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Men’s Soccer: Irish meet Lobos in semis

Aaron Sant-Miller | Thursday, December 12, 2013

As the No. 3 Irish travel to PPL Park in Chester, Pa., for a semifinal match against No. 7 New Mexico, the team will remain ensnared in cold weather conditions. On Friday, the weather forecast puts the low temperature at 25 degrees.

“The one thing about Notre Dame is that our guys can adjust pretty well,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “Midwest people can adjust a little bit like Scottish people, for the most part, because you know the weather is going to be a bit better. No matter where you go, it will be a bit better than the weather is in South Bend.”

Yet Notre Dame (15-1-6, 7-1-3 ACC) will face more than the weather on Friday, as it also faces the talented Lobos (14-5-2, 7-1-1 Conference USA). New Mexico won 1-0 at Washington on Saturday to advance to PPL Park.

“They are very good in set pieces,” Clark said. “They’ve got four or so guys who are over 6-foot-3. With some pretty big guys, that means set pieces become pretty important for them. They have a variety of ways to attack you because they also have a technical side and a direct side to them. They’ve just got good lads who can play, top to bottom.”

On the other sideline, Notre Dame has been establishing a legacy of success in South Bend. Over the last two seasons, the Irish are a combined 32-5-7.

“The most important thing, in this case, is to concern ourselves with what we do,” Clark said. “I think if we start thinking too much about them, we might not come out of the game doing what we’re good at. We have to be aware of their strengths and what they’ll do, but it’s more important what we can do. Our guys have done a very good job of that this year, especially with the schedule we’ve had. We’ve played a lot of good teams and teams that play a lot of different ways, so I think they will be able to adjust.”

Nonetheless, as the Irish commute to PPL Park, they will be embarking on their first appearance in the College Cup.

“We’re trying to keep things as normal as you can,” Clark said. “We’ve played a lot of big games in the ACC this season. We’ve played a really tough schedule. We’re trying to keep it as normal as possible; we’re not doing anything different from what we’ve done before.”

At the same time, Notre Dame has been performing well. The Irish have not lost a game since Oct. 26 and, over its last eight matches, Notre Dame has trailed for only 1:52. The Irish enter the College Cup off a 2-1 semifinal win over Michigan State on Saturday.

“We’re very focused,” Clark said. “I think there is a quiet focus within the group and I think that’s the way we’ll keep it, as best we can. There is a quiet glow that comes out from a big win like we had last weekend, but it’s good to get back to work.”

According to Clark, when it comes to moving past big wins, Notre Dame players benefit from the heavy academic workload this time of year.

“One of the good things about Notre Dame is that they know finals are coming up,” Clark said. “They can’t relax too much; you’ve got to keep focused between your practices and your studies. I think they’ve managed to keep pretty grounded.”

At the same time, as Clark explained, the Irish need to also find enjoyment in their craft and maintain a mental balance.

“I think back to last year when we faced Indiana [in a 2-1 NCAA tournament third round loss], I thought we didn’t play [and have fun],” Clark said. “That was disappointing and they were disappointed. When we work hard, we become a very good team. If we can do that, we’ll enjoy ourselves, we’ll have fun doing it, and we’ll get a good result. If we start out working well, I think that’s the key to our game. I think if we forget about individual performances and just work hard for each other, we’ll be in very good shape.”

Notre Dame will look to do just that on Friday in its 5 p.m. semifinal match of the NCAA Championship against New Mexico. Should the Irish advance, they will face either Maryland or Virginia in the National Championship on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at asantmil@nd.edu