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Men’s Soccer: Division crown in reach this week

Michael Blasco | Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notre Dame will conclude a three-game road trip today when the Irish travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State at Old College Field at 3 p.m.

The non-conference match will be the last road game of the regular season for Notre Dame (9-6-1), who will finish their regular season slate this Friday with a match against Big East rival Connecticut.
 
Although the Irish have a chance to win a division crown with a win over the Huskies, ninth-year Irish coach Bobby Clark is certainly not looking past the Spartans (9-4-1).
 
“The most important thing for our team to do at this time is to take each game one at a time,” Clark said. “[Michigan State] comes up first and that must be where our focus lies. After that we can begin to think about other games.”
 
The Irish will take on a Spartan squad that has one each of its last three matches, holding a 5-2-0 record in East Lansing this season. The high point of the Michigan State season to this point is certainly the Spartans’ thrilling 1-0 victory over Indiana, several days before the Hoosiers dismantled Notre Dame in a 3-0 loss at home.
 
“This is a big inter-regional game and [Michigan State] is a very solid team,” Clark said. “Any side that can go to Bloomington and beat Indiana deserves a lot of respect. They also looked very good on Sunday when I watched them beat Michigan.”
 
The Irish will have to keep the pressure on Spartan junior goalkeeper Avery Steinlage, who led the NCAA in save percentage (.925) and was named to the All-Big Ten first team in 2008. Steinlage carries an .862 save percentage this season, surrendering only 0.56 goals against per game.
 
Michigan State is also looking to avenge a 3-0 loss at Alumni Field last year, one of only a few stumbles for a Spartan team that went 13-5-2 en route to earning a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame holds the edge in the series history with a 10-3-5 record against Michigan State, outscoring the Spartans 32-13 in the process.
 
For the Irish, the match is a chance to build their NCAA Tournament resume. Notre Dame has bounced in and out of the polls throughout the season, and a win against a solid non-conference opponent would certainly help the Irish chances at an NCAA Tournament bid.
 
“[Michigan State] is a big game for us as we need all the wins we can get to make sure we get into the 48 teams that make the NCAAs,” Clark said. “We have not beaten them in our last two visits to East Lansing, so we will be ready to start setting the record straight in our favor.”