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Men’s Soccer: Irish take field for opener

Brennan, Kevin | Friday, September 2, 2005

They’ve been tested in two fairly successful exhibition matches.

But it really counts this weekend, and Notre Dame won’t face competition much tougher than this.

The Irish travel to Bloomington, Ind. to participate in the highly competitive adidas/IU Credit Union Classic. Notre Dame will face SMU at 5 p.m. Friday and then take on Wake Forest Sunday at noon. Both opponents are ranked in the top 10 in the NCSAA preseason poll.

“We’re playing some of the best teams in the country, so that’s going to be a big test,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said.

SMU enters the game ranked seventh by the NCSAA. Last season, the Mustangs won the Conference USA title and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Head coach Schellas Hyndman, entering his 22nd season as the head man for the Mustangs, returns seven starters from a year ago, including star senior forward Duke Hashimoto. SMU will look to make up for two exhibition losses, after falling to Akron and UConn two weeks ago at the Westfield Cup in Akron, Ohio.

Like SMU, Wake Forest is coming off a big 2004 season. The Demon Deacons won the ACC and entered last year’s NCAA tournament as the top seed. But the team was upset in the round of 16, losing to VCU on penalty kicks.

Wake Forest enters 2005 ranked 10th in the NCSAA preseason poll. Head coach Jay Vidovich must replace four players who were selected in the 2005 MLS Superdraft. The Demon Deacons have gone 2-0 in exhibition play, defeating Charlotte and Furman.

Notre Dame is excited to face two high quality teams so early in the year.

“It’s a great challenge for us and we’re looking forward to it,” tri-captain Dale Rellas said. “They’re both going to present different challenges for us, but it’s something that we look forward to going against.”

The Irish have played two exhibition games already, tying eighth ranked New Mexico on Aug. 22 and edging Michigan 2-1in Ann Arbor on Sunday. Junior Nate Norman has led the way offensively, assisting on Ryan Miller’s goal against New Mexico and adding a goal of his own against the Wolverines.

Clark has been pleased with his team’s play thus far, but insists improvement is needed. The coach stressed that the team needs to continue to come together as a unit and develop better chemistry, saying that so far the Irish have only found “pockets of rhythm.”

Clark and his staff still have not named a starter in goal for Notre Dame this season. Senior Justin Michaud and junior Chris Cahill have split time in the net for the Irish during the two exhibitions. Clark has liked what he has seen from both keepers, but appears to be inching closer to a decision.

“They’re doing very well,” Clark said. “Whoever gets the nod, whenever he gets the nod, it’s up to [him] to clinch the deal.

“There is going to be an opportunity for one of them against SMU. And then after that it’s going to be up to him to capitalize on that opportunity.”

Notre Dame views this weekend’s tournament as a valuable opportunity to pad its resume with impressive wins over highly ranked teams.

“Any time you get to play a ranked team it helps with NCAA selection,” Rellas said. “It will also boost our confidence. If we beat these teams, then we’ve got a lot of confidence going into the Big East.”

Clark is hopeful about the momentum that wins at the tournament could create.

“We’ve got a great squad of players,” Clark said. “If we can get it right then we can build from here. If we can keep it moving, then it could be a very exciting season.”