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Mens Soccer: Irish fight for home field advantage

Pat Leonard | Friday, October 31, 2003

Forget the pumpkins and trick-or-treaters, ghosts and goblins when 7:30 p.m. strikes on Halloween night – the Notre Dame and Villanova men’s soccer teams will be focused on only one thing: a Big East win.

If the Irish do not beat No. 25 Villanova at Alumni Field tonight, the Irish risk losing home-field advantage in the first round of the Big East conference tournament.

Villanova needs to win this game more than the Irish. If the Wildcats do not defeat No. 7 Notre Dame, they risk being ousted from the postseason tournament altogether.

The Irish (10-3-3, 5-3-1 Big East) are in third place in the conference entering the weekend with two games remaining, the second of which comes Sunday on the road at Michigan State. That game will have no impact on Big East standings.

However, with a tie or loss to Villanova (9-6-1, 4-5-0) tonight, Notre Dame will subject itself to the whim of tiebreakers within the conference to determine seedings and home field advantage.

“[We’re] very focused,” coach Bobby Clark said. “It’s also a special night for our seniors. It’s their last official home game. They’ll be very determined to finish their final game with a win and leave a lot of good memories.”

This will be the 10th meeting of the two programs.

Last season, the Irish won, 5-0, at Villanova. Notre Dame outshot its opponent 15-3 and received goals from Chad Riley, Justin Detter and Devon Prescod.

“They’re a totally different team from last year,” Clark said, unconcerned with the past. “This is the first time since 1991 [Villanova] has been nationally ranked. That says it all. You must give them the utmost respect.”

Statistics show the Irish have dominated the Wildcats over the teams’ history of playing each other. Notre Dame has the series lead with a 7-1-0 all-time record, going 4-0-0 at Alumni Field.

But Clark is a veteran coach who has seen teams take others for granted. He is not concerned with what happened last year.

“I have never been a believer in past records having any weight,” he said. “You need to look at the Big East. You can see how any of the bottom teams can beat any of the top teams. If we look past them for a second, then we’re not very smart.”

Concluding their final weekend of the regular season, the Irish will then travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State (10-3-2) Sunday at 1 p.m.

The game has no implications in terms of conference seeding, but it certainly could affect seeding in the NCAA tournament.

“I think both games we’re playing for an NCAA seed,” Clark said. “There’s no guarantee we get an automatic bid from the Big East, not yet at least. We have two regular season games remaining that are vitally important, with regards to getting into the NCAA’s and getting home field in the NCAA’s.”

Sixteen teams in the country get first round byes in the NCAA tournament. They also receive home field advantage in the second round.