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Men’s Soccer: Irish test skills against Mexican U-20 squad

Mike Monaco | Friday, April 26, 2013



Exactly one month ago, former Irish All-American defender Matt Besler squared off against Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández when the United States battled Mexico to a 0-0 draw in a pivotal World Cup qualifier. 

But in 2007, nearly six years before they faced off at Azteca Stadium, Besler and Hernandez took to the pitch at Alumni Stadium, where the Irish defeated the under-20 Mexican national team 1-0.

On Friday night, Notre Dame will conclude its eight-game spring slate with another matchup against the Mexican under-20 squad at Alumni Stadium.

Hernandez, who is now coached by Sir Alex Ferguson at legendary English club Manchester United, was reminded of that 2007 loss by his skipper, who also coached Irish head coach Bobby Clark at Aberdeen F.C., in the Scottish Premier League. Clark, who has a photo of Hernandez in that 2007 match sitting in his office, said he sent a copy to the striker by way of Ferguson.

“It’s funny, I actually sent a copy of the photo to Alex Ferguson. I said [to Ferguson], ‘Make sure you give this to Javier Hernandez and just remind him that Notre Dame actually won the game 1-0,'” Clark said with a laugh.

In fact, the Irish have played host to a Mexican national team seven times in the last eight years, with Notre Dame leading the exhibition series 4-2-1. However, the series, which came about through Irish women’s soccer head coach Randy Waldrum and his connection to the head coach of the Mexico women’s national team, Leo Cuéllar, has been controlled in recent years by Mexico. The two Irish losses – both one-goal defeats – came in 2011 and 2012. This year’s Mexican outfit, meanwhile, is gearing up for June’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.

“This will be the best team we’ll play all year,” Clark said. “They’re gearing up for the World Cup in Turkey so this is an important game for them also. … They’re possibly one of the favorites [in Turkey]. … I think this is the best Mexican under-20 team we will have played. They’re very, very good. They’re just a fantastic soccer team.”

Clark had a fantastic squad last season, as the Irish rolled to a 17-4-1 record and the No.1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. But Notre Dame, who fell to eventual national champion Indiana, 2-1, in double overtime in the third round of the tournament, must replace a pair of 2012 first-team All-Americans in midfielder Dillon Powers and forward Ryan Finley. Given the new-look Notre Dame unit and Mexico’s prowess, Clark said he truly does not know how the Irish will stack up Friday.

“Honestly, I don’t really know,” Clark said. “This will be a good test. This is like, I always say, they’ll all be tests along the line. Every week we play a game on the weekend in the spring and we use it as a test to see where we are. There’s no question that this is the toughest test, we could say it’s the finals – it’s coming up to finals week so basically this is our soccer final. 

“And this will give us a good guide of what we’re going to do and where we are as a team. The score will be important tomorrow night but I’m much more interested to see how we handle a game of this magnitude.”

Over the years the match has been well attended, especially by locals from northern Indiana. Clark acknowledged that at times it feels like an away game at home for the Irish, but he sees no reason the Notre Dame student body shouldn’t outnumber Mexico’s faithful.

“There’s no reason it should be that way,” Clark said. “This is a game our students should come out and support the U.S.A. It’s a great game to begin with but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to support the US. I think that’s huge. There’s no reason we should be outnumbered in our own house.”

The Irish face off with Mexico on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.

Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]