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Men’s Soccer: ND faces USF in semifinals

Matt Gamber | Friday, November 14, 2008

When No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 8 South Florida hit the pitch for Friday’s Big East semifinals matchup in Tampa, Fla., don’t expect a repeat performance of the Irish’s 5-0 thrashing of the Bulls on Sept. 7.

“They’re a good team, and I don’t know if people quite realize what a good result [for us] it was at the time,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “Will it be 5-0 again this time? It’s highly unlikely – some days you get goals when they come easy for you, but they were a very good team then and they’ll be a very good team Friday.”

That game was part of Notre Dame’s annual Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament and did not count toward the conference standings. With a spot in the Big East title game on the line and a chance to impress the NCAA seeding committee, Clark isn’t worried about his squad taking the Bulls lightly.

“Just look at their record (12-4-2) – in one of the polls, they’re even ranked above us,” said Clark, whose team is 12-5-2. “This is a game that no one is going to even vaguely think that just because we beat the last time that it’s going to be easy. Our guys are going to be motivated … we certainly don’t need to remind them how difficult it’s going to be.”

The Irish scored four goals in an 11-minute span during the first half of their early-season victory over South Florida. But the Bulls have given up just 11 goals all season – a total of six in their 17 games against teams other than Notre Dame.

Add into the mix the fact that South Florida is at home – where it is 7-0-1 at and has surrendered only a pair of goals in those eight games – and it looks like the Irish will have to fight just to put one tally on the board.

“It’s a learning process, playing in big games on the road in hostile environments,” Clark said. “This is just a fabulous opportunity for us to test the mettle of our team.”

Though its game plan didn’t work the first time around against the Irish, South Florida’s strategy has worked all year, and the Bulls will stick with it tonight.

“They’ll play a 4-2-3-1 with very much the same personnel they had,” Clark said. “[On video, they do] exactly the same things they did [against us], so it all comes down to how well we play. If we do what we do well and do the things that we’ve set out to be the best at in the country, we’ll be just fine.”

But the stakes remain high and the challenge tough.

“A win here tomorrow night would probably be the biggest of our season if we can pull it off, and I think the guys know that,” Clark said.