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Men’s Soccer Commentary: After an impressive tie, Irish look poised for championship run

Greg Arbogast | Monday, October 15, 2007

Throughout the season, Notre Dame has been very clear about its goal – to reach the program’s first-ever Final Four.

Forget the Final Four.

This team has everything it needs to bring home Notre Dame’s first-ever national champion-ship.

Saturday’s match against No. 1 Connecticut could be considered a tale of two halves, each one illuminating something special about the Irish.

The first half was as impressive a half of soccer as Notre Dame has played this season. In the first 20 minutes, the Irish bombarded the Huskies’ box with pressure – recording six shots and two corner kicks. Connecticut could hardly get the ball past midfield.

Although the Huskies found their legs as the first 45 minutes dragged on, Notre Dame finished the first half with a 9-5 advantage in shots and 3-0 advantage in corner kicks -statistics that don’t even do justice to Notre Dame’s dominance of Connecticut in the first half.

“We put on a clinic, and we could have been up by two or three goals [at halftime],” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “The first 20 minutes were as well as we’ve ever played.”

What was so remarkable about Notre Dame’s performance in the first half wasn’t its dominance in possession, shots, corner kicks and just general offensive pressure. The Irish routinely outplay their opponents in those ways.

What stood out about the Irish’s first-half performance was who they faced. Connecticut, for good reason, is the No. 1 team in the country, but an unknowing observer at Saturday’s game would have walked away from the first half thinking Notre Dame was a better team.

Despite their performance in the first forty-five minutes, there was one problem for the Irish after the first half – the scoreboard.

The Huskies scored two quick-strike counterattacking goals both against the run of play. Being down 2-0 at halftime after outplaying the No. 1 team in the country for the first half is enough to take the wind out of any team’s sails.

Not Notre Dame.

Just seven minutes into the second half, midfielder Ryan Miller put a little too much on a through ball for Joe Lapira, who was making a diagonal run into the 18-yard box. Instead of giving up on a ball that Huskies goalie Josh Ford was clearly going to reach first, Lapira exploded in an all-out sprint causing Connecticut defender Julius James to deliver a hockey-like check to Lapira.

The result: a penalty kick for Lapira and new life for the Irish.

Within fifteen minutes, it was the Connecticut who looked like a team without life, and Notre Dame was riding a 3-2 advantage on the scoreboard. The Irish showed true resiliency, scoring three goals and recapturing the momentum in only 20 minutes.

Although the Huskies came back to tie the game – again, they’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason – Saturday afternoon was about the Irish. In a game that highlighted Notre Dame’s championship caliber talent and mental makeup, the Irish received one more thing – confidence.

“They’re a genuine No. 1 team, and I think, if nothing else, [Saturday’s game] convinced our guys we can play with anyone,” Clark said.

December should be very interesting.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Greg Arbogast at [email protected]