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Thursday, April 18, 2024
The Observer

Men's Soccer: Irish look to clinch playoff spot

As the conclusion of the regular season nears, No. 15 Notre Dame's position seems to be simultaneously perilous and promising.

With only one spot unclaimed in the Blue Division, the Irish have not yet clinched a berth in the Big East championships, but have the opportunity to climb up the rankings when they travel to Providence Wednesday.

Notre Dame (7-3-4, 3-2-1 Big East) currently occupies the sixth and final postseason position in the division, but seventh-place Pittsburgh still threatens. A win over Providence (9-5-1, 4-2-1) would guarantee the Irish a ticket to the conference championships and help them pull even with the rest of the pack.

"I think we are in the position where our fate is in our hands," senior captain Aaron Maund said.

"At the beginning of the season, if you had said that going into the last week of Big East play, your fate is in your hands, a lot of teams would be pretty satisfied with that."

While most of the teams in the postseason race have only two games left on their schedules, the Irish have three games remaining, providing them with an extra opportunity to accumulate points and improve their seeding. Although they are paying attention to the conference standings, the Irish remain focused on their upcoming game.

"We have an eye on [the standings], of course," Maund said. "But we still try to focus on ourselves because that is the only thing that we have control over. We try to affect the things that we can control … and worry about that stuff more than about the standings and what other teams are doing, because all that will work itself out."

The Irish head into their game against Providence riding a two-game winning streak in which they netted six total goals, the same number scored in their previous seven games combined. The two-game winning streak comes on the heels of a four-game winless streak where the Irish struggled to score goals despite feeling as though they had outplayed their opponent.

"I don't think it's any one thing [that marks the difference between the streaks,]" Maund said. "We were playing well, and as long as you keep playing well, goals are going to come. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't, but if you keep playing well eventually you are going to get lucky. [We've been] staying true to our style of play, staying true to just believing in our system and in the players that we have, and the coaching staff."

The Friars carry a winning streak of their own into the contest, earning victories in their last three games. Providence is led by junior midfielder Mark Cintron, the most recent Big East Offensive Player of the Week, who recorded two goals and one assist last week for the Friars.

The Irish captured last year's contest between the two teams, 2-1, and hold a decisive 13-2-1 lead in the series record, but the Friars could prove to be a tough test for Notre Dame this year, Irish coach Bobby Clark said.

"Providence is definitely a very good team, and they are having a very good year this year," he said. "It's a small, bumpy field [at Providence], so that's something that we will have to deal with. We are used to playing on our field, which is big, full size and nice and flat. They're field is not nearly as conducive to playing good soccer, so we'll have to adapt to the layout. It'll be a good test."

For the Irish, the game is a valuable opportunity to fortify their standing in the Big East Blue Division, but also a chance to preserve momentum as they move into the postseason, Maund said.

"This whole season has been a work in progress, and we are still progressing and still getting better," he said. "I think the team realizes that we just want to peak at the right time. So hopefully that right time is the national championship title."

With postseason and conference implications very much on the line, Notre Dame will take the field today at 3 p.m. at Providence's Glay Field in its final road game of the season.

Contact Joseph Monardo at