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Men’s Soccer: Scoring must pick up in time for tournament play

Eric Retter | Thursday, September 21, 2006

In the 21st minute of Wednesday’s game against Northern Illinois, Notre Dame captain and midfielder Greg Dalby leapt into the air, spun and redirected a cross toward the goal.

It would have been the perfect ending to play, except that the shot missed by a few inches and rolled harmlessly out of bounds.

Wednesday would prove to be that kind of night for the Irish, as Notre Dame was unable to capitalize on any of its 24 shots as it played the visiting Huskies to a scoreless tie.

For the third time this season, Notre Dame dominated an opponent in terms of possession and shots on goal – outshooting Northern Illinois by 17 – but failed to score in the contest. The Irish escaped with a tie, but the previous two times they weren’t so lucky. Both South Florida and UAB were able to put at least one goal on the board.

Irish head coach Bobby Clark was stoic after the game.

“You feel like with 24 shots you should maybe get a little more out of it, but that’s life,” he said.

To be fair, Lady Luck was definitely not on Notre Dame’s side during many of Wednesday’s 24 shots. In the 65th minute, forward Joseph Lapira fired a laser that Northern Illinois goalkeeper Joe Zimka had no chance of reaching, only to watch it clang off the crossbar and ricochet back into play. At the same time, in the 32nd minute, Lapira had an open look on goal, but mis-hit the ball and let it dribble out for a goal kick. While Lapira was clearly not the only Irish player to misplay a ball during the 110-minute-match, the play exemplified how close the Irish were coming and how far they still need to go.

Clark remained optimistic that Notre Dame’s scoring problem would correct itself with time.

“You’ve got to keep working and got to be patient,” he said.

However, with a 4-3-2 record at the exact midpoint of the regular season, the Irish are in danger of slipping from national championship contender to merely good to maybe even mediocre. If the Irish have aspirations to be an elite team again – they were ranked No. 8 two weeks ago – the shots have got to start finding the back of the net.

Technically, Notre Dame did find it once, on a Matt Besler header off of a corner kick in the 41st minute, but that was negated because of a pushing foul that happened away from the play. However, considering the offensive firepower the Irish have – Lapira and fellow forward Justin McGeeney have both been Big East offensive players of the week – they shouldn’t have needed that goal to stand in order to ensure a victory.

The lack of production the Irish offense displayed again on Wednesday left Clark looking for answers.

“There are no easy solutions,” he said. “The guys have got to hold their confidence.”

The Irish, however, will need more than just confidence to turn things around. While, in all fairness, it can be tough to find the answer to an offense that is barely problematic, Notre Dame needs to find a way to finish its chances if it plans on moving out of sixth place in the Big East Blue Division, a group in which it was picked to finish second.

Ultimately, in an environment where everything boils downs to the win-loss columns, Clark has accurately addressed where his team stands.

“They’re potentially a good team,” he said. “But right now that’s just potential.”

The problem remains how to unlock that potential, and, in doing so, how to score.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Eric Retter at [email protected]