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Men’s Soccer: Wait’s end

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, November 15, 2006

After almost three weeks of preparation, No. 12 Notre Dame will finally play a game again – its most meaningful match of the season.

The Irish will take on No. 23 Illinois-Chicago in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Wednesday night at Alumni Field. It will be the first game of the tournament for Notre Dame, which enters Wednesday’s match with a record of 13-5-2.

The Irish received the No. 12 seed, entitling them to a first round bye. It has been 18 days since Notre Dame’s last game – a 2-1 overtime loss to Rutgers in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, but Irish coach Bobby Clark says his team is ready to play again after the break.

“I think [the team] is very excited to play a game of soccer, and I hope that they play a lot of games over the next couple of weeks,” Clark said.

In 2005, Notre Dame made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 when it upset Indiana 2-0 in Bloomington before falling to Clemson 1-0 in the next game. Clark, however, feels that his team is capable of greater things this year.

“We know we’re one of the top teams, but we want to prove that we’re one of the top teams,” Clark said. “I think we can do that if we go deep into the tournament. This is an opportunity for us.”

A formidable test awaits the Irish when they take the field Wednesday night.

Illinois-Chicago boasts an impressive record of 13-2-5 that includes wins over NCAA Tournament participants No. 8 Saint Louis and California-Santa Barbara. Playing in their first postseason match since 2000, the Flames comfortably defeated Western Illinois 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Any team that can go and win at Saint Louis and at Santa Barbara [is a good team],” Clark said. “They’re a very senior laden team with a lot of foreign lads, so they’re a bit older than usual. They’re a very good team.”

The Illinois-Chicago offense has been led this year by playmaking Croatian forward Tonci Skroce who tops the Flames in both assists (7) and points (21). It has been Illinois-Chicago’s defense, however, that has gotten the team to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Illinois-Chicago has given up .33 goals per games this season posting shutouts in 13 of their 20 games.

The Notre Dame offense, led by junior forward Joseph Lapira, will try to break down the Flames defense.

The Irish average 1.97 goals per game, and they averaged three scores per game during a seven game mid-season winning streak.

By receiving one of the 16 available seeds amongst the 48 Tournament teams, Notre Dame earned the right to stay in South Bend for their first game. Clark hopes to maximize the home field advantage.

“It’s always nice to play at home, but your home field doesn’t win the game for you,” Clark said. “That being said, I would love it if we could get all the soccer fans to come out and cheer on the Irish.”