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Men’s Soccer: Showdown with Huskies to determine conference champ

Michael Blasco | Friday, October 30, 2009

Four days after enduring one of their toughest losses of the season, the Irish have to turn around and prepare for perhaps their most important match of the season.

Notre Dame (9-7-1, 7-3-0 Big East) will conclude its regular season against No. 8 Connecticut (10-2-3, 7-1-1) Saturday at 2 p.m. at Alumni Stadium in a conference showdown that could give the Irish a shot at the Big East regular season title. If Notre Dame wins and the Huskies lose or tie Monday against Marquette, the Irish will capture their third straight Big East title.

“I think the players will be fired up with the chance of winning their third straight title,” ninth-year Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “It is always nice to get a trophy in the cabinet early.”

Notre Dame is coming off a rough, 2-1 loss against Michigan State. A win would have meant a crucial non-conference victory for a team trying to build its NCAA Tournament résumé. The loss dropped the Irish to a disappointing 2-4-1 record in non-conference matches.

In addition, Notre Dame will be looking to finalize its goalkeeper rotation before making a postseason run. Senior Andrew Quinn started for the Irish against the Spartans, giving up two goals on just two shots on goal in the loss. Quinn has a 3-4-1 record on the season, allowing an average of 1.23 goals against.

Fellow senior Philip Tuttle will start against Connecticut, carrying a 6-3-0 record with four shutouts alongside his 0.65 goals against average.

While Tuttle has had more success this season, Clark remained non-committal on favoring one goalkeeper over the other when the team tries to make a postseason run.

“Tuttle will play against Connecticut as per our rotation,” Clark said. “After that, we will assess the situation for the playoffs. We will not cross any bridges before we need to.”

The Huskies come into Saturday’s match in first place in the Big East Blue Division, ahead of second-place Notre Dame. The Irish will have to keep their high-pressure offense in top gear against senior Connecticut goalkeeper Josh Ford, who carries an outstanding 0.44 goals against average with a .873 save percentage while starting every game for the Huskies. Ford also boasts 11 shutouts on the season.

“You can’t wish for anything more than to be playing your last regular season match for the league title against the other contender,” Clark said. “Everyone should be excited, especially the seniors as it is senior day.”

Notre Dame, who has already clinched a spot in the Big East Tournament, will learn its fate Monday after the conclusion of conference play. If the Irish finish first or second in the Blue Division, they will receive a first-round bye and host a quarterfinal match Nov. 7.