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Men’s Soccer: Lofty goals follow historic tourney run

Greg Arbogast | Friday, August 24, 2007

Irish coach Bobby Clark is nothing if not ambitious.One year after enjoying the most successful season in program history – one that included Notre Dame’s first-ever trip to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, as well as the program’s first ever Hermann Trophy winner – Clark and his team are raising the expectations.”The legacy of the previous teams has been terrific, but the question now is if we can take it a step further,” Clark said. “Every year you try to get a little bit better, and this squad has the potential to do that.”Whatever potential this Irish team may have, there remains a gaping hole at defensive center midfield that will be difficult to replace. For the past four seasons, Clark has been able to pencil Greg Dalby’s name into the starting lineup and know that the backbone of his midfield would be covered by the two-time All-American, Hermann Trophy semi-finalist and former captain of the U.S. under-20 national team. “It was huge what [Greg Dalby] brought to our program, and most impressive of all was just that he was a great person,” Clark said. “He did so much for us – both on and off the field – and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say a bad word about Greg Dalby. That won’t be easy to replace.”Who will be assigned the unenviable task of filling Dalby’s cleats is still up in the air, but Clark has a plethora of options. Returning starters Michael Thomas, Cory Rellas, and Alex Yoshinaga are all possibilities, but Clark is considering all three at other positions. The wildcard is freshman Matt Armstrong, a high school All-American, who has impressed in preseason practice.”Armstrong, judging by preseason, looks like a very strong player,” Clark said. “He has all the tools to play, and I don’t know if there are many better freshmen central midfielders than him in the country.” Defensive center midfielder isn’t the only vacancy left behind by graduating seniors. With the graduations of Dalby and central defender Dale Rellas, Notre Dame will be without their co-captains from the past two seasons, and Clark will be forced to replace what he called very good leadership. “That’s the big unknown,” Clark said of this year’s leadership. “While the new captains [Ryan Miller, Matt Besler and Yoshinaga] have done everything asked of them so far, you won’t really know how it will go until you hit some road bumps.”While Notre Dame is surrounded by questions for this upcoming season, they will have one definitive answer up front. Joseph Lapira will once again line up at forward this season, and so will his 32 career goals, 13 career assists and Hermann Trophy. After spending the summer training with European clubs Derby County (English Premier League), Glasgow Rangers (Scottish Premier League) and a stint with the Irish national team, Lapira could be set to improve on last year’s record-breaking season – at least according to Clark. “Those experiences have been fantastic, and I expect Joe to be a better all-around player this year,” Clark said. “I don’t care if he scores 22 goals again, as long as the team is scoring goals, but I expect him to be a better player.”The No. 11 Irish won’t have to wait long to find out whether their raised expectations for this season will be met. Their first four opponents, including the two preseason games, are all ranked in the top 20, and Notre Dame’s first six games will match the Irish against top-30 squads.”I think we’ll be in good shape, and we’ll find out pretty early,” Clark said. “That’s the way we want it to be.”