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Men’s Soccer: Irish finish with tough test

Sam Gans | Wednesday, October 24, 2012

With only two games remaining until the start of the Big East championship, the No. 7 Irish close out the regular season with a crucial pair of games against No. 3 Marquette this week.
Notre Dame (12-3-0, 4-2-0 Big East) faces the Golden Eagles (14-1-0, 5-1-0) at Alumni Stadium tonight and in Milwaukee, Wis., on Saturday.

The Irish currently sit tied for third in the Big East Blue Division, three points behind first-place Marquette. Only the top three teams in each division get byes in the Big East tournament, and the results from tonight and Saturday night will likely determine Notre Dame’s conference tournament positioning.
“It’s quite incredible just how strong the Blue Division has been this year,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “I was just looking at the RPIs yesterday and there are actually five Big East teams in the top 11 in the country … and actually four of these teams are in the Blue Division, which shows the tremendous strength of Big East soccer at the moment.”

The games against Marquette will mark the only time in the regular season the Irish will play an opponent twice. Despite two games in such a short time frame against the same opponent, Clark said the Irish are only concerned with Wednesday’s match.

“I think you’ve just got to focus early on Wednesday’s game and then we’ll hopefully put in a really good performance and then we’ll catapult it on to the next game,” he said.

Marquette will be the sixth ranked opponent the Irish have played this season. Clark said the tough schedule Notre Dame has faced up to this point should help his squad against the Golden Eagles.

“It is a huge game for the team, but it’s also a huge game for Marquette,” Clark said. “But the nice thing is, for us, we’ve played in a lot of big games this year. The schedule that we’ve played … we’ve played a lot of big games. So it’s a big game, but I think this team has played a lot of big games this year, and that’s one of the reasons that we play a very difficult schedule.”

Senior forward Andy Huftalin leads Marquette in goals with nine, five more than the next highest players on the roster. Huftalin – much like Irish senior forward Ryan Finley, who leads Notre Dame with 14 goals – usually comes off the bench in Golden Eagle matches.

However, Clark said he doesn’t see many similarities between Huftalin and Finley. He also said Marquette’s results up to this point of the season cannot be attributed to just one player.

“I think [Huftalin is] a different type of player, but having said that, he’s scored a lot of goals,” he said. “They’ve got quite a few threats on set pieces. They’re a good team. You don’t create the record like they have on one player. They’ve got multiple scoring options. I think we’ve scored the most goals in the league, but they’re right behind us, and they haven’t given up goals. They’re a well-balanced team, I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

Notre Dame faces Marquette in the first of two matches this week at 7 p.m. tonight in Alumni Stadium.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu