken of offseason efforts undertaken by the team to develop a “killer instinct” in practice. Perhaps the most telling sign that those efforts were fruitful was that after Finley’s go-ahead goal Saturday, the Irish were even more threatening and frenzied than before. The Irish sensed weakness in their opponent and, energized by their teammate’s score, put the pressure squarely on the Blue Devils for the final 14 minutes of the game. If the Irish can turn into a team of finishers, their killer instinct will turn them into a force in the Big East. 

With the opening goal of the 2012 season, Finley gave the Irish a win in their first game of the year. But more than that, he gave Notre Dame hope that this year will be different.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessasrily those of The Observer.