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Men’s Soccer: Irish primed to take on Syracuse

Samantha Zuba | Friday, September 13, 2013

The No. 4 Irish will take on former Big East challenger No. 25 Syracuse tonight at 7 p.m. in Syracuse, N.Y.

The game will be the first meeting between Notre Dame (1-0-2, 0-0-1 ACC) and the Orange (3-1-0, 0-1-0 ACC) as ACC teams. Last season, the two squads met in the quarterfinals of the Big East Championship, when the Irish overcame a 2-0 second-half deficit to win 4-2.

Irish coach Bobby Clark said Notre Dame stepped up against a tough Orange team in last season’s match.

“We played them last year in the quarterfinals of the Big East [Championship], and I think we remember that as a really tough game, a difficult game,” Clark said. “We played well. We were actually down two goals and came back to win 4-2.”

The Irish played last season’s quarterfinal game on the road and will have to face a tough crowd again in tonight’s away match, Clark said.

“We know they are a good team and have good players,” Clark said. “Playing at Syracuse is never easy, but if we take care of business and come ready to play and focused, then we should be okay.”

Syracuse plays passing soccer effectively, but the Orange can also change their strategy by aggressively looking for scoring opportunities, Clark said.

“They can mix it up,” Clark said of the Orange. “They can play passing soccer, but they can also play very direct soccer. They can be dangerous with long throws, so we’ve got to be able to defend that piece as well.” 

A trio of freshmen in midfielder Alex Halis and forwards Emil Ekblom and Chris Nanco has sparked the Orange this season. Halis leads the team with three goals, while Ekblom and Nanco have two goals apiece.

The Orange warmed up quickly this year, as they scored 11 goals in three preseason games and another 11 in their first four regular season games. Clark said Syracuse has made a strong showing so far.

“They are a solid side,” Clark said. “They beat Georgetown in the preseason, and they scored a lot of goals.”

The Orange also boast some talent on the defensive side, especially in sophomore goalkeeper Alex Bono, who has allowed only three goals in more than 367 minutes of action.

They’ve got a good goalkeeper, Bono,” Clark said. “He’s a very good lad.”

Irish senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall has played stingy defense as well. In 310 minutes, Wall has allowed just two goals and turned in 11 saves.

The problem for Notre Dame isn’t preventing opponents’ goals – the problem is scoring its own, Clark said.

“We’ve been creating opportunities, and we haven’t been giving too many opportunities to the opposition,” Clark said. “But scoring goals – we haven’t quite managed to do that yet.”

Although the Irish have managed 59 shots and 18 shots on goal this season, they have only accounted for three goals, all of which were scored by senior forward Leon Brown.

Notre Dame has outshot its opponents 59 to 31 this season, but the Irish have recorded only one win. The team’s two ties came in challenging matches against then-No. 9 UCLA and then-No. 1 North Carolina. And Notre Dame’s schedule won’t get any easier, Clark said. In the next month alone, the Irish play No. 20 Clemson, No. 18 Maryland and No. 24 Northwestern.

“We’ve played a pretty tough schedule up until now,” Clark said. “We certainly handled that reasonably well. I’d have liked to win all of the games, and I think we could have won all of the games. The strength of schedule we will continue to play is quite demanding.”

Notre Dame faces off against Syracuse tonight at 7 p.m. at the SU Soccer Stadium in Syracuse, N.Y.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu