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Men’s Soccer: Irish host Wildcats in NCAAs

Matt Gamber | Tuesday, November 25, 2008

After an 11-day layoff, their longest of the season, the No. 12-seed Irish open NCAA tournament play with a home game tonight at 7 against a Northwestern squad that was the No. 2 team in the country earlier this season.

“That’s always a concern,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said of the extra time off. “I think we’ve handled the time well – we’ve given them sufficient time off, varied the practices, varied the venues … We’ve done a lot of things to get them ready, but you’ll have to come to the game to see if we’ve done our job.”

Notre Dame (12-6-2, 7-2-2 Big East) suffered a 2-1 loss to South Florida in the Big East tournament’s semifinals on Nov. 14 but still received a first-round bye in NCAA play as a top-16 seed. The Wildcats (13-4-3, 3-3-0 Big 10) edged Loyola Chicago in penalty kicks Friday after the two teams played to a scoreless draw in the tournament’s first round.

“They’re a good team. In the NCAA’s, there’s not many bad teams, so that’s kind of a given,” Clark said. “They’re well-rounded and well-coached. It’ll be a challenge, but it’s not one that’s beyond us.”

Northwestern is led by sophomore Matt Eliason, whose 12 goals and 25 points are both team highs. Junior Misha Rosenthal has started all but one of the Wildcats’ games in goal and has posted 12 shutouts and a 45 goals-against average, which ranks seventh in the nation.

“They’re similar to ourselves – a lot of players that are technically good, they connect well as a team and they’re well-organized,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of similarities. On the night, you just hope some of your match-ups are a little bit better, but I’m sure they’ll be hoping for the same thing.”

Notre Dame has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net of late, failing to score more than once in a game since Oct. 19. The Irish managed a 3-2-1 record over that six-game span but have put a lot of pressure on junior goalkeeper Philip Tuttle, who has stepped up in the place of injured starter Andrew Quinn.

“I think it’d be really nice if we could put some goals in the back of the net, and we haven’t done that in awhile,” Clark said. “We’ve been winning games, but by narrow amounts, and it’s about time we started [scoring] … At the beginning of the season we were scoring goals, and it’d be nice if we could get back to that form.”

The Irish have offensive firepower in the form of senior forward Bright Dike, who has scored a team-best 12 goals. The team averages two goals per game, tied for 15th nationally, and Notre Dame has scored three or more goals in eight games this season – all Irish victories.

“What you can control is to keep making chances, I think that’s the one thing [you can control],” Clark said. “The key thing is to make chances and I think we’ve been doing that. If you’re not making chances, then you start to worry.”

Notre Dame hopes to take full advantage of playing on its home field, where the Irish have an unbeaten 9-0-1 record.

“Home field’s always nice, but it doesn’t win you the game,” Clark said. “In fairness, the team has got to win the game.”

Though much of the campus may be headed elsewhere for the Thanksgiving break, Clark said a student presence would be a major help to the team’s chances tonight.

“Tonight’s a tough night to get a crowd out, but we’ll make a plea to any of the students on campus,” Clark said. “If there’s any students around, let’s make sure it’s a home-field advantage. It’ll be a cold one, but if you like Notre Dame and you want to cheer us on, you’ll be very welcome.”