Midfielder Patrick Hodan had an impressive exhibition debut last season and that propelled him into a solid rookie campaign.

#7 Notre Dame Opens Exhibition Slate Sunday At #6 Creighton

Aug 17, 2013

#7 Notre Dame vs. #6 Creighton (exhibition)
Sunday, August 18 – 1 p.m. (CT) (second game to follow)
Morrison Stadium – Omaha, Neb.
Live video stream (first game only): GoCreighton.com (pay)
Live stats (first game only): GoCreighton.com

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – While Sunday’s preseason men’s soccer showdown between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 6 Creighton will be played in the summer heat of Omaha, Neb., it’s not hard to imagine those two perennial powers meeting again four months later on a chilly pitch at PPL Park during the College Cup.

Exhibition games can be a nice way to ease into a season, but taking on another top-10 foe will give Notre Dame a true test of where it stands less than a week into fall camp. The Fighting Irish and Blue Jays will square off at 1 p.m. (CT) at Morrison Stadium. A second match that will be 60 minutes in length will take place immediately after the first game.

“We’ll play our more experienced group in the first game, but we’ll play everyone throughout both games and everyone will feel a part of it,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said. “The most important thing for us is to get a look at the freshmen. I know it’s a very short window, but we have to get some idea of who can help us. It was great last year for Patrick Hodan. We saw him in the first exhibition game at Northern Illinois and he was superb and we knew he was ready and he proved that later on in the season.”

Hodan, who tallied six goals and five assists during his rookie campaign, played a major role in Notre Dame’s impressive 2012 season. The Fighting Irish went 17-4-1, won the BIG EAST Championship and earned the top seed for the NCAA Championship.

Notre Dame returns eight starters, including the entire backline and senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall, who split time last season. Fifth-year senior Grant Van De Casteele is entering his fourth season as a starter in the central defense and will be partnered with fellow captain Andrew O’Malley, a senior. Junior Max Lachowecki, who joined Hodan on the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team last season, returns at left back and senior Luke Mishu is slotted in at right back. Notre Dame was 13-1-1 last season when that quartet formed the backline, while Wall notched a 9-1-0 mark with three clean sheets.

The Fighting Irish need to fill the void of some key offensive departures. Notre Dame deposited 52 goals last season, which were the most for the program since 1994, and 31 of those tallies came from players no longer on the roster. Gone are first team All-Americans Ryan Finley and Dillon Powers. Finley registered 21 goals and was a finalist for the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy along with being the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year. Powers had five goals and a team-best nine assists last season and was a mainstay in the central midfield for the last four years. Finley and Powers both heard their names called in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft.

Nick Besler teamed up with Powers last season and now the junior will be looked upon to anchor the midfield. Hodan brings key experience to the wide area of the midfield and will be counted on to provide an offensive punch.

The Irish welcome back four veteran forwards, including senior captain Harrison Shipp, who is the team’s leading returning scorer with 36 career points on 11 goals and 14 assists. Shipp, Besler and Van De Casteele earned third team all-BIG EAST honors last season. Seniors Leon Brown and Alex Priede will be key factors in the attack as will junior Vince Cicciarelli, who was plagued with injuries last season.

“We obviously graduated some strong players so we have to look at who’s going to fill some of those roles,” Clark said. “We have seven freshmen and we have to see what they look like. Even though we’ve seen them during the recruiting period, we really have no idea where they are going to truly fit in.”

Creighton also is coming off a 17-win campaign (17-4-3) and the Blue Jays made it all the way to the College Cup before falling to Indiana, 1-0, in the semifinals. The squad brings back sophomore midfielder Timo Pitter, who led Creighton in goals (10) and points (24) last season. Junior goalkeeper Alex Bolowich started nine matches in 2012 and posted a 4-3-2 record with four shutouts. The Blue Jays will be a quality measuring stick for the Irish at this early stage of the season.

“We’ve started out well during our first few days of practice,” Brown said. “A lot of the guys came back fit, which is good to see. We’re all working hard every day and hopefully this weekend will be a good trip for us. We obviously want to get some wins, but we also want to play well. We want to make sure all the work we did in the spring and the summer shows on the field and hopefully that’ll show in wins.”

Notre Dame and Creighton have a limited history on the pitch. The two programs have met three times with the Irish holding a 1-0-2 edge in the series, which includes a 4-1 victory in the last regular-season meeting in 2006. The two squads played to a 2-2 exhibition draw in 2011 at Notre Dame. Both teams also were ranked in the top 10 for that match.

Notre Dame’s only regular-season showdown at Creighton was a 1-1 tie in 2002. While several Fighting Irish players will be making their Omaha debut, sophomore goalkeeper Brian Talcott certainly will not need a map to find his way to Morrison Stadium. Talcott hails from Omaha and attended Millard North High School.

“I can’t really write it better than this,” Talcott said. “When I was growing up we had season tickets to all of their (Creighton) games. My family and I would go to all of their games on Friday and Saturday nights and it’s kind of a dream come true going to play them. They are a really good team and I think this game will get us ready for the regular season.”

Getting quality preparation prior to the start of the regular season is paramount since the Irish open against No. 9 UCLA Aug. 30 at the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic. Following Sunday’s action Notre Dame will travel to Drake for its next preseason test, which will take place Wednesday. The Irish conclude exhibition play against Ohio State Aug. 26 at Alumni Stadium.

“These three preseason games will tell us a lot,” Clark said. “You want to establish game fitness. All the players came in fit, which was a positive, but there’s a big difference between being fit and being game fit. You have to get game fit.”

— Sean Carroll