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Men’s Soccer: Irish challenge SMU, UCLA

Aaron Sant-Miller | Friday, August 30, 2013

The seventh-ranked Irish will begin their season at the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic in Bloomington, Ind., this weekend. Notre Dame will take on No. 9 UCLA at 5 p.m. Friday and return to the field to face off against SMU at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. 

“I think there is always an excitement at the start of a new season,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We have begun our season many times with the Indiana Tournament in Bloomington and we face some very strong opponents. I think that’s exciting and the players are very excited to play there again.”

In 2012, UCLA and SMU combined for just seven regular season losses, as UCLA went 13-3-3 and SMU compiled a total record of 10-5-5. Though both teams present a challenge to the Irish, Clark said the team’s confidence is unwavering.

“Every game we play, we make all the plans for winning the game,” Clark said. “That’s our plan going in, but I’m sure UCLA and SMU will have similar thoughts. So, it’s going to be a very competitive game.”

In UCLA, the Irish not only challenge a team ranked among the best in the nation, but also senior forward Reed Williams, one of the most talented players in the country. In 2012, Williams was a first-team All Pac-12 selection, as he tied for the Bruins team lead with seven goals and finished second in points with 18. This year, Williams was named to the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy Watch List for the 2013 season. The Hermann Trophy is given out every year to the nation’s best collegiate soccer player. Despite Williams’ résumé, Notre Dame will not give him any extra attention, Clark said.

“I don’t think we’ll look at anyone extra special. They have many good players, but I would like to think that we also do,” Clark said. “We’ll give him total respect, but they have too many good players to single out just one.”

Clark said most members of the team have experience playing against one of collegiate soccer’s best players.

“Most of our guys practiced against the runner-up for the Hermann Award last year in [Notre Dame alum] Ryan Finley,” Clark said. “So, we have the practice going up against a top Hermann Award candidate [in the] fall of last year.”

Though the games come at the beginning of the season, Clark said the talent on the UCLA and SMU rosters give the weekend matches extra weight.

“I think we’re playing two teams that have high expectations to be tournament teams,” Clark said. “They will turn out to be two very important games when the final RPI is coming into play, so they can give us a jump-start in preparing ourselves for getting into the tournament.”

Nonetheless, the Irish are keeping their focus on the task at hand.

“It’s a long season to go, and I think you have to take one game at a time,” Clark said. “You prepare for that game and, regardless of the outcome, you have got to move on afterwards.”

The Irish start the season with a 5 p.m. kickoff Friday against UCLA and a Sunday morning match-up against SMU at 11:30 a.m. Both games will be at Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at asantmil@nd.edu