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Men’s Soccer

Notre Dame hopes for rebound after two losses

| Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The No. 2 Irish seek to end their first losing streak of the season on Tuesday as they head to East Lansing, Michigan, to face off against Big Ten upstart Michigan State.

After suffering a disheartening loss at the hands of No. 3 North Carolina, giving up four consecutive goals en route to a 4-2 defeat, the Irish (4-2-1, 1-1-0 ACC) will seek to end their road stretch on a high note before returning home later this week.

Senior midfielder Connor Klekota expressed excitement about heading up to East Lansing, hoping for a chance for the team to prove itself capable of righting the ship following their first multi-loss streak of the season.

“The great thing about our schedule is we have opportunities each game to win a big contest,” Klekota said. “[Michigan] State is a top team and the game gives us a quality chance to prove ourselves again to the country and bounce right back to where we were last week.”

Senior midfielder Evan Panken pushes the ball forward during an exhibition match against Valparaiso on Apr. 29 at Old Alumni Field.Amy Ackermann | The Observer

Senior midfielder Evan Panken pushes the ball forward during an exhibition match against Valparaiso on Apr. 29 at Old Alumni Field.

As the No. 2-ranked team in the nation with conference and national championship aspirations, every opportunity for the Irish to prove themselves will be an important one. Their ranking is likely to take a dip in the coming days — they’ve dropped two matches since the last round of rankings were posted.

With that in mind, a win versus a scrappy Michigan State team that has garnered their share of top-25 votes would go a long way towards setting the team back on the right path. Klekota emphasized the importance of a road win as a means of avoiding a downward spiral in the loss columns and the rankings.

“Obviously the game is important because a win gets us off this losing streak,” Klekota said. “We do not want to make losing a habit, and this game is a great opportunity for us.”

So great an opportunity, in fact, the Irish haven’t even begun to think about the matchup with the defending champion, Virginia, that awaits them when they return home.

“To be honest, no one has mentioned UVA yet because Michigan State is such a big game,” Klekota said.

A win over Michigan State is far from assured, though. The Irish will have to shore up their defense in order to prevail over the Spartans — after giving up four unanswered goals against North Carolina, a measure of defensive stability will need to be restored in order to give the Irish offense a chance to establish a lead.

Klekota said he believes the game will allow the Irish defense to play to its strengths. The Spartans have struggled to establish their offense recently as well, managing only one goal in their past three fixtures, a trend the Irish defense hopes to continue.

“We like to use every game as a chance to show our strengths,” Klekota said. “It’s a great game to show our style but by no means will we use their lack of scoring in their recent past as a reason for good defense. They are a good offensive team and it just hasn’t fallen for them yet. It’s our job to go out, work hard, and do everything right defensively. If we do, I think we have a good shot at getting a good result.”

A good result is especially vital considering the strength of the competition the Irish look to face in the coming weeks. Six of the Irish’s nine remaining regular season fixtures feature teams either currently ranked or receiving top-25 votes in the most recent polls. The Irish’s strength of schedule carries a great deal of weight, but the team needs to win a majority of those high-profile matchups to maintain its place in the national rankings.

As far as Klekota and the team are concerned, though, the future does not matter beyond Tuesday night. The Irish face off against Michigan State at 4:00 p.m. at the DeMartin Soccer Complex in East Lansing.

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