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Men’s Soccer: Irish open Big East season

Michael Blasco | Friday, September 18, 2009

If the Irish plan on going somewhere this season, they had better get going soon.

No. 21 Notre Dame sits at a middling 2-2-1 as they head on the road this weekend to take on two Big East foes, DePaul and No. 5 South Florida. The Irish won consecutive Big East titles in 2007 and 2008, but currently sit at fourth in the Big East Blue Division.

Notre Dame will attempt to pick up road wins against a tough pair of conference opponents while missing several key players on the Irish roster. Irish coach Bobby Clark said he believes that his team can fight through the losses.

“It certainly has not been an easy start to the season,” Clark said. “Losing fifth-year captain Cory Rellas 10 minutes into our first game created a hole. This has been further compounded seeing both [sophomore] Aaron Maund and [freshman] Dillon Powers jet off to Egypt to represent the U.S. National Team in the [under-20] World Cup. In spite of these losses, I still feel very optimistic that this squad can be very good.”

Notre Dame will open the conference slate Friday against the Blue Demons (3-2-0) in Chicago. DePaul has wins against ranked Northwestern and UC Irvine and is coming off a 5-1 win against Buffalo.

The Irish will have to keep track of senior forward Steffen Vroom, the reigning Big East Player of the Week. Vroom leads the Blue Demons in goals (3) and points (7).

On Sunday, Notre Dame will travel to Tampa to take on the undefeated Bulls (4-0-0). The reigning Big East tournament winners have collected a string of narrow victories, with only five goals despite their four wins. By contrast, the Irish are averaging two goals per game while sitting at .500.

USF has surrendered only one goal all season, with junior goalkeeper Jeff Attinella’s .947 save percentage largely responsible. The Irish will have to keep Attinella on his heels with their sustained attack; Notre Dame has outshot its opponents this season 84-58.

“Our schedule is tough through the entire season and there are no letups,” Clark said. “DePaul doesn’t lose many games at home and then we head to No. 5 South Florida. But we are looking forward to this weekend. I feel road trips really bring some camaraderie to the team. I think we’ll be ready to play.”

While the Irish offense has given their opponents fits, injuries have forced Notre Dame to mix up its defense. The deep and talented Irish roster has given Clark some room to maneuver on his personnel losses.

“Our defense has been hit the hardest,” Clark said. “[Senior] John Schaefer has already stepped up and [sophomore] Chris Sutton has all the tools necessary to be a top player. If we can sort things out at the back, then we have got some tremendous players in midfield and in attack.”

Notre Dame takes on the Blue Demons Friday at 4 p.m. at DePaul’s Wish Field in Chicago. The Bulls will host the Irish at 1 p.m. Sunday at USF Soccer Stadium.