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Men’s Soccer: Irish begin Big East tournament

Eric Retter | Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No. 6 Notre Dame will see a repeat opponent for the first time this year today.

But the stakes are a bit higher this time around as the Irish (12-4-2, 8-3-0 Big East) will take on DePaul at 7 p.m. at Alumni Field in the first round of the Big East conference tournament. Notre Dame finished the season in third place in the Big East Blue division after finishing its season with a 2-1 loss at No. 4 West Virginia and a 1-0 win over No. 14 Connecticut.

The Blue Demons (5-11-2, 4-7-0 Big East) limped into the playoffs, losing three out their last four, including 1-0 losses to Syracuse and Cincinnati to end the regular season. Their last win came Oct. 14, when they topped St. John’s – the No. 3 team in the Big East red division. With 11 total defeats, DePaul is tied with Georgetown for the second-highest tally of losses this season behind Marquette (15), and it has the worst record of any of the 12 Big East teams advancing to the conference’s postseason tournament.

Irish coach Bobby Clark feels that the Blue Demon squad coming to South Bend tonight will be stronger than the one Notre Dame faced earlier in the season.

“They were a young team then,” Clark said. “They’ve had a few interesting results [in the last few weeks, and] they’re a team that has improved.”

When DePaul last visited Notre Dame Sept. 10, the Irish dominated the game from whistle to whistle, outshooting the Blue Demons 26-4 on their way to a 3-0 victory.

Clark anticipates Notre Dame will still come out sharp against DePaul.

“If they [overlook their opponent], on their heads be it,” he said. “I hope this team has enough respect for every opponent on our schedule to know that each team can beat us if we’re not properly focused.”

DePaul is spearheaded by freshman forward Alex Mangan. Mangan leads the Blue Demons with five goals and 10 points.

Notre Dame is led by senior midfielder Greg Dalby and junior striker Joseph Lapira. Dalby, a preseason All-American, was named a player to watch for the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy, which is given annually to the best college soccer player. Lapira leads the nation with 19 goals this season, half of Notre Dame’s conference-best 38 goals.

Senior goalkeeper Chris Cahill will anchor the Irish defense. Cahill has nine of Notre Dame’s Big East-leading 10 shutouts this season and is second in the conference with a 0.71 goals against average.

Freshman striker Michael Thomas, who has been named Big East rookie of the week for the past two weeks, should also contribute to the Irish effort. Thomas is currently third on the team with three goals.

“Michael needs to keep going the way he’s been going since the start of the season,” Clark said. “Suddenly someone scores a few goals and people notice them, but that doesn’t mean he’s playing any different than he was earlier.”

Clark reiterated that the team’s primary objective would be to keep improving.

“If we are focused, we needn’t fear any team in the league, or in the country,” he said. “f we’re not [focused], we can suddenly slip to being a very ordinary team.

With the way the Irish have played for most of the season, Clark expects them to continue their winning ways.

“You [have to] take it one game at a time and work on it and make that game a masterpiece,” he said. “We want to make [each game] as good as it possibly can be.”