Sept. 16, 2013
Tuesday, Sept. 17 7:30 p.m. (ET)
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The top-ranked University of Notre Dame men's soccer team will begin the Big Ten Conference portion of its schedule Tuesday evening when the Fighting Irish play host to Michigan at 7:30 p.m. (ET) at Alumni Stadium.
No, the conference realignment circus hasn't shifted the Fighting Irish into yet another league, but the men's soccer schedule definitely has some Big Ten flavor. The Irish have four of the conference's teams on their 2013 slate and playing those region rivals adds even more strength to an already difficult schedule. Notre Dame also will tussle with Indiana (Oct. 2) and Northwestern (Oct. 15) at home before traveling to Michigan State (Nov. 5).
"Every year we call the games against the Big Ten our `mini conference' games," Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said. "This year we start with Michigan. These always are really good games and I would imagine this year would be no different."
Notre Dame is 50-48-16 all-time against current Big Ten teams, including a 3-1 mark during the 2012 regular season. Those results were a big reason why the Irish boasted the nation's top RPI last season and earned the overall No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championship, where they faced Big Ten rivals Michigan State (W, 3-0) in the second round and Indiana (L, 2-1 2ot) in the round of 16.
Putting top teams from one of the best men's soccer conferences in the country on the schedule not only improves its strength but also keeps the players focused when stepping away from the rigors of Atlantic Coast Conference play.
"There's no letdown in our schedule and this keeps everybody really sharp," Clark said. "I saw in the BennettRankings that we had the No. 1 strength of schedule. That'll certainly keep us sharp. When you're playing 17 regular-season games it's important that every one is important."
The Fighting Irish improved to 2-0-2 on the season with a 3-0 ACC victory at Syracuse on Friday. It was the second clean sheet of the year for senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall and the Fighting Irish defense, who have allowed just two goals this season.
Offensively, Notre Dame used three different goal scorers -- Evan Panken (So./M), Andrew O'Malley (Sr./D) and Patrick Hodan (So./M) -- in the win and the team will look to continue that momentum into Tuesday night's tilt.
"There were a lot of things we did well at Syracuse," Clark said. "We just have to relax and put the ball in the net confidently. I felt we made a lot of good opportunities that we didn't really capitalize on, but that'll come with confidence. The team is growing and I'm hoping on Tuesday we'll start to hit on some of these chances we're creating. But, the most important thing is creating chances and we're doing that."
Michigan fell to 1-1-2 after suffering a 1-0 setback to Marquette on Friday. The Wolverines opened the season with a 5-2 win over Loyola-Chicago and then had consecutive 1-1 draws against Bowling Green and South Florida. Junior midfielder TJ VanSlooten leads the Wolverines with three goals, while Senior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis has every decision and carries a 1.16 goals-against average with a .714 save percentage.
Don't let Notre Dame's all-time record of 9-1-2 against Michigan fool you. The showdowns between the Fighting Irish and Wolverines tend to go down to the 90th minute or beyond. Each of the last three contests has gone to overtime and the Irish have netted a golden goal in the last two clashes.
Last season in Ann Arbor, Ryan Finley snapped a scoreless match in the 104th minute to up Notre Dame's season-opening win streak to seven. The year before Adam Mena had two goals, including the overtime winner, in Notre Dame's 2-1 victory at Alumni Stadium. The win improved Notre Dame's all-time home record versus Michigan to 7-0-1 and the Irish will put that unbeaten streak on the line Tuesday night.
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director