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Men’s Soccer: Crunch time

Dan Murphy | Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Last year Notre Dame advanced to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. This August, the team made it one of their season’s goals to top that mark.

The Irish will take the first step towards reaching that goal tonight when they face Oakland in the second round of the tournament.

“Certainly one of our goals is to take it as far as we can,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “It’s very important that we don’t look beyond each step along the way. It’s one step at a time and Oakland is the first step.”

No. 10 Notre Dame earned a first round bye following their run to the Big East finals where they lost 2-0 to Connecticut on the Huskies’ home turf Nov. 18. Clark thinks the ten days off has prepared the team for action against the Golden Grizzlies tonight.

“We’ve been playing so many games, we were able to top up in our fitness,” he said. “I think it will make us hungry to play, but at the same time we have to be ready to play.”

The Irish had to wait more than two weeks last season before their first tournament game when they defeated Illinois-Chicago 1-0 at home.

Oakland played on Saturday in the opening round of the tournament, taking down in-state rival Michigan State 2-1. The win avenged a 3-0 loss to the Spartans earlier in the season.

Notre Dame also lost in East Lansing this year. Michigan State came away with a 1-0 shutout victory on College Field when the two teams met on Oct. 10.

“[Oakland] went somewhere we weren’t able to go to this year,” Clark said. “They went to East Lansing and came out with a win. They’re a solid team and it was a good game, it went back and forth but I was impressed with several very good players.”

The Grizzlies have been led this year by center midfielder Piotr Nowak, who has nine assists and five goals on the season. The 5-foot-10 junior also scored Oakland’s first goal against the Spartans in its first round victory.

Senior Michael Reyes and sophomore Sebastian Harris are currently tied for the team lead in goals scored, with six each.

Irish senior keeper Chris Cahill, who holds a Notre Dame record with three tournament shutouts, will have his hands full keeping the Grizzlies out of the net.

“They don’t have a lot of weaknesses, it will require full focus from our guys,” Clark said.

Notre Dame and Oakland have not faced each other in a regular game since 1979, but the two teams scrimmage regularly in the spring. Last year’s scrimmage, which lasted 50 minutes, ended in a tie.

Clark said the combination of a shorter game and the fact that both teams empty out their benches prevented either team from really seeing their opponent’s strength.

The Irish spent four days last week practicing outside to prepare for whatever weather awaits them tonight.

“I always say to them, ‘Don’t complain about playing in the cold, because that means you’re doing well.’ This time of year it is just something you have to play through,” Clark said.

The game is at 7:30 p.m. at Alumni Field.