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Men’s Soccer: Irish ranked No. 3 in nation

Greg Arbogast | Friday, September 21, 2007

After a 1-0 win over Marquette in its Big East opener, No. 3 Notre Dame has ascended to tie the highest ranking in program history, but that doesn’t mean much to Irish coach Bobby Clark.

“The only ranking I have interest in is the final ranking,” Clark said. “[The rankings] are just opinions. At the end of the year, you find out where you really are.”

What interests Clark a lot more is how his team plays this weekend against Rutgers and Villanova – two teams that will pose a challenge to Notre Dame’s current ranking.

The Irish begin the weekend in New Jersey tonight against a Rutgers team that has stumbled to a 1-3-1 record. Despite their early season struggles, Clark expects a tough test from the Scarlet Knights.

“Early season games mean very little,” Clark said. “If you’re playing a hard schedule, [early season results] mean very little. Once we get into late October, you’ll have a better idea of where everybody is.”

Of more importance is the fact that Rutgers returns 12 starters and 13 letter winners from a team that went 10-6-3 (6-4-1) last season en route to an appearance in the Big East tournament semifinals and the NCAA Tournament.

Clark is also aware of the troubles his teams have had with the Scarlet Knights. In his seven years at Notre Dame, Clark has managed only a 1-3-1 record against Rutgers – including a 2-1 overtime loss in last year’s Big East tournament.

After Friday’s tilt with Rutgers, Notre Dame will travel to Philadelphia to take on No. 23 Villanova. The Wildcats have won five consecutive games after a 2-1 loss at Richmond to open the season.

Two of those wins came in the prestigious Duke/Adidas Classic, where Villanova defeated North Carolina State and then No. 2 Duke – performances that left an impression on Clark.

“If you go down to that tournament and win two games, you’re a good team,” Clark said. “It’s as simple as that.”

A big reason for the Wildcats’ impressive start has been their defense, which hasn’t allowed a goal in the team’s past four games. Senior goalkeeper Jason Friel – one of the team’s 11 returning starters – has been especially impressive, compiling a 0.60 goals-against average and a .875 save percentage in the team’s six games.

Before meeting the Irish on Sunday, Villanova will open its Big East schedule against Marquette on Friday evening.

Notes:

uNotre Dame has been picked to finish second in the Big East Blue Division by the league’s head coaches. The Irish garnered 102 points and 4 first place votes, leaving them behind only Connecticut, who accumulated 105 points and 10 first place votes.

uThe last time the Irish were ranked third nationally was in 2003 after they captured the Big East title.

uFridays’ game against Rutgers will be nationally televised on Fox Soccer Channel. The game begins at 8 p.m.