Mens Soccer: Garcia scores 2 in 3-1 rematch victory over Akron
By BRYAN KRONK
Rafael Garcia has been getting scoring opportunities all season long. For some reason, he just hasn't been able to convert them.
Until Friday, that is.
A senior playing in what may turn out to be his last game at Alumni Field, Garcia scored two goals for the Irish and fellow senior forward Erich Braun added a late insurance goal, as the Irish advanced into the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 victory over Akron Friday night.
"It was probably my last home game here, and I just wanted to come out and show them what I had and end it on a good note, and help my team advance to the next round," Garcia said. "I just wanted to come out here and win the game. Whatever it took … I'm a team player. Tonight was my night to put the goals in and take us to the next round."
With the two goals Friday night, Garcia doubled his goal output on the year.
Notre Dame opened the scoring just under 15 minutes into the game, as Greg Martin drove down the left side of the field and booted a cross pass directly in front of the net. Garcia found the ball, and headed it on the ground towards the net. The ball bounced low to the ground and squirted between Akron goalie Dan Pinho's legs to give the Irish a 1-0 lead.
"I think when he got that first goal he got a lot of confidence," Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark said. "He played a terrific game tonight."
After an Akron goal 15 minutes later tied the game heading into halftime, the Irish took the opening kickoff of the second half and headed directly for the Akron goal. A breakaway for the Irish led to an Akron defender clearing the ball across his own net and nearly into the net, almost giving the Irish a lead just 15 seconds into the half.
Both goalies were tested, as both Pinho and Irish goalie Chris Sawyer faced a barrage of shots on net. Halfway through the second half, a shot by Akron after a Notre Dame foul deep in its own end needed an acrobatic tip-out by Sawyer to prevent the Zips from taking the lead.
"That was a phenomenal save," Clark said. "That's the difference, because suddenly, you're 2-1 down, but instead of 2-1 down it's still 1-1."
Pinho finished the game with 10 saves while Sawyer grabbed six.
With just under 22 minutes to play, the Irish broke the stalemate. Chad Riley sent a pass from along the left side to a charging Justin Detter down the middle of the field. Detter passed to a streaking Garcia in the right corner of the field, who fired a low shot past a charging Pinho and into the net.
"It was amazing," Garcia said. "I just saw the goalie slip and fall as the ball went [past the goalie and] into the side netting."
The Irish added to that lead less than 12 minutes later. After an Akron turnover deep in the Irish defensive side of the field, the Irish mounted a breakaway. After bringing the ball to just past the midfield line, Detter booted a pass to Braun, who slipped past an Akron defender and chipped the ball over Pinho — who was caught out of position and well away from the net. The ball eventually rolled into the net to give the Irish a 3-1 lead.
"[Braun] was very cool and calm [on the play]," Clark said. "I know it looked like an easy opportunity, but anyone who plays soccer knows that's not an easy one. He did that well, and it took the pressure off coming down the line, because if it had stayed at a one-goal game, it was going to be very hectic, and that kind of took the wind out of their sails."
Braun's goal was his 11th of the season.
Once again, the Irish defense stepped up as the clock ticked down, preventing any last-minute letdowns. Kevin Richards knocked away a potential last-minute goal opportunity for the Zips, and preserving the two-goal margin of victory.
"I thought all the seniors stepped up [tonight]," Clark said. "I thought [midfielder Justin Ratcliffe] had been struggling in the last few games, but he really had a very good game, and of course Erich Braun's finish was very good."
With the win, the Irish, after not achieving a victory in their first eight matches with Akron, have defeated the Zips in both matchups this year.
Now the Irish advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a place it has not been since 1996. This time around the Irish will battle in-state rival Indiana Wednesday at 7 p.m.
All Sports Stories for Monday, November 25, 2002