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Clark’s Corner: Northwestern Preview

Oct 13, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

Fresh off another close victory, No. 6 Notre Dame will attempt to string together consecutive wins against a familiar foe on Tuesday night as they welcome No. 24 Northwestern to Alumni Stadium.

The Irish and Wildcats have squared off once in each of the past six seasons. Northwestern has won three of these contests, including knocking the Irish out of both the 2008 and 2009 NCAA tournament. The other three matches have ended in ties.

Bucking this winless trend won’t be easy for Notre Dame. Northwestern (6-1-4) is riding a six game unbeaten streak that includes a triumph over last year’s national runner-up, Maryland. The Wildcats’ defense has been instrumental to the team’s success, as Northwestern has already posted seven shutouts. Senior goalkeeper Tyler Miller, a four year starter and three time All-Big Ten selection, directs a back line that returns three of its four starters from 2013.

“[Miller] is an excellent goalkeeper, certainly one of the best in college soccer,” Clark said. “They’ve got a pretty experienced defense that is very hard to break down.”

Northwestern isn’t too shabby up top, either; junior Joey Calistri, who led the Big Ten in points and goals last year, spearheads an offensive attack that contains a variety of weapons.

“They’ve got dangerous guys up front,” Clark said. “[Calistri] is strong, broad, and holds his space well. He finds space easily and has a good shot. They’re dangerous, no question.”

The Wildcats are daunting at first glance, sure, but it’s nothing the Irish haven’t seen before.

“All of our games are tough,” Clark said. “The reason we play Northwestern is because they’re one of the best teams in this region. They’re an NCAA tournament team every year, and they usually advance into the later rounds. We want to play the best every week.”

It was around this time last year that the Irish began to turn frustrating ties into confidence-building victories, and in doing so sparked a dominant run that concluded with a national title. Clark sees huge potential in this year’s group, and is aiming to direct them along a similar path.

”We’re one less win at this stage than we were last year,” Clark said. “We’ve not been that much different, believe it or not. But we really put in a run from this point on [last year].”

“A lot of teams are still fighting for their identity. This is the month where you’ve got to start establishing your identity, and that’s our challenge.”

The Irish have certainly had an up and down season thus far, complete with a win on the road over No. 4 Syracuse, a home loss to unranked Kentucky, and everything in between. Notre Dame’s most recent stumbling block has been its defense, which has surrendered five goals in the past two games.

“It’s the most goals we’ve lost in two games maybe ever,” Clark said with a laugh. “I don’t know, that’s a lot of goals. It’s hard to point fingers, it’s just the way things sometimes fall.”

“I always say, every group has a finite number of goals they’ll score and a finite number they’ll lose. So hopefully we’ve lost our quota for a little while anyways. It would be nice if we could get back on the shutout patrol. But it shouldn’t be a lasting problem, and hopefully we’ll sort it out tomorrow.”

Notre Dame and Northwestern are slated to kick off at 7:00 P.M. The game will be streamed live on WatchND.

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