Notre Dame looks to kick road woes in California
By KERRY SMITH
Road trips are tough for any team, but especially when it faces adversity along the way.
Such is the case for the Notre Dame men's soccer team, which begins its weekend at the Saint Mary's Tournament today against host Saint Mary's (Calif.) and finishes up against San Diego on Sunday.
The Irish's two games this weekend will close out a four-game away series that so far has not gone along with Irish plans.
Notre Dame traveled east last weekend for two important games against Big East rivals Seton Hall and Connecticut, but poor weather conditions forced the cancellation of the Seton Hall game.
They were able to match up with the Huskies, but couldn't come away with a win, as the Huskies handed them a 2-1 overtime loss.
"Away games add some extra stress to playing," said midfielder Alan Lyskawa. "You're away from a familiar environment and you have to play under different conditions and in a completely different setting."
The Irish look to regroup and put on a strong performance in California this weekend. Increased potency on offense will be critical for the squad if Notre Dame plans to walk away with a pair of wins.
With a 3-2-1 record, the Irish have struggled trying to put the ball in the net. The team has been concentrating on its attack in practice, hoping to score more goals when it counts.
"Not scoring many goals has a lot to do with young players who aren't as composed around the net as others might be," said Lyskawa. "Getting everyone involved in the game is a big step and hopefully the goals will start to come.
"One reason [for not scoring many goals] is that at the beginning of the season we focused a lot on defense in practice. Now the coaches have shifted gears a little — we've been concentrating on making scoring opportunities and finishing our plays," Lyskawa said.
In six games, Notre Dame has only managed to come up with five goals — a record low for any team in Irish men's soccer history. Erich Braun, who scored the game-winner against Boston College and the goal in the loss to Connecticut, has been the only repeat scorer for the Irish all season.
"The team's a little too excited," said forward Rafael Garcia. "It's just a matter of time before we explode. We definitely have some scorers on the team. Once we explode and start getting some more goals, we'll stay on top."
Staying on top this weekend is important. Head coach Mike Berticelli, in his 10th season with the Irish, is just one win away from reaching 100 wins. A victory this weekend would make him the second coach in Irish men's soccer history to accomplish the feat.
To put Berticelli over the century mark, the Irish will have to post wins against Saint Mary's and San Diego. Saint Mary's, a West Coast Conference team, has struggled this season. At 1-6-0, the Gaels have had trouble both offensively and defensively.
Opponents have scored multiple goals against the Gaels while holding the offense scoreless.
The Irish and the Gaels have taken the field against each other only one other time, and the Irish came out on last year with a 1-0 win in California.
The real test for the Irish this weekend will be against nationally ranked San Diego.
Holding the 16th spot in the country, the Toreros have had a stellar season to date. With a 6-0-0 record, they've breezed through the first half of this season's schedule.
The Irish will need to get past a stingy Torero backfield anchored by sophomore defender Eric Van Demen. While Notre Dame, has outshot its opponents in all but two games this season, the squad will need to capitalize on every opportunity to come out on top against the Toreros.
"Getting into an offensive rhythm takes time," said freshman midfielder Paul Rodriguez. "As an offensive player, all you can do is keep plugging way and being persistent in the attack and then things will begin to happen."
On offense, Torero play-makers senior Brian O'Connor and sophomore Mike Piserchio lead the San Diego squad up front and could pose a big threat to Irish goalkeeper Gerick Short.
Even with two losses this season, Short has held his own against opponents. Tending goal for all 587 minutes of play this year, Short has recorded three shutouts and amassed 21 saves and a .840 save percentage. His play in goal has been critical for many close Irish wins this season.
This is the first meeting between the Irish and the Toreros.
The Saint Mary's tournament marks the last road trip for the Irish until mid-October.
All Sports Stories for Friday, September 24, 1999