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Men’s Soccer: No. 1 UCLA awaits in season opener

Dan Murphy | Friday, August 31, 2007

Notre Dame has faced a No. 1 ranked team five times in program history. The result has been the same each time: an Irish loss.But No. 9 Notre Dame has a chance to start its 2007 season with a bang by reversing that trend against top-ranked UCLA tonight.Four of the five losses have come at the hands of in-state rival Indiana – the most recent loss to the then-No. 1 Hoosiers being a 2-0 defeat in 2004 – and the fifth was another 2-0 loss to Connecticut in 1998. The Irish were shut out in all five contests.”To start off the season beating anyone is special, whether they are No. 1 or just another good team,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “The important thing in this game is that we have to look after ourselves.”The UCLA match is part of the Adidas/IU Classic in Bloomington, Ind. The tournament is in its 25th year and features four top-10 clubs this season. It has hosted the eventual national champ nine times since 1982.The Bruins were only one goal away from claiming their own national crown last year, but lost 2-1 to UC-Santa Barbara in the title game. UCLA returns eight starters from that squad and 16 total players – all of whom are hungry for a second chance at a championship.One key loss from last season’s UCLA squad was goalkeeper Eric Reed. But sophomore Brian Perk, who takes over the starting role, played with the U.S. Under-20 National Team and was recently named to the preseason All-America team.”We know they are going to be a great team,” Clark said. “They don’t have any weak spots, but to be truthful we don’t either.”Strikers Joseph Lapira and Kurt Martin will lead the Irish. Martin is starting for the first time in his career but has emerged as serious scoring threat in Notre Dame’s two preseason matches. Lapira is the reigning winner of the Hermann Trophy Award, widely recognized as the most prestigious national player-of-the-year honor.Notre Dame won both of its exhibitions 3-0, over No. 9 New Mexico and No. 14 Northwestern. The key to its success was striking early – Martin scored goals within the first five minutes of both contests. Lapira saw slightly less time than usual in the preseason due to a strained muscle in his calf. He is expected to be at full strength for tonight’s game.”He’s more than 100 percent,” Clark said. “He is very excited and I think he is ready to go.”The 5-foot-10 speedster scored his first goal of the season against Northwestern earlier this week. Prior to that, Lapira’s last goal broke a scoreless tie in overtime of the round of 16 in last season’s NCAA Tournament against Maryland. The goal gave Notre Dame its first quarterfinal berth in program history.The Terrapins will get their chance for revenge early this season as they face the Irish Sunday in the final game of the Adidas/IU Classic. Maryland begins the season No. 7 in the nation, going 2-0-1 in preseason play with wins over Fairleigh Dickinson and Montreal and a 2-2 draw with Virginia Commonwealth. The Terps will also open up their season tonight against tournament host Indiana.”We will get a good look at them on Friday and we will have an opportunity to really evaluate their team then,” Clark said.