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Men’s Soccer: Home wins drive motivation

Joseph Monardo | Monday, October 8, 2012

One week ago, the Irish were coming off a disappointing road swing in which they endured their first two losses of the year. This week the mood inside the Irish locker room is undoubtedly different, as Notre Dame is coming off a pair of convincing home victories and heading to Evanston, Ill., to face No. 22 Northwestern tonight.

No. 10 Notre Dame (10-2-0, 2-2-0 Big East) unleashed 36 shots, the most ever by the Irish in a conference game, in a 7-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday before shutting out No. 3 Georgetown, 3-0.

“I thought that it was a good week last week for us,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “Obviously, we were very good against Pittsburgh and then it was a terrific game against Georgetown. Georgetown is a very, very good team, so that was a good game and it was a very good win for us.”

In their final non-conference game of the regular season the Irish will take on Northwestern (7-2-2, 2-0-0 Big Ten) tonight. The Wildcats had tallied five consecutive victories earlier in the season before dropping two of their last three contests. Last year the two teams played to a 1-1 draw at Notre Dame.

“They are a good team,” Clark said. “In my time here, we have played them four times over the past four years and we have yet to beat them. So we have lost twice in the NCAA tournament and we tied them [the last two years in the regular season] … So this is definitely one we want to get ahold of.”

Although the Irish are coming off consecutive dominating performances, Clark said he wants his team to work on handling the pressure applied by skilled opponents. The Wildcats will provide another test, he said.

“I think Georgetown, they pressed us very hard,” Clark said. “I think there are only three teams this year where I felt, not that we didn’t play well, but three teams [against which] I thought we didn’t always handle the pressure [Chivas Guadalajara in the preseason, Akron and Connecticut].

“There were periods in that game against Georgetown where we struggled to handle the pressure … I think we just have to keep working at getting better playing against very good teams. And, you know, when you play very good teams you are not going to dominate the game for 90 minutes, they are going to have their part of the game.”

Notre Dame will look to limit any damage done by Northwestern during such stretches and secure another victory over a ranked opponent. The Irish have already beaten four teams ranked in the top-25, including three teams ranked in the top-10. Notre Dame is the highest-ranked opponent the Wildcats have faced all year.

Although the showdown with Northwestern is a break from the Big East schedule, Clark said the game carries plenty of importance nonetheless.

“It’s a huge, top-20, regional game,” he said. “You talk about building up [résumés] to get into the NCAAs, this is a critical, critical game for us. And this could also be critical when it comes to seeding in the NCAAs. It is every bit as important as any conference game, possibly.”

Looking to extend their winning streak to three games, the Irish travel to Evanston, Ill., to match up with Northwestern on Tuesday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Lakeside Field.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu