Another Road Test Awaits #2 Irish On Tuesday At #22 Michigan State
November 4, 2013HOOSIER SPORTS 365
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -Just over 24 hours after arriving back in South Bend following Saturday's key Atlantic Coast Conference victory over No. 12 Wake Forest, the second-ranked Notre Dame men's soccer team will be back on the bus. But there might be no other place the Irish would rather be.
The Fighting Irish are 5-0-1 this season in true road games and they will look to improve that mark Tuesday at No. 22 Michigan State. The Irish (9-1-5) and Spartans (9-3-3) will renew their rivalry at 3 p.m. (ET) at DeMartin Stadium.
Saturday's 3-1 victory over the Demon Deacons vaulted the Irish into a first-place tie with Maryland in the ACC standings. While the Irish will look to lock up the ACC regular-season title against Pittsburgh on Friday at Alumni Stadium, their non-conference finale against the Spartans will be a tall task and one that cannot be overlooked.
"I think I would be more worried (about the quick turnaround) if we weren't playing a really good team like Michigan State," says Fighting Irish head coach Bobby Clark. "There's no question our team will realize this is a very, very big regional game and that should make it easier to focus."
That keen focus has been what's helped the Irish be road warriors this season. Notre Dame has outscored its competition 12-4 in those six road contests, which all were in ACC play.
"We have a group of players who truly believe we are going to win every game regardless if it's at home or away," says senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall. "We make it a point to go into these places in the ACC where we haven't been before and show them that we are capable of dominating in the top soccer conference in the country."
If anyone should know how difficult it is away from the friendly confines of Alumni Stadium, it's Wall. Visiting goalkeepers tend to get the harshest treatment when entering the home venue of their opponent.
"As a keeper, I love the hostile environments we face on the road," says Wall. "It always amazes me some of the facts the students find out about me and they always try their best to get under my skin. I actually enjoy the environment because the students are so passionate about the game and it makes it that much better when we win.
"In order to succeed on the road I have to be confident because those hostile student sections will try to find any insecurities that I might have. The way I see it is I just have to be able to laugh at myself because the student sections are very clever and will find something to yell about regardless of how good I am at tuning them out. Any noise that boosts the environment is good even if they are hostile towards us because it drives our guys to really push on and win the game."
Ironically, Notre Dame's success on the road will play a role in helping the team gain home-field advantage for good portions of the league and national tournaments. The Irish already have secured a home match for next Tuesday's quarterfinal round of the ACC Championship. And it's not as if the Fighting Irish have been slouches at home. They are 3-1-3 this season at Alumni Stadium and 12-2-3 over the course of the last two seasons.
"Going on the road allows you to focus on what's at hand," says Clark. "Sometimes when you're at home there are a lot of different things going on in your life. But I look at our games at home and although there have been a few ties, we've really played well in those games. It's not like we've played badly. The only game I felt we didn't really dominate was against Virginia (a 2-0 loss). They did a really good job coming in here and getting us."
Notre Dame registered a pair of home victories last season against Michigan State. The Fighting Irish topped the Spartans, 2-0, in the regular season and then took down their Big Ten rival, 3-0, in the second round of the NCAA Championship. Notre Dame holds a 13-5-5 advantage in the all-time series with Michigan State and the Irish have won the last three by a combined score of 6-0.
A win on Tuesday would give Notre Dame back-to-back wins in East Lansing for the first time in program history. The Irish are 3-4-4 all-time at the home of the Spartans and they hope to even that mark with their sixth road victory of the season.