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Men’s Soccer: Irish face Georgetown

Mike Monaco | Friday, October 5, 2012

Top-10 matchup. Conference clash. Big East Blue Division battle. Former coaching comrades.

Saturday’s tilt between No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 3 Georgetown has it all.

The Irish (9-2, 1-2 Big East) enter their division showdown with the Hoyas (10-1-1, 2-1) coming off their first Big East victory of the season, a 7-1 demolition of Pittsburgh on Wednesday at Alumni Stadium.

Irish coach Bobby Clark said matches against Blue Division foes likes Pittsburgh and Georgetown are critical toward postseason positioning.

“[These games] are very important,” Clark said. “If we can get ourselves into the one or two spot, then we don’t have play-in games and stuff like that, and that’s always tough for us. … The less play-in type games we can have, the better. But every game is important.”

The Irish have been trudging through a recent gauntlet of such important games. Notre Dame opened the Big East season with a 2-1 loss at Louisville on Sept. 22 before defeating then-No. 10 Indiana 1-0 in Bloomington four days later. On Saturday, the Irish lost to No. 2 Connecticut 2-1 on the road.

Clark said the recent string of games is a microcosm of a season that has consisted of one difficult match after another.

“We’ve had [No. 7] Akron and Oregon State, who was on a tear,” Clark said. “We had Clemson and [then-No. 21] Duke. I look for the hardest games. I’m a great believer in playing the best games we can find.

“That’s what we always look for, because it tests your team and at the end of the day I don’t think you get a lot out of beating weaker teams by big scores. I think you learn much more when you’re playing against good opposition.”

The Hoyas fulfill the criteria of a challenging opponent. Georgetown ripped off an 11-game unbeaten streak, including 10 wins, to begin the season and ascended to third in the nation. Clark even went so far as to say this might be the best Georgetown team ever.

Yet the Hoyas suffered their first blemish of the season Wednesday against Connecticut. The Huskies scored the first two goals of the game and never looked back en route to a 2-1 victory. Despite the loss, Clark said he knows the Hoyas will be prepared come Saturday, given the leadership of Georgetown coach and former Irish associate head coach Brian Wiese.

“This is going to be a hard game,” Clark said. “They’re a good team. I know that. That’s the one thing. And Brian will have them prepared, and it will be a big game for Brian obviously coming back to Notre Dame where he was a great coach here for five years.”

Wiese served as an assistant to Clark from 1996 to 2005. They spent those first five seasons at Stanford before moving to Notre Dame. Clark also coached Wiese at Dartmouth College, where Wiese was the team MVP in 1993.

Since taking over the Hoya helm in 2006, Wiese has helped turn around a Georgetown program that had missed out on the five previous Big East tournaments. In 2010, Wiese led the Hoyas to the second round of the NCAA tournament and his coaching staff was named the Big East Coaching Staff of the Year.

Clark said he feels like a proud father facing off against Wiese.

“It’s like when I go up against [Washington coach and former Irish assistant] Jamie [Clark], my own son,” Clark said. “There’s a great feeling of pride that somebody who has come through our system is doing so well.”

Despite the nostalgia surrounding the game, Clark will be looking to knock off his former protégé and build off Wednesday’s win.

“We were in top form [against Pittsburgh] but Saturday is another day, so we’ve got to make sure we come out prepared for that game,” Clark said. “We take one game at a time and I think [against Pittsburgh] we gave them full respect and attention. Now we’ve got to do exactly the same against Georgetown.”

Notre Dame squares off with Georgetown in a Big East battle Saturday at 2 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu