Nov. 1, 2013
#2 NOTRE DAME (8-1-5, 5-1-3)
Saturday, Nov. 2 7 p.m. (ET)
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame men's soccer head coach Bobby Clark feels a benchmark for a successful campaign is playing meaningful games late in the regular season. Nearly all of his Fighting Irish squads have endured crucial November battles but none may have been bigger than what awaits the Irish Saturday at Wake Forest.
The second-ranked Fighting Irish (8-1-5, 5-1-3) head to Winston-Salem, N.C. determined to wrestle first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference away from the No. 12 Demon Deacons (8-3-5, 5-0-4). Wake Forest currently is one point ahead of Notre Dame and Maryland in the ACC standings. All three teams have two league matches left to play.
"There are no `ifs' and `buts' this weekend if we want to win the ACC; we need to go down there and win," says Clark. "I think everybody realizes the enormity of the task, but I think the team realizes that it's within our capabilities. It'll possibly be our biggest challenge of the season, but I think we're very excited. That's one of the fun things about playing in the ACC, and it was the same last year in the BIG EAST, you just love when you're coming to the end of the season and every game is really meaningful."
The Irish look to rebound from their first loss of the season, a 2-0 setback to Virginia on Saturday. While defeats are bitter pills to swallow, the key is to learn from them in order to improve going forward. The Fighting Irish haven't suffered many setbacks over the past few seasons, but when they have they have responded well by going 8-1-3 following a defeat since the start of the 2010 campaign.
"You have to give Virginia credit, they came into our house and they took us out of our game so full marks to them," says Clark. "We must lay some of the blame on ourselves. We've had a good week of practice and we've confronted the facts of that game. I think the guys have enjoyed this week. Sometimes you need a game like that to bring you back to reality so you can reexamine some things. We've gone back to the basics over this week and I think we've reestablished who we are a little bit. I hope that in the long run this will have been a step backwards, but hopefully two, three or even four steps forward."
The week of preparation will be put to the test Saturday evening in the hostile environment of Spry Stadium. Notre Dame's last visit to Wake Forest resulted in a heart-breaking 1-0 overtime loss in the quarterfinals of the 2007 NCAA Championship. The Demon Deacons would go on to win the national title that season.
The Irish are 0-4-1 all-time versus the Demon Deacons and that includes a 0-2 mark in Winston-Salem. The last meeting was a 1-1 draw at the 2009 IU Classic. In fact, the last three encounters have gone to overtime with Wake Forest netting the golden goal in two of those matches, including the '07 NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame will look to reverse its history against Wake Forest to stay in the thick of the ACC race. While a win will vault the Irish into first place, a tie also keeps them in the conversation. Everything will be settled in the next week as each team wraps up its regular-season slate. The Fighting Irish have only played two matches in the last two weeks, but they are now entering a stretch of three matches in a seven-day span. The squad will travel to No. 22 Michigan State Tuesday for a key Great Lakes Region match before playing host to ACC foe Pittsburgh on Friday.
The upcoming schedule is hectic and challenging, but each game has significance and Clark would want it no other way.
-- Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director