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Men’s Soccer: Irish take on Wildcats

Vicky Jacobsen | Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When Notre Dame moved to the ACC, conventional wisdom suggested that the Irish would be challenged as they joined one of the nation’s top soccer conferences.
But the No. 2 Irish (7-0-4, 4-0-3 ACC) aren’t just living for the weekends. Notre Dame has already notched two regular-season victories against Big Ten opponents on school nights, beating regional-rival Michigan on Sept. 17 and defending national champion Indiana on Oct. 2.
Notre Dame will see if the trend continues tonight when No. 14 Northwestern, a squad that Irish coach Bobby Clark describes as “one of the strongest teams in the country,” pays a visit to Alumni Stadium.
“I think they’re a very well organized team,” Clark said. “They’re a team that they’re very difficult to break down. They’ve obviously got some very good players, also.”
The Wildcats (8-3-1, 1-1-0 Big Ten) won their last meeting with the Irish, beating Notre Dame 2-1 in Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 12, 2012. The loss was one of just four defeats handed to the Irish over the course of the season.
“Obviously I think we’ll have to defend very well tomorrow, because they counter very quickly,” Clark said. “I hope that our finishers are very sharp, because they’re not an easy team to break down.
“We’ve got to take the charges at one end and obviously we’ve got to do that a little better than we did last weekend, and we’re going to have to prevent them getting opportunities. That’s important.”
The Wildcat attack is led-at least statistically-by sophomore forward Joey Calistri, the reigning Big Ten freshman of the Year. Calistri has scored four goals so far this season, and was named national player of the week by College Soccer News in mid-September. Clark, however, said the Irish don’t have any special plans for shutting down the sophomore.
“We just know that he’s a very good player. But they have a lot of good players; he’s not the only one,” Clark said. “They have so many good players. If we spent all of our time worrying about one, we would be leaving someone else. They don’t have many weak links, if any, on their team.”
Generally speaking, Clark said he doesn’t send his team onto the field with a specific game plan, preferring to prepare them to react to any situation they might encounter on the pitch.
“There’s no timeouts in soccer, so they’ve got to recognize what’s happening and they’ve got to adjust,” Clark said. “It’s not like we can call them in. You don’t see them for 45 minutes until halftime, so you need leaders on your team, and they need to sort things out if necessary.”
As of Monday night, Notre Dame is one of just four remaining undefeated teams in Division I men’s soccer. The Irish are joined by No. 1 California (7-0-2) and No. 24 Wisconsin-Milwaukee (9-0-1) as well as No. 3 Washington (8-0-3), which is coached by Clark’s son Jamie, who was an assistant at Notre Dame in 2006 and 2007.
The Irish aim to remain in the ranks of the unbeaten as they face off against the Wildcats at 7 p.m. tonight at Alumni Stadium.
Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu