The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Men’s Soccer: Irish prepare for Michigan

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, October 3, 2007

After starting its Big East season 5-0 for the first time since 1997, No. 3 Notre Dame will take a break from conference play tonight when No. 19 Michigan comes to Alumni Field.

The Wolverines (8-1-1) come to South Bend in the wake of their first loss of the season – a 3-2 overtime defeat by Indiana. Before its loss to the Hoosiers, however, Michigan had run off nine straight games without a defeat, and Irish coach Bobby Clark expects a stern test from the Wolverines.

“They’re the best Big Ten team I’ve seen,” Clark said. “They transition well. They have some very good attacking players, and they’re good on set pieces. They’re a good side, but we’ll be ready for them.”

The biggest challenge for Notre Dame will be stopping the potent Michigan offense. The Irish defense, which has four shutouts on the season and a goals-against average of 0.74, will have to contend with a Wolverine offense that has yet to be shutout while averaging 2.62 goals per game this season.

Notre Dame, which holds a 6-1-2 overall record, is currently in the midst of a seven-game unbeaten streak, with their last loss coming at the hands of No. 18 Maryland 3-0 on Sept. 2. During their streak, Notre Dame is 5-0-2. Despite their impressive record as of late, however, Irish coach Bobby Clark feels his team still has room for improvement.

“We’ve gotten close [to playing a full game of good soccer] in a few of the games,” Clark said. “We’re piecing it together, and we try to take something away from each game and take it to the next game. We still have room to grow.”

One development that may help Notre Dame find their best form will be the impending return of several injured players. Sophomore midfielder Michael Thomas, out with a broken jaw since the UCLA game Aug. 31, will visit the doctor today and will play tonight if he receives clearance.

Sophomore forward Tamba Samba may also make his first appearance of the season tonight against Michigan. A foot injury has kept Samba out of the lineup.

“There’s certainly a possibility of both [Samba and Thomas] playing, and it would be a tremendous boost if they did,” Clark said. “The thing with Tamba is his fitness as he wasn’t able to do anything for three to four weeks. He won’t be able to go 90 minutes, but he may be able to give us some minutes tonight.”

While Notre Dame has reinforcements on the way in Thomas and Samba, the Irish lineup continues to be altered by other injuries. Senior forward Kurt Martin will have to miss some time due to an ankle injury he re-aggravated this past Friday against Cincinnati. Senior defender Kyle Dagan also left Friday night’s game with an injury.

“The nice thing with the injuries has been that we’ve been able to get some younger players involved, which is great because down the line it’s only going to make us deeper and stronger,” Clark said.

Tonight’s game will be the seventh meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan, with the Irish holding a 5-0-1 edge in the all-time series. The last meeting took place last year in Ann Arbor with Notre Dame winning 2-0 on two goals from senior forward Joseph Lapira.

Tonight’s game starts at 7 p.m., and it will be televised live on Comcast Local (Michigan).