Ziniu Chen | Staff PhotographerMen's Soccer
Syracuse faces Notre Dame on Saturday for chance to advance to Big East tournament semifinals
Ian McIntyre said his players are bouncing off the walls with excitement.
Louis Clark, Ted Cribley and the rest of the Orange have been itching for an opportunity to play in the postseason.
They’ll finally get that chance when Syracuse (12-5, 5-3) plays Notre Dame (13-3-1, 5-2-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at SU Soccer Stadium in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. The game is the first postseason home game in Syracuse men’s soccer history and marks the first conference tournament game for the Orange since 2005. A win would send SU to Red Bull Arena for the semifinals and essentially ensure a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“Big picture: We’re very excited to still be playing,” McIntyre said. “The guys deserve this opportunity based on the work they’ve put in over the last three months. It’s a big night for the program to have an opportunity to host a postseason game.”
The past three months of training and fighting for position in the Big East have come to fruition. Now the Orange can control its own destiny with a win against Notre Dame.
Beating the Fighting Irish is always a challenging task for SU, though. Syracuse is 2-9-2 all time against UND, including a penalty shootout loss in the conference tournament in 2005.
Notre Dame has the No. 1 RPI in the nation and is ranked No. 7 in the NSCAA poll, and is perennially one of the strongest programs in the nation.
The Irish lead the Big East with 40 goals and possess a high-octane offense.
One key component of that explosive offensive attack is Ryan Finley, who leads the conference with 17 goals, 37 points and 76 shots.
Despite the impressive stats on paper, Cribley is confident his defense can keep Finley and the rest of the Irish in check. Syracuse has posted the third most shutouts in the country with 11 and has only allowed 10 goals on the season.
“The stats are obviously impressive,” Cribley said. “We’ve got the players to deal with him. Clearly he’s a top player, so we have to be wary of him, but we’ve got some good players on our team.”
Clark recognizes Notre Dame is a powerhouse program and will provide a challenge for Syracuse, yet the senior forward isn’t fazed.
Clark knew his team would be playing Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette or Notre Dame. He said all four of those teams are in the same echelon and any of the four can beat anyone else on a given night.
Clark considers Syracuse right beside those teams and feels SU has a legitimate shot to knock off Notre Dame.
“Everyone in our locker room sees ourselves in that group,” Clark said. “We see ourselves as good as them. It’s just a game of football.”
For Clark, Saturday can’t come soon enough.
“I just can’t wait,” he said. “We want to get this place rocking. It’s going to be brilliant. We know what to do to beat Notre Dame. We know it’s going be a tough game, but we’re just going to go out there and give it everything we’ve got.”
McIntyre said his team earned a chance to play in such a monumental, season-defining game.
While he said his approach is no different than any other Big East game, there is a sense of excitement around the locker room, as all the players and coaches are ready to rumble and attempt to knock off the Irish.
“These are the games that players want to play and coaches want to coach,” McIntyre said. “As we look to grow and evolve as a program, these are the special nights that we’re looking to have.”
Cribley said Saturday night is easily the biggest game he’s played in at Syracuse, and has a chance to be one of the most pivotal and exhilarating games of his career.
Though Cribley said his team could still hang its head high with a loss against UND, he and his teammates have bigger aspirations.
“It’s been a whirlwind season,” Cribley said. “It hasn’t been easy. We’re not finished yet. We’re hungry.”
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