Dan Murphy | Monday, October 15, 2007
No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 1 Connecticut played to a 3-3 draw Saturday afternoon in what Irish coach Bobby Clark said was one of the best college soccer games of the season.
“I think at the end of the day there you had two teams worthy of being in an NCAA final, and I think that’s all you can say,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first half, the Irish started filling up the net. They scored three goals in less than 15 minutes to open up a 3-2 lead with just under 30 minutes left in regulation.
Senior Joseph Lapira scored his third and fourth goals of the season to lead the offensive attack for Notre Dame, and Ryan Miller pitched in with his team-leading fifth of the year.
The Irish played their best soccer of the season in the first half but had nothing to show for it going into halftime.
Huskies forward O’Brian White broke a scoreless tie in the 35th minute when he scored an unassisted goal. White got the ball at midfield, nutmegged an Irish defender and took off down the field. He beat another defender and Irish keeper Chris Cahill and buried a shot at a nearly impossible angle for a 1-0 lead.
“That O’Brian White kid, he was electric, he cut us cold with two clinical bits of work,” Clark said.
Connecticut added another one shortly afterwards when midfielder Euan Holden got behind the Irish defense and beat Cahill to the far post.
“You go in 2-0 down, and you’ve dominated the game, and you’re scratching your head; you say, ‘What do we have to do?'” Clark said.
Lapira got things started in the 52nd meeting by squeaking a penalty kick past Connecticut keeper Josh Ford’s diving arms.
“We were talking at halftime that, even though we were down 2-0, that was the best half of soccer we’ve played all year;” Lapira said. “We were confident, and we were just talking about taking it one goal at a time.”
Miller played a long ball toward the box and out of Lapira’s reach, but last year’s M.A.C Hermann Trophy winner hustled to the ball and was fouled on the play by Connecticut defender Julius Jones forcing the penalty shot.
“The third goal in the game was going to be very important,” Clark said. “If they got it, it was going to be very difficult; if we got it, we were going to be right back into it, and that’s what we did.”
Miller then knotted the game at two, beating Ford from six yard out in the 60th minute of the match.
Less than five minutes later, Lapira struck again. Irish junior Jack Traynor picked up a pass from Miller in the corner near the end line. He sent a cross through the box, and Lapira headed it in to give Notre Dame its first lead of the game.
The lead, however, was short-lived.
Huskies midfielder Mike Pezza split two defenders with a pass into the box, and Chukwudi Chijindu headed the ball past Cahill and into the corner of the net.
“Their last goal was a classic goal as well, it was a great cross and a great header,” Clark said. “I think we took so much out of ourselves getting back in the game that towards the end we looked a little tired.”
The fatigued Irish held off any more of a comeback from the No. 1 Huskies but had trouble getting any type of offense going in the two overtime periods.
Notre Dame remains two points behind Connecticut for first place in the Big East, and each team has four conference games remaining before the postseason tournament.
“I think we learned a lot of lessons,” Lapira said. “Even though we’re playing well we might concede a goal, and we got to keep our heads up, and that when we do concede a goal, we can come back.”