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Blue Demons Go After Two of the Nation's Best

CHICAGO - DePaul is all set to do some big-game hunting.

Never one to shy away from a formidable challenge, the Blue Demons are scheduled to face six nationally ranked men's soccer teams this season.

Big game No. 1 is Monday when Coach Craig Blazer's ballclub will spend Labor Day in Evanston confronting Northwestern, ranked No. 9 in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).

Four days later, DePaul (0-2) will collide with No. 15 UC-Irvine at the Marquette Invitational in Milwaukee.

"We have a group of players who want to play the best teams that we can,'' Blazer said. "Our guys want to be challenged. They are getting an opportunity to see how they stack up against the rest of the country.

"Sometimes it takes a while for for a team to come together. But I'm confident this group can compete with some of the best teams in the nation."

Northwestern (0-0-1) opened its season with a 3-3 tie in double overtime against Green Bay, which edged DePaul 2-1 in Saturday's home opener. This Wildcat bunch returns three All-Big Ten performers including defender Mark Blades and forward Matt Eliason.

Blades teamed with goalie Misha Rosenthal in racking up a school-record 13 shutouts last season, and Northwestern was sixth in the nation with a 0.55 goals-against average. Rosenthal presided over all the shutouts, and his 0.48 goals-against average was fourth in the nation.

"Northwestern is a very good defensive team with players who rarely get rattled, and they're very tough at home," Blazer said. "We've had a series of close games against them, but have yet to get the result."

The Wildcats have advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals the last two years.

``Northwestern has steadily built its program," Blazer said. "With their success in the NCAA tournament, they continue to attract good players."

The Blue Demon defense led by the physical Patrick Hopkins will keep a close eye on Wildcat junior Matt Eliason, who scored two goals in a season -opening 3-3 double-overtime tie with Green Bay. Eliason led the Cats last year with 12 goals and 25 points.

UC-Irvine (2-0) features a high-powered attack that outshot Long Island 23-2 in Saturday night's 1-0 victory. The Anteaters' primary threats are Soccer America second-team preseason All-America Irving Garcia, Aman Walker (two goals), Carlos Aguilar and Spencer Thompson.