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Men’s Soccer: Notre Dame remains perfect

Joseph Monardo | Monday, September 17, 2012

After jumping out to their best start in 25 years, the No. 3 Irish welcomed Michigan State on Friday before travelling to Ann Arbor, Mich., to face Michigan on Sunday. It wasn’t always easy for Notre Dame, but the team added two more victories to its already impressive resume.

The Irish (7-0-0) captured a 2-0 victory over the Spartans (2-5-1) in Alumni Stadium and used a late goal by senior forward Ryan Finley to beat the Wolverines (2-4-0) 1-0 in double overtime.

In the weekend opener the Irish found themselves in a highly-competitive match against a Spartan team that had played six one-goal games in as many outings before Friday. The two teams traded fouls and possession time throughout the first half, but Notre Dame exploded onto the scoreboard with a blast from the top of the box off the foot of junior forward Harry Shipp in the 28th minute. The Irish added another goal at the 53-minute mark in a similar fashion. Freshman midfielder Patrick Hodan notched his first career goal by gathering the ball after a corner kick and sending it past Michigan State redshirt junior goalkeeper Bryce Dobbins from 20 yards out.

“When we got the ball into their half we are so good, we are such a fun team,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “But [the Spartans] were pretty dangerous getting balls up to us. It wasn’t an easy game … They are a fairly direct team. And we caused ourselves some of the problems in the back with sloppy passes, and a couple of times we set them up with just silly passes. That encourages them, but at the end of the day, it was a very good result.”

Clark said Hodan played “like a veteran,” but reserved the highest praise for Finley.

“When he came on, he and Harry came on today, [they] were again magnificent,” he said. “Harry got the goal which was really nice, but I thought Ryan, even though he didn’t score, it may be his most complete game since coming to Notre Dame [last year as a transfer from Duke]. To me, I thought he really brought other players into the play. I was really happy for Ryan.”

After distributing the ball Friday, Finley delivered in the weekend finale with his fifth goal of the season to give Notre Dame the victory in the 104th minute. Finley tracked down a cross off a set piece from Irish senior captain and midfielder Dillon Powers and netted the decisive goal.

“It was a free kick out on our right flank and Dillon played a really good ball into the space, Ryan made a great run and he got a good flick,” Clark said.

Notre Dame escaped with the win, but showed fatigue in the early portion of the contest, Clark said. Still, in the late stages of the game it was Notre Dame who was able to deliver the winning performance.

“I thought that the first half looked like the second game in a two-day weekend. I thought we were very slow. But I thought we were excellent in the second half,” Clark said. “I thought we did well, I was very happy with the way we played in the second half and the overtimes. We were the team that was trying to win it. I thought [the Wolverines] were hoping, I think, to try and sneak out with a tie.”

Still riding the wave that brought them from unranked at the start of the season to No. 3 in the Soccer America poll after only seven games, the Irish have plenty of challenges looming on the horizon. Notre Dame is set to begin conference play on the road against Louisville on Saturday before travelling to No. 16 Indiana and No. 4 Connecticut. The Irish should have no problem focusing on the task at hand against that slate of competition, Clark said.

“The next games will look after themselves pretty clearly,” he said. “We go to Louisville, we go to Indiana and then you go to Connecticut. You are playing three of the best teams in the country, so I was mostly more worried about [us losing focus in] that game [against Michigan]. The next three games will completely look after themselves. We will have to be ready. We will be ready.”

The Irish take on the Cardinals at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Louisville.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu