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Men’s Soccer Commentary: Irish may have Bright future

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, September 25, 2008

In seven games so far this season, senior forward Bright Dike has scored four goals – not bad for someone who didn’t play a minute last season.

But Notre Dame will need more from Dike this year.

As Irish coach Bobby Clark has said many times, it takes a complete squad combined with a little bit of luck to go deep into the postseason. Still, a game-breaker never hurts.

At 6-foot-1 and 200 lbs. of solid muscle, Dike is a physical presence defenses aren’t accustomed to seeing. Running after balls, he reminds you of Vince Young – he doesn’t look like he’s running that hard, yet he’s faster than everybody else on the field.

When other defenders try and body him for the ball, they seem to just bounce off. Many of the fouls called on Dike are not really actual infringements but rather referees’ disbelief that one player is that much stronger than the competition.

“It’s like running into a brick wall,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said of Dike. “You can’t push him around, so that causes defenders a lot of problems.”

Although Dike is tied for the team lead in goals, the Irish offense has been a pleasantly balanced attack so far this season with a variety of players making significant contributions.

Midfielders Dave Donahue and Michael Thomas share the team lead in goals with Dike at four, and eight players have found their way onto the score sheet.

Still, don’t expect Thomas and Donahue to be at the top of the scorer’s chart at the end of the year. Thomas’ role is more of an attacking playmaker while Donahue looks to get wide and serve balls into the box.

Additionally, Notre Dame’s balanced scoring attack has tended to dry up and become inbalanced against the stiffest competition. Last season, in their six games against top-20 teams, the Irish scored only seven goals – well below their season-average of 1.50 goals per game. One player, graduated star Joseph Lapira, scored five of those seven goals.

And that brings us back to Dike.

If the Irish hope to improve upon the past two seasons and reach the program’s first-ever Final Four, they need Dike to be a game-changing presence and the motor that runs their offense.

The teams competing with Notre Dame for those Final Four births will all be well-organized and extremely talented defensively. Often, breaking through those defenses depends on a moment of individual brilliance – moments that Dike can provide.

The Irish failed to score in both of their games this year against top-ten opponents – a scoreless draw with No. 4 St. John’s and a 3-0 season-opening loss No. 9 Akron – yet it was Dike that looked most dangerous in each contest. Dike led the team in shots in both games, and Clark went as far as to single out Dike’s performance as one of the lone bright spots against the Zips.

“I don’t think any team so far this year has been able to handle him,” Clark said. “Now he just needs to go and find his goals.”

Indeed. Four goals in seven games is hardly a goal-scoring drought, but what the Irish really need from Dike will be goals in the key moments.

With 2.6 goals per game so far this season, Notre Dame has proven it can score against middle-of-the-road teams.

When Connecticut, Maryland or Wake Forest come calling, though, the Irish attack will be put to the test. Dike is the player most likely to break through.

The extent to which he does so will play a large part in how far Notre Dame goes this season.

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

Contact Greg Arbogast at [email protected]