Aug 25, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
Nearing the end of a summer highlighted by a three-week trip to Zimbabwe, Notre Dame will conclude preseason play tonight against Wisconsin in the 11th annual Grassroot Soccer game.
The Irish’s well-documented travels in Africa were born from the team’s connection with Grassroot Soccer (GRS), an international non-governmental organization that utilizes the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities against the spread of HIV. While in Zimbabwe, the team visited GRS sites and participated in a handful of GRS camps and events, further fortifying the university’s strong ties to the organization.
Though the team has been a partner of GRS for over a decade, head coach Bobby Clark acknowledged that this year’s Grassroot game will be a bit more meaningful to the players.
“It will certainly be a little different for the players this year,” Clark said. “I’m sure the trip will be in the back of their minds tonight. It was a really great experience, one that we won’t soon forget.”
In addition to playing six games and helping out at GRS clinics, the players toured the Zimbabwe landscape and visited such natural wonders as the Hwange game park, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, and Victoria Falls.
Surreal sights aside, however, reality is fast approaching for the Irish, as tonight’s romp with the Badgers is the crew’s final tune-up for its season opener next Friday. Notre Dame is still searching for its first exhibition win; the Irish previously tied St. Louis, 0-0, and fought Bradley to a 2-2 draw. Preseason wins and losses, though, are of secondary importance to the coaching staff.
“It’s always important at the moment of playing, but we’re not going to pick a team necessarily to win,” Clark said. “We’re still looking at things, searching for guys to fill certain roles. So it’s more important to us that a lot of players play tonight, as opposed to merely playing our top eleven guys.”
“You need a lot more than just the starting eleven. Last year we realized how important the second group is. We need depth, and tonight is another opportunity to try and find that. It’s another chance for guys to find their fit.”
Tonight will be the first time Notre Dame has competed at Alumni Stadium since besting Mexico’s U-20 national team in late April.
The Irish and Badgers are slated to kick off at 7:00 PM.
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