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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

Men's Soccer: ND hosts first round match

The Irish will play host to Green Bay as they suit up for the first round of the NCAA tournament today at Alumni Stadium.

No. 19 Notre Dame (10-7-4) received an at-large bid after finishing the season with a string of wins and ties against strong opponents, good enough to grab a spot after fearing late in the season that it possibly could be left out.

"We are where we thought we would be," Irish coach Bobby Clark said. "If we had won the Big East then maybe we would have gotten a first-round bye, but that's where we are, a home round, and that is good."

The Irish finished the season with some momentum, defeating then-No. 5 Connecticut in the last game of the regular season before tying No. 8 South Florida, No. 9 Louisville and No. 24 St. John's in a run to the Big East tournament finals. All three Big East tournament games came down to a penalty shootout, with the Irish winning the first two before falling to St. John's in the championship match.

The Irish hope that this good competition and gritty play will translate into the NCAA tournament.

"We played a really strong schedule, there is no doubt about that," Clark said. "That will certainly help us."

Green Bay (14-2-3) won the Horizon League Championship by upsetting Butler on penalty kicks 3-2 on Sunday after the match ended in a scoreless tie. The Phoenix have an outstanding attack, according to Clark, and are one of the highest scoring teams in the country.

"They are a very good side," Clark said. "They have only lost two games all season, and that is impressive. They are also one of the leading scoring machines in the country. We will not take them lightly."

Green Bay poses a unique set of challenges for the Irish, not the least of which is their habit of finding a way to win.

"I have always believed that winning and losing are habits," Clark said. "They are going to come out strong because they know how to win."

The Irish hold an all-time 2-1 record against Green Bay, with their last meeting coming in 1994. In that game, the Irish fell 2-1 at home.

"We will have to look at what they do and be aware of some of their good players," Clark said. "But at the end of the day, it is going to come down to what we do to win."

If the Irish were to advance beyond the first round, they would meet ninth-seeded Northwestern (10-4-4) in the second round. The Wildcats are the team that knocked them out of the NCAA tournament last year, an event that still rests in the minds of many of the Irish players.

"There is a lot still lingering about the loss to Northwestern last year," Clark said. "Those memories still linger, and I think that will push the players to get prepared."

The Irish are on top-seeded Akron's side of the bracket, which finished the season a perfect 20-0-0. Though the bracket and list of potential foes seems a formidable one to climb, Clark remains optimistic.

"I believe that the hardest game in our bracket will be tomorrow," Clark said. "If we take care of this game, I believe that all the other games will take care of themselves."

This is it for the Irish, as a single loss eliminates them from NCAA tournament and ends their season. Clark said he believes that the NCAA tournament is what the players and the fans will always remember.

"The one thing that everyone remembers the most is what happens in the NCAA tournament," Clark said.

The Irish hope to make some good memories when they begin their NCAA quest tonight at 7:30 p.m.