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Men’s Soccer: Irish ready to take on Big Ten

Joseph Monardo | Friday, September 16, 2011

The Notre Dame defense has allowed six goals through in their first five regular season games, and according to Irish coach Bobby Clark, that’s six too many.

The No. 22 Irish (2-1-2) have two chances this weekend to post shutouts and appease their coach. Michigan (2-4-1) will come to South Bend on Friday before the Irish travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State (1-4-0) Sunday.

“We’ve got to start getting shutouts,” Clark said. “[Senior goalkeeper] Will Walsh has been playing very well, but we need to get a real good team mentality on defense this weekend. I think that would be very important for us.”

In their most recent outing, a 2-1 victory over Bucknell, the Irish saw a shutout opportunity slip away when the Bison netted a goal in the 88th minute. The Irish defense has only held its opponent scoreless once this year, a 0-0 draw against No. 9 Indiana (4-0-1) in the season opener.

Senior defender Greg Klazura said the Irish have a good defense and are well organized, but recognized there is room to improve.

“I think we have got the athleticism and the talent to defend well, but there have been some lapses in focus … and those are times when goals will go in,” Klazura said. “I think that is an area that the whole team recognizes we can be better on.”

Despite its unimpressive record thus far, Michigan returns several starters from last year’s Final Four team and has gone 2-0-1 in it’s last three games, including a draw against a Georgetown team hovering on the outskirts of the top-25 rankings.

“It’ll be a hard game [against Michigan],” Clark said. “They played Georgetown last weekend to a tie, and Georgetown is a good team. They’ll be well organized and you know they’ve got a bunch of talented players so it’ll be a good test for us. And I think you can also throw in the Michigan-ND rivalry. I think we need to try and even the score a little bit after last weekend in football.”

Clark also finds significance in this weekend’s games on the basis of conference affiliation. While Notre Dame plays Michigan and Michigan State this weekend, fellow Big East member Marquette plays the two Big Ten teams in the opposite order.

“It’s a Big East-Big Ten challenge, so there’s a lot of bragging rights here as well,” Clark said.

When it’s Notre Dame’s turn to face the Spartans, the Irish will try to reverse the recent trend of the matchup.

“They’ve had our number the last couple of years,” Clark said. “It’s been a few years since we won up there. I think it’s maybe been three years since we’ve beaten Michigan State [at home or away]. [Beating Michigan State] won’t be easy, like I said. It’s not an easy weekend. Two big rivalries for Notre Dame, and they’re rivalries for them as well.”

In the game against Michigan State, Notre Dame won’t have the home field advantage that it will enjoy for the Michigan game. Still, Clark said he will expect his team to put forth strong performances both at home and on the road.

“It’d be nice if we could take some fans on the road, but realistically both games are always difficult,” Clark said. “You look out, the field’s roughly the same size, the ball’s round and we both start with 11 players each on the field. So no matter how it’s nice and cozy to play at home, you’ve got to find a way to play whether you are at home or you are away. It doesn’t matter.”

The Irish will kick off against Michigan at 7:30 p.m. Friday inside Alumni Stadium and at 1 p.m. Sunday at Michigan State.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu