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ND MEN’S SOCCER: Irish travel north to exhibition play

Tom Brennan | Friday, August 26, 2005

When the Irish and Wolverines get together, it always seems to mean something extra.

Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark feels that the rich history between Notre Dame and Michigan raises the level of importance of Sunday’s exhibition match in Ann Arbor.

“They’re a good team,” Clark said. “And then when you add the fact of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry, that makes it a game that is going to count in everybody’s minds.”

Michigan should prove to be a tough opponent for the Irish. Led by coach Steve Burns, the Wolverines return several players from last season’s squad that finished second in the Big Ten and was eliminated by eventual NCAA champion Indiana in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Michigan returns two of its top three leading goal scorers from a year ago in senior forward Trai Blanks and junior forward Bobby Trybula. Starting goalie Peter Dzubay is also back after recording 62 saves in 2004.

The Irish players have some additional motivation for Sunday’s game.

“They knocked us out of the tourney two years back,” senior captain John Stephens said. “That’s always sort of in the back of your mind.”

Notre Dame opened the season Monday with a 1-1 tie with New Mexico at Alumni Field. The Irish struggled in the first half of the game, but looked increasingly impressive through the second half and two subsequent overtime periods.

In addition to being satisfied with his team’s performance against New Mexico, Clark also appreciated the generosity displayed by Irish fans. All proceeds from Monday’s exhibition match went to benefit Grassroot Soccer, a charitable organization dedicated to fighting AIDS in Africa through youth soccer clinics. An anonymous Notre Dame soccer alumnus and the Notre Dame soccer camp both pledged to match all donations collected at the game.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone who came to the game on Saturday and contributed to Grassroot,” Clark said. “Grassroot Soccer will benefit by over $7,500, which is a terrific response from the Notre Dame community.”

As with Monday’s game, Clark is looking to use the contest in Ann Arbor to develop greater chemistry among his players.

“Going into every game we look to play well individually and collectively,” Clark said. “We have to get into our rhythm. It’s very important that we can start building up teamwork.

“I think in the second half on Monday we started to look a little more like a team. Hopefully we can continue to develop this.”

The Irish also want to increase the speed at which they play the game. Clark stressed that he wants his players to pick up the pace, yet remain calm and collected. The coach will look for his team to “hurry slowly” against the Wolverines on Sunday.

Another focus for the Irish on Sunday will be the continued development of the defense. The Irish lost three top defensive players from last season’s squad and look to improve upon a solid defensive effort against New Mexico.

Sunday’s game will also feature Clark continuing to test the two goalkeepers competing to replace first team All-American Chris Sawyer. Senior Justin Michaud and junior Chris Cahill both played well on Monday. The two will split time against Michigan.

Notre Dame hopes that Sunday’s contest will prepare the team for the tough beginning to the regular season that looms only a week away. On Sept. 2 and 4, the Irish will compete in the Indiana Universtiy Credit Union Classic. The team will face two top 25 opponents in SMU and Wake Forest.

“The game we have to be ready for is SMU,” Stephens said. “These games are kind of like learning experiences. We moved up one step on Monday. If we can move up another step on Sunday, I’ll like where we are at.”