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Men’s Soccer: Skidding Spartans offer Irish non-conference challenge

Greg Arbogast | Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Although No. 8 Notre Dame will take a break from its Big East schedule to take on Michigan State, there will not be any drop-off in the level of competition when the Irish and Spartans meet Wednesday night on Alumni Field at 7 p.m.

Michigan State enters the game with a record of 6-4-2 coming off a 1-1 tie with in-state rival Michigan last Saturday. While many Irish opponents use their non-conference games as a reprieve from the rigors of the Big East, Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark sees it differently.

“We’re allowed 18 regular season games, so you try to find the best competition that you can,” Clark said. “Michigan State is perennially very strong, and this will be another quality game for us.”

Clark also pointed out that regional games, such as Wednesday’s contest against Michigan State or the Sept. 4 game against Michigan, are strongly taken into consideration for the NCAA tournament.

The Spartans enter their contest with Notre Dame on a four-game winless streak, but haven’t played as poorly as their record indicates. Michigan State led the Wolverines 1-0 Saturday before it gave up the tying goal, and one of the Spartans recent losses was in double overtime to No. 14 Indiana.

These facts have not been lost on Clark.

“I know they were unlucky against Indiana, and they’ll be disappointed to have lost the lead to Michigan,” Clark said. “They’re a good team.”

Michigan State’s double overtime loss to Indiana also marks the one time in three games that the Spartans have failed to come away victorious against a ranked opponent. Earlier this season, Michigan State defeated No. 3 New Mexico and No. 19 Virginia Commonwealth, both by the score of 1-0.

“[Beating New Mexico and Virginia Commonwealth] shows they’re not intimidated by a team that’s highly perceived,” Clark said.

“I don’t think they’ll be intimidated by us, but I don’t think we’ll be intimidated either.”

If their recent play is any indication, Notre Dame isn’t scared of anyone.

The Irish have won five straight games since their last loss, a 2-1 defeat at Cincinnati Sept. 17. Throughout its winning streak, Notre Dame has averaged three goals a game while only conceding 0.4 goals a game.

Clark, while pleased with the recent success of his team, won’t let the success be a distraction.

“Winning is a habit, and losing is a habit, so I’m very happy we’re in the winning habit,” Clark said. “The secret is not to get caught up in it. When you do that, other things like extra pressure come into play.”

While he respects his opponents, Clark is also mindful of Irish history. Notre Dame has never lost to Michigan State in South Bend, and Clark is confident that his team can maintain that record.

“It will be a good test, but we have to worry about our focus,” Clark said.

“If we keep our focus, I think we’ll be fine.”