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Men’s Soccer: Irish face Connecticut in conference semifinal

Sam Gans | Friday, November 9, 2012

After a first-round loss in the Big East tournament a season ago, the No. 5 Irish are back in the Big East semifinals for the fifth time in six years with a game Friday night against No. 8 Connecticut.

Notre Dame (14-3-1, 5-2-1 Big East) will take on the Huskies (15-2-1, 6-2-0) in PPL Park in Chester, Pa., after beating Connecticut 2-1 on Sept. 29. The Irish fell behind 2-0 in the first half to the host Huskies in that contest before senior captain and midfielder Dillon Powers scored Notre Dame’s lone goal in the second half.

Irish coach Bobby Clark said a slow start cost the Irish in the first match.

“They know us [and] we know them a little bit better than we did,” Clark said. “I think if you look at the last game, I thought we certainly started fairly slowly. That’s kind of the way it’s been this year. 

“We fell behind, but we had a very, very strong second half. So it’d be nice the way we played the second half, if we could play two halves like that, I think we would be in good shape.”

The game will consist of a battle of strengths, as the Irish are fourth in the nation in goals scored with 44 while Connecticut is fourth in the country in goals allowed, surrendering only nine this season.

The winner of the matchup between Notre Dame and Connecticut will play the winner of Friday’s other semifinal between Georgetown (16-2-1, 6-2-0) and Marquette (16-2-1, 5-2-1) in the Big East championship game Sunday at noon at PPL Park.

The semifinal and final matches were originally scheduled for Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., but were relocated to PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union of the MLS, due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Clark said playing in a large stadium like PPL Park, which has a capacity of 18,500, will not hinder the Irish.

“We played at Columbus Crew Stadium in the spring. The boys really enjoyed that,” he said. “And of course two years ago we played in Red Bull Arena, so that was fun. I think [the team] will respond very positively, actually. They’ll be excited just to play in a stadium. I think that’s always something that you look forward to, and I think that this team will respond very favorably to playing at PPL Park.”

Clark said the game against Connecticut is important for several reasons. In addition to trying to bring home a conference championship for the first time since 2003, the Irish, who are No. 1 in the nation in the RPI ranking, are hoping to secure a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would guarantee home field advantage until the College Cup in Hoover, Ala. The Irish are 8-0-0 in Alumni Stadium this season.

“Obviously, we want to beat Connecticut because we’d like to get into the finals of the Big East,” he said. “But then the other thing is, we’d also like to do it so we keep a high RPI and we earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, because if we could get a top-four seed, provided we kept winning, that would make it that we would play all our games at Alumni Stadium and that’s big for so many things. 

“If you can get into that situation of playing at home, it’s great for our kids from an academic standpoint. It means we’re not traveling, we’re not on the road, we’re not missing classes. So that would be great. And it’s also a treat for the home fans to let them see the big games at the end of the season. I think that would be big. And then the final thing if you play at home is the comfort of just being in your own stadium. It’s been quite good to us this season.”

The Irish take on the Huskies in the Big East semifinals Friday at 7:30 p.m. at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu