Dec. 5, 2013
#11 MICHIGAN STATE (14-5-3)
#3 NOTRE DAME (14-1-6)
NCAA Championship Quarterfinals
Saturday, Dec. 7 – 7 p.m. (ET)
Alumni Stadium – Notre Dame, Ind.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In a season full of firsts, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team could achieve another significant program milestone Saturday night … a berth in the College Cup.
To get there, the third-ranked Fighting Irish (14-1-6) will have to take down No. 11 Michigan State (14-5-3) in the NCAA Championship quarterfinal clash, which is set for 7 p.m. (ET) at Alumni Stadium. This is Notre Dame’s third appearance in the quarterfinal round, but it’s the first time the program has hosted such a match.
“I would just love to fill Alumni Stadium and we should fill Alumni Stadium,” says Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark. “We should be rocking. Maybe the hard thing with being at Notre Dame is that we get used to big events and big games; but in men’s soccer, this is possibly the biggest game ever in Notre Dame’s history here in South Bend. It’s the first time we’ve hosted a quarterfinal and we’ve never been to the final four. I would love to get the students out. Our guys respond tremendously well when they get student support.”
The Fighting Irish and Spartans will be meeting for the second time this season. Notre Dame won in East Lansing, 2-0, on Nov. 5 thanks to goals from Harrison Shipp (60′) and Vince Cicciarelli (61′) just 37 seconds. It was Notre Dame’s fourth win over the Spartans in the last three seasons. One of those victories was a 3-0 decision in the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament. Even with the recent success against the Spartans, the Irish know this time around will not be easy.
“I expect a very determined Michigan State team,” says Clark. “They won’t be scared going anywhere. They’ve gone to Indiana and won, they’ve gone to Northwestern and won, they won at Marquette and they won at Georgetown. They also went on the road and tied Creighton and Akron. The one thing that is very clear is that this is a battle-tested team. It’s a tough team and, for me, it’s the toughest game of our postseason so far.”
Since Clark’s arrival at Notre Dame in 2001, the program has won nearly 68-percent of its games, earned a berth in the NCAA tournament 12 of his 13 seasons and have captured six conference championships, including a share of this season’s ACC regular-season title. The one thing that has eluded the Irish has been a College Cup trip, but they’ve been oh so close.
The program’s first quarterfinal appearance occurred in 2006 and the Fighting Irish traveled to Virginia and battled the Cavaliers, yet came up short by a 3-2 margin. The ’07 quarterfinal defeat was particularly hard to swallow as the Irish fell, 1-0, on a golden goal at Wake Forest, the eventual national champion.
The Irish will have another crack at it on Saturday. Those past quarterfinal matches have no bearing on this year’s squad, which already is one of the most successful in program history. Along with the ACC crown, this Irish team took the program to the top of the national polls for the first time ever and they still have just one loss.
Since that lone setback to Virginia (2-0) on Oct. 26, Notre Dame has gone 6-0-1 and has outscored its competition 19-6. Eight of those goals have come in the first two games of the NCAA tournament. The Fighting Irish opened the NCAAs with a 4-0 win over Wisconsin and then defeated Wake Forest, 4-2, in last Sunday’s round-of-16 showdown. Notre Dame is the first team since Wake Forest in 2008 to net at least four goals in consecutive NCAA tournament matches.
Shipp, the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, has tallied three of those goals and will bring a career-best seven-game point streak into Saturday’s match. Shipp isn’t the only Irish player currently streaking as sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan has scored a goal in each of the last four matches.
The red-hot Fighting Irish offense will be going up against a Spartan defense that is allowing just 0.68 goals per game this season. Since the loss to the Irish in early November, Michigan State has gone 5-1-0 with five shutouts.
“There are no easy games at this stage of the tournament,” says Clark. “The eight teams in the quarterfinals all see their opportunity for glory. We have to come out and play our game. We’ve talked about not concerning ourselves much about the final result and we’ve talked more about how well we can play. Our team is capable of playing very, very well. If we do that, then we’ll be in good shape.”
To purchase tickets for Saturday’s match, visit UND.com/tickets or call the Notre Dame ticket office at 574-631-7356. Tickets will also be available at the Alumni Stadium ticket window on Sunday. Prices are $7 for adults, $3 for youth (21 & younger)/senior citizens (55 and older) and $1 for children between the ages of three and five. All Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s/Holy Cross students will get in free with a valid student ID and all Notre Dame faculty/staff will get in free with a valid University ID.
— Sean Carroll, Assistant Athletic Media Relations Director