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Men’s Soccer: Irish open Big East tournament against Villanova

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Riding a wave of momentum after their strong conclusion to the regular season, the Irish will put it all on the line Thursday against Villanova in the opening round of the Big East tournament.

No. 19 Notre Dame (9-4-4, 5-3-1 Big East) is the fourth seed in the Blue Division and will host the five seed in the Red Division, Villanova (6-8-4, 3-4-2). The Irish earned home field advantage for the match after a 4-0 win over Seton Hall on Tuesday catapulted them from sixth place to fourth in the division.

Tuesday’s victory helped put Notre Dame on track to qualify for the NCAA tournament, which begins Nov. 17. The Irish will likely need a victory or two in the Big East tournament to secure a favorable spot in the NCAA tournament, fifth-year defender Greg Klazura said.

“Right now we are in control of our own destiny,” he said. “If we won the Big East tournament, we could theoretically be an extremely high seed for the NCAA tournament, whereas if we lose our next game we could very well not make the tournament.

“We don’t have to worry about anybody else winning or losing. If we take care of business, the next few games we will be where we want to be heading into the NCAA tournament.”

The Irish head into their match against Villanova having won four of their last five games while outscoring their opponents 12-4.

Notre Dame’s season has been defined by streaks, as the team opened the season 1-1-2 before reeling off four straight wins. However, the Irish were winless in their next four contests before managing to right the ship for their final five games, with only one loss to West Virginia on Oct. 29.

“With the exception of maybe the West Virginia game, we’ve been going pretty well the last couple of weeks,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “With that exception, even the games we lost we played very well. So if we continue playing well, I think we’ve got a good chance of keeping our season going for a little bit longer.”

The most immediate threat to the continuation of Notre Dame’s campaign is Villanova, a team that represents somewhat of an unknown quantity for the Irish. The two teams last faced each other in 2007, when the Irish captured the decision 1-0.

“We are in the office, we are breaking down some video and we will make some phone calls to find out about Villanova,” Clark said. “But people have already told me that they are a pretty decent team.”

Villanova has reached five straight Big East tournaments, but is 0-5 all time in Big East playoff games. Villanova has also lost to Notre Dame in each of their five past matches.

Junior forward Ryan Finley, who scored twice in Notre Dame’s win over Seton Hall (5-11-2, 1-8-0) on Tuesday and leads the team with seven, will lead the Irish offense.

The winning team will travel to face South Florida on Sunday for a quarterfinal match. Last season, Notre Dame was ousted from the conference tournament in the semifinals with a 1-0 loss to Louisville.

As to what his team’s goal is for this year’s Big East tournament, Clark is quite clear.

“Obviously to win it,” he said. “We are going to try and win it, that’s always the goal when you are playing. We’ve either been in the final or the semifinal in each of the last few years, so hopefully we can win it this time.”

Notre Dame kicks off the first of what it hopes will be several postseason games tonight against Villanova at 7:30 p.m. in Alumni Stadium.