Irish ready for Xavier, look to extend shutout streak
Zach Klonsinski | Tuesday, September 15, 2015
No. 2 Notre Dame has yet to concede a goal in the regular season as it takes to the Alumni Stadium pitch Tuesday night against Xavier.
The Irish (4-0-1, 1-0-0 ACC) will be playing just three days after downing No. 9 Clemson, 1-0, on Saturday night in their ACC opener. Notre Dame capitalized on a set piece early in the first half against the Tigers as junior defender Matt Habrowski headed in a corner from senior midfielder Evan Panken.
That would be all junior goalkeeper Chris Hubbard and the Irish defense needed, as they prevented one of top offenses in the country from even registering a shot on goal the entire game.
With the clean sheet, the Irish have now played all of the almost 490 minutes this regular season without allowing a goal.
“It’s team defending,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said of what has gotten his team out to its strong defensive start. “Obviously, Chris Hubbard is a part of that team, the defense is part of that team, but you start defending with your two forwards. It’s all about the mentality and the positioning.”
Clark is no stranger to shutout streaks himself. As a goalkeeper for Scottish first-division club Aberdeen, Clark set the then-world and British top-flight record for the longest consecutive shutout streak at 1,155 minutes in the 1970-71 season. His world record was broken later that year, but his record for a top-flight British league stood until 2009 when Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar finally snapped it.
Clark said while the streak is a nice start to the season, the key is always how his team responds when they do eventually concede a goal.
“I don’t think we’re going to go through the season without losing a goal. That would be a very special year so I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Clark said. “I always say it’s important we score one more goal than our opponent. That’s the true test for the team.
“If you do lose a goal, how do you respond? The game’s going to go on.”
Even when the Irish score, Clark said he really pushes his team to continue to dig after play resumes.
“Last Saturday [against Clemson] we scored the goal and then we had a really dominant period for the next 15 minutes,” Clark said.
Xavier (3-2-0, 0-0-0 Big East) began the season ranked 10th nationally but dropped back-to-back matches to Lipscomb and Virginia Tech at the beginning of September and plummeted out of the top 25. Clark said the Musketeers are still a very good team, though, and they will come out Tuesday night desperate for a win.
“They won’t be intimidated,” Clark said. “It’ll be a good test for our guys. This game will need patience. … There’s no frustration because there are going to be periods in this game when they’re going to have the ball and we’ll have to defend well.
“Another thing they’ve done really well in the past has been their transition game. They can be in their half, you can think you’re doing well, but then they win the ball and they really transition really quickly.”
Clark also said Xavier has found consistent success in recent years, even doing damage in the postseason.
“They get very good results against good teams,” Clark said. “They’ve made the tournament I don’t know how many years now in a row; they always make it. Last year they knocked out [fifth-seeded] Indiana at Indiana. …
“Our guys are aware this will be a tough game.”
Clark said his philosophy during the regular season has always been to play one of the toughest schedules in college soccer.
“I don’t know what you get out of soft games,” Clark said. “They can mislead you. … Two things can happen: they can often kid you a little bit, and they can trip you up if you’re not ready for it.
“If you’re going to go out for 90 minutes, you’re going to go out playing hard and playing well.”
Notre Dame’s schedule this fall is no exception. The Irish have already played No. 4 Maryland, No. 10 Indiana and No. 28 South Florida, and they still have yet to play the Musketeers (ranked No. 34) and No. 29 Michigan State. That doesn’t even include playing in a conference currently featuring three of the top-5 teams in the country, six ranked teams overall and another three teams just outside the top 25 that received votes.
Notre Dame looks to continue its shutout streak and winning ways Tuesday night against the Musketeers. The game is scheduled to kick off inside Alumni Stadium at 7 p.m.