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Men’s Soccer: Division title up for grabs

Mike Monaco | Friday, October 26, 2012

It all boils down to this. Four teams. One identical record. One division title on the line. And it all will be decided in one day.

No. 8 Notre Dame closes out the regular season with a pivotal conference matchup against No. 5 Marquette on Saturday. The Irish (13-3, 5-2 Big East) downed the Golden Eagles (14-2, 5-2) on Wednesday with a 3-1 win to pull into a four-way tie atop the Big East Blue Division. No. 3 Connecticut and No. 6 Georgetown also have 5-2 conference records.

“It’s an unbelievable league,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “There are four teams that are in the top 10 in the country, all are in the Blue Division, all fighting for one, two, three and four, and it will go right down to the wire.”

And after over two months of regular season action it all comes down to Saturday, when the Irish and Golden Eagles square off in their rematch. Meanwhile, Georgetown (14-2-1, 5-2) faces Seton Hall and Connecticut (13-2-1, 5-2) battles Providence, who defeated the Huskies in an upset Wednesday.

“Anything can happen,” Clark said. “I think all four teams could win the league and all four teams could end up possibly being fourth, so you don’t get any closer or more exciting than that.”

After besting Marquette at Alumni Stadium on Wednesday, the Irish head northwest to face the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee, Wisc., where Marquette is 9-0 this season. Notre Dame lost 1-0 last year to the Golden Eagles at Valley Fields.

“It will be a huge game up in Milwaukee on Saturday night,” Clark said. “And we lost last year. So I think, just having seen Marquette here [on Wednesday], what we realize is this is a tall order. But if you want to be champions, you’ve got to be able to go to places like Milwaukee and you’ve got to handle the game and come away with a win.”

In order to get a second consecutive victory over Marquette, the Irish will look for yet another stellar performance from senior forward Ryan Finley, who netted a pair of goals Wednesday. The Lumberton, N.J., native leads Notre Dame with 16 goals, including 10 in his last six games.

The Irish have scored three or more goals in each of their last three contests, while the three scores Wednesday were the most Marquette has surrendered all season. The Golden Eagles entered that match with a 0.6 goals-against-average. Clark acknowledged Notre Dame’s strong performance Wednesday, but said there were still valleys to go with the peaks.

“We lost our way a little bit towards the second half of the first half, but that’s games,” Clark said. “When you are playing against good teams they are going to have times in the game and you are going to have times when you are in the game. And when you are in the game, you’ve got to take the chances.”

The Irish will likely take those chances again Saturday, with nothing to hold back in the regular season finale. With a win, Notre Dame would be in prime position to win at least a share of the Big East regular season title.

“I think, if we can win this on Saturday, I think we would have a piece of the [Big East] championship,” Clark said. “And what a great league. I mean the Blue Division is phenomenal. To win that league would be a real honor and it would be fantastic for this team. So it would be nice. It would be the first opportunity to win a trophy this year and if we could win it, it would be very rewarding.”

The Irish and the Golden Eagles kick off at 8:05 p.m. at Valley Fields in Milwaukee.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu