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Men’s Soccer: Team searching for scorers

Greg Arbogast | Friday, August 22, 2008

Early 1990s Buffalo Bills? Not quite. But after two consecutive Elite Eight exits, Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark and his team have hit a roadblock in the program’s progression towards its first ever Final Four.

Last year, the Irish beat Oakland and upset No. 10 Santa Clara before an overtime loss to eventual national champion Wake Forest. In 2006, Notre Dame upended Illinois-Chicago and defending national champion Maryland before falling at Virginia. Despite the setbacks, Clark isn’t worried about his team’s psyche.

“I just want the team to play at their full potential,” Clark said. “I always say that it was my poorest team at Stanford that went to the national championship. You need a little bit of luck.”

Not downplaying this year’s team, Clark also said that he believes the 2008 Irish, like the teams of the past two seasons, are talented enough to compete for the national title.

If Notre Dame is to break through and reach the program’s first ever Final Four, the one major question mark that will have to be answered is who will put the ball in the back of the net. After three highly successful seasons – including a Hermann Trophy win in 2006 – forward Joseph Lapira has moved on to a professional soccer in Norway.

Over the past two seasons, Lapira has accounted for 38 percent of Notre Dame’s goals, and replacing that production will fall into the hands of a talented but inexperienced bevy of upperclassmen.

“No question Joe leaves big shoes to fill, but you can do it in a variety of ways,” Clark said. “It can be one person scoring a lot of goals or a lot of people scoring a few goals. I think we have the potential.”

In addition to the upperclassmen, Clark will be looking to integrate another talented freshman class – one ranked No. 12 by College Soccer News. Comprised of seven freshmen, the class is led by midfielder Brendan King, a member of the 2007 U.S. U-17 World Cup team as well as a two-time NSCAA All-American. After enrolling at Notre Dame last spring, King looks ready to contribute right away.

“We were lucky enough to get him in here in January, so he’s got that advantage over the other players,” Clark said. “He’s someone who should be looking for some serious time.”

With injuries in the back line that may force midfielder Michael Thomas to play central defender, King could see major minutes from the start, similar to sophomore Matt Armstrong, who started every game as a freshman.

The rest of the incoming class includes talent across all positions. Midfielder/forward Michael Rose and midfielder Adam Mena figure to join King in the attack. Competing for minutes on the defense will be Aaron Maund, Sean McGrath and Chris Sutton. Keeper Will Walsh will give Clark another option in net. While Clark admitted that competition for playing time would be tough, he gave his incoming freshmen a vote of confidence.

“I honestly feel that, if needed, every one of the freshmen could step in and play,” Clark said.