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Men’s Soccer: Irish top Cardinals

Sam Gans | Monday, September 26, 2011

Neither attacking Cardinals nor a disrupting rabbit could stop the Irish on Saturday evening as No. 14 Notre Dame defeated No. 3 Louisville 1-0 in its Big East opener, earning a bit of revenge in the process.

The Irish (5-2-1, 1-0-0 Big East) got on the board early when junior forward Danny O’Leary scored his second goal of the season in the fourth minute. O’Leary received a cross from senior midfielder Adam Mena and directed a shot toward the goal, which was initially saved by Louisville senior goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux. But the ball popped into the air and O’Leary beat Boudreaux to the ball and tapped it into the net.

“It hit off the goalie’s hands, he fumbled it and I saw it go up in the air,” O’Leary said. “So I just followed through with it and we both went for it and I ended up getting it with my foot.”

The Irish controlled most of the first half, as they went into the halftime break in front 7-4 in shots and 5-1 in shots on goal.

But the second half was a different story.

Louisville (6-2-0, 0-1-0) came out firing early in the latter 45 minutes and continued the pressure until the end of the match, with the Cardinals eventually outshooting the Irish 16-2 in the second half for a 20-9 final margin.

Despite their aggressiveness, Louisville only had a 7-6 edge in shots on goal and most of their shots were unthreatening, which pleased Irish coach Bobby Clark.

“[I give] full marks to Louisville,” Clark said. “They’re a hard-pressing team and they did that well. They put us under a little bit of pressure [in the second half], although I didn’t really feel they opened us up. Most of their shots were from distance. I never felt they got behind us and I have to give our defense full marks for that.”

Louisville’s two best chances to tie the game arguably came late in the contest, when Irish senior goalkeeper Will Walsh made two of his seven saves.

In the 85th minute, Louisville senior and first team all-Big East midfielder Nick DeLeon ripped a shot from just outside the penalty box forcing Walsh to make an acrobatic save to tip it over the crossbar. With under a minute left, Walsh again denied a great Louisville opportunity. Freshman forward Will Vitalis received a through ball in the penalty box but Walsh stonewalled him.

Experience helped Walsh come through in crunch time.

“It’s part of being a goalie,” Walsh said. “You have to anticipate shots. I knew they were going to come and you always have to be ready for it.”

Despite the amount of tension involved in a game between two conference rivals and top-15 clubs, there was a lighthearted moment in the second half, when a rabbit ran onto the field in the 54th minute, briefly interrupting play.

“When we played on the other field, we actually found rabbits after [a] game — all these baby rabbits with a little burrow,” Clark said. “So it must be something about soccer fields at Notre Dame with rabbits in them.”

After play resumed, Louisville continued its barrage on the Irish net but ultimately could not cash in, resulting in a huge victory for Notre Dame.

“Every time we play Louisville it’s a huge game for us,” Walsh said. “Last year, they beat us twice [including] in the Big East semifinals. It was nice to get a revenge win on them.”

The Irish return to action Saturday when they travel to Queens, N.Y. to take on St. John’s at 7:30 p.m.

Contact Sam Gans at [email protected]