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Men’s Soccer: Lapira gets help on Irish offense

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Notre Dame has scored nine goals in its past four games, with six different Irish players finding the back of the net. Such a scoring distribution would have been unheard of last season when the phrase “Irish goal” became synonymous with Joseph Lapira.

In 2006, Notre Dame scored 45 goals. Twenty-two of those tallies came from Lapira, who won the Hermann Trophy.

How things have changed in just one year.

Through 17 games this season, Lapira has accounted for only one-fifth of Notre Dame’s scoring, and his teammates have seen their names on the scoresheet far more often.

One player who has helped pick up the slack has been jack-of-all-trades senior Ryan Miller. After playing primarily at fullback in his first three-plus seasons in South Bend, injuries forced Miller to play at both wide midfielder and holding forward early this season. He has responded with six goals, which ties him with Lapira for the team lead.

“[Miller] can play anywhere on the field, and he can do it well,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “He’s a very good athlete. He can move with the ball at pace, and that’s a tremendous asset to have while attacking,”

Understanding the greater balance in Notre Dame’s scoring, though, inevitably leads back to Lapira.

Although he did not miss many games, calf and hamstring injuries limited Lapira early in the season, and the senior forward scored only two goals in the team’s first 12 games. Furthermore, Lapira has taken on more of a distributive role this year as he leads the team with eight assists – already surpassing last year’s total of six.

“He’s added another component to his game,” Clark said. “He’s taken a lot of set pieces which takes him out of the box. He’s been on the delivering end rather than the receiving end.”

While the rest of the Irish have certainly picked up the scoring slack so far this year, the team’s scoring average of 1.71 goals per game is down from last season’s average of 1.96.

But Clark doesn’t think the trend has anything to do with the team’s new scoring balance.

“We’ve played an excessively hard schedule, but I still think we’ve been having a good share of the games,” Clark said. “In soccer, there’s such a fine line between scoring and not scoring. From the point of view of opportunities created, we’re at the same stage.”

The stats certainly back Clark’s point.

In its 17 games this season, Notre Dame has averaged more shots per game (17.1 to 16.7) and corner kicks per game (6.18 to 5.96) than in 2006.

Notre Dame’s lack of finishes can be partly attributed to bad luck. In a 1-0 loss to Michigan State Oct. 10, for example, the Irish had three balls cleared from the goal line.

But with the Big East and NCAA tournaments drawing closer, it couldn’t hurt Clark and the Irish if Lapira rediscovered last year’s scoring touch.

And it appears that Lapira may be doing just that. After scoring just twice in those first 12 games, Lapira recorded back-to-back two-goal games against Connecticut and Indiana right before fall break.

“Now that [Lapira] is back to full fitness, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts getting back to scoring more regularly,” Clark said. “I have a funny feeling November could be a great month for [Lapira].”