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Men’s Soccer: ND plays for first place in ACC

Samantha Zuba | Friday, November 1, 2013

First place in the ACC will be on the line when the No. 2 Irish take on No. 12 Wake Forest on Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The Demon Deacons (8-3-5, 5-0-4) currently sit atop the ACC with 19 points. The Irish (8-1-5, 5-1-3) trail Wake Forest in second place by two points and have two conference games left, first against the Demon Deacons and then against Pitt on Nov. 8.
Irish coach Bobby Clark said Notre Dame will face top-notch competition in Wake Forest, but the Irish need to win.
“This is a huge game,” Clark said. “Wake Forest is leading the league. We’re one point behind them, and if we can beat them, then we will be two points up with two games to go. It’s not the league decider, but it’s coming close to it. … If we want to win the ACC, we need to win this game. The game doesn’t get bigger than this. Obviously, since Wake Forest is at the top of the league at the moment, they’re a very good team.”
Both sides are capable of scoring and play stingy defense. The Demon Deacons have outscored opponents 30 to 16 this season, while Notre Dame has outscored opponents 22 to 10. Wake Forest owns the edge in shot attempts as well, with 258 compared to 244 for the Irish.
Demon Deacons junior forward Sean Okoli (7), senior midfielder and forward Luca Gimenez (6) and senior forward Andy Lubahn (5) lead Wake Forest in goals. Okoli has scored the third-most goals in the ACC this season. Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Alec Ferrell and sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Harris have combined to allow only .94 goals per game.
Clark complimented Wake Forest’s talent and said the Demon Deacons and the Irish play similar styles of soccer.
“They’re a very good team,” Clark said. “They’ve got some of the best players in collegiate soccer. They play a very controlled game, but they can mix it up. They’ve got players who can handle the ball, so they’re not terribly unlike ourselves in that respect.”
The Irish have controlled time-of-possession throughout the season and have limited opponents to just 126 shots, a little more than half of Notre Dame’s total. Senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall has surrendered .66 goals per game, while playing every minute for the Irish.
Notre Dame last played Oct. 26 and suffered its first loss of the season, 2-0 against then-No. 23 Virginia at Alumni Stadium. Clark said the Irish studied game tape and will be more focused against Wake Forest.
“After every game whether we win, tie or lose, we tape … and try to improve on it,” Clark said. “That’s one of our goals. We want to make an improvement every week of the season. I think we’ve done a fairly good job of this. After the last game, we’re very focused.”
Notre Dame will make improvements, but don’t expect a radically different Irish team to take the field Friday, Clark said.
“We stick to our own game plan,” Clark said. “It’s a bit like playing ourselves in some respect, obviously with different players. We’ve just got to play well. We’ve got to play our game and execute well. I think it will be a good game with a good crowd there, so it’ll be a fun situation for us.”
Notre Dame and Wake Forest face off in an ACC showdown Saturday at 7 p.m. at Spry Stadium in Winston-Salem.
Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu