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Men’s Soccer: Irish look for more success at home

Matt Gamber | Friday, October 10, 2008

After snapping their first losing streak in seven years with a 3-0 win over Michigan State Wednesday, the No. 14 Irish turn their attention to hosting an overachieving Pittsburgh team Saturday at 7 p.m.

Notre Dame (7-3-1, 3-1-1 Big East) will host the Panthers (6-4-2, 2-3-1 Big East), who are in fifth-place in the eight-team Big East Blue division, which the Irish lead with 10 points. A win would bring the Panthers, who now have seven points, into a first-place tie with the Irish.

Pittsburgh has a winning record going into their matchup with the Irish for the first time in recent memory, Irish coach Bobby Clark said.

“This is the best year they’ve had for quite a lot of years, without question,” Clark said. “They’ll be feeling very confident, and we’ve got to handle that. But we’ve got to worry about our own game, about how we play.”

The Panthers are riding high after forcing a 1-1 tie at West Virginia Wednesday. At 2-1-3 in Big East play, the Mountaineers are in second in the Blue division with nine points.

The Irish have been dominant at home, going 6-0-1 and outscoring opponents 17-2 in those games. Wednesday’s win was crucial, as Notre Dame dropped two straight road games before returning home to thrash the Spartans.

“I never felt we struggled even in the games we lost,” Clark said. “It’s not our divine right to win games, but that’s what we try to do, and that’s a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t happy with losing two games, but you just take each game as it comes.”

Senior forward Bright Dike has been a force for the Irish lately. Notre Dame’s leader with eight goals, he has now scored in five straight games.

Dike’s emergence as a go-to scorer has answered the biggest question mark Notre Dame had coming into the year after losing All-American Joe Lapira.

“That’s his job; he’s the furthest-up striker,” Clark said. “Having said that, he’s done very well. There’s still more to come with him, and that’s the exciting thing. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, and we’re excited about the possibilities.”

Though this will be Notre Dame’s first Big East game since Sept. 26, Clark said there won’t be any rust thanks to the high-intensity of even the Irish’s non-conference schedule.

“Every game is a big game for us, and that’s the great thing about having schedule we play,” Clark said. “There are no games that don’t count. Every game is going to be important for us getting into the NCAA Tournament.”