Sir Alex Ferguson famously led Manchester United to “The Treble” of Premier League, F.A. Cup and UEFA Champions League in 1999. Last Saturday, one of Ferguson’s former players took the first step toward a treble of his own in the United States college soccer landscape.
Bobby Clark was a veteran goalkeeper at Aberdeen when The Dons smashed the Old Firm duopoly to clinch the Scottish Premier Division title in 1980. Clark’s Notre Dame side secured its second consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title Saturday with a 4-1 win at the University of Pittsburgh.
That victory gave the Fighting Irish the No. 1 seed for the upcoming ACC Championship, an elimination tournament for the division’s top 10 teams, and a home quarter-final this Sunday against the winner of Wednesday’s first round tussle between Virginia and Virginia Tech.
TSO spoke to Clark, the reigning National Soccer Coaches Association of America Coach of the Year, after Saturday’s game.
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This is Notre Dame’s second year in the ACC, the toughest conference in college soccer, and you’ve won two league titles. You shared the crown with Maryland last year. How does it feel this time to win it outright?
We always talk about winning the treble. The first is the league. The second is the ACC tournament. And then of course the third is to try to win the NCAA national championship. That’s the first installment complete. None of them are easy. The ACC is a tough league to win. We’ve got a lot of work to do yet, but this is a great way to finish the regular season.
You faced all 11 ACC opponents last year. This year’s schedule was changed so that teams only played eight league games. How does that affect the competition?
I’m old fashioned. Where I was brought up, the league was the real gold seal. Being the league champion is the most important thing, whereas here they put more emphasis on tournaments. I think the real hallmark of a champion is the team that plays everyone and comes out with the most points. There are three teams that we haven’t played, so it doesn’t quite have that true ring to it. Anyway, I’ll still take it. I’m still very happy to win the league as it is.
Notre Dame lost just once in 24 games last year and ended the season with the school’s first national championship for men’s soccer. You’ve lost four already this year to end the regular season with a 10-4-3 record. How is the team’s form looking as we approach the knockout tournaments?
Two of the games we lost were ones that we dominated most. We outshot Boston College 19-3 and lost 1-0. We outshot Kentucky 10-1 in the second half and they scored their one chance with 25 seconds left. Those were two games where we actually played very well. We lost at Michigan. That’s a hard place to go and win in a midweek game, and especially for us as Michigan vs. Notre Dame is a big rivalry. And Indiana away is another big rivalry and a hard game.
Soccer being the game that it is, you’re always going to lose some games that maybe you shouldn’t have lost and win some that maybe you shouldn’t have won. But I always say you want to get 10 wins out of the regular season. We’ve done that. October is a very hectic month with two games a week. That takes a big toll on the players’ legs. Now they’ve got a week of training and some time to get back to their studies before a tough ACC quarter-final.
What are your thoughts on the proposed changes to move the college game to a full-year schedule as opposed to the current congested fall season?
I see the advantages. It gives you time between games. I like that. The hard part will be that every game becomes really competitive and you’re scared to put substitutes in until the result is completely secure. It will be hard for the fringe players to develop. It would be great if you had a reserve team as well as the first team because then you could also develop the other players and keep them going, but then that’s going to cost money.
What I like about the spring just now is that we play about nine or 10 games by doubling up the ones we have. We always play Mexico U-20s and we’ll play another foreign team. I love these games because everyone plays. It’s the real teaching time. We’re training six days a week and that’s when we prepare for the next season.
Right now we’re playing two games a week and it’s all about regenerating, doing light sessions. We played 110 minutes on Wednesday night with two overtime periods against Michigan State. We had ice baths on Thursday. We had an hour here in Pittsburgh on Friday doing some light stretching and ball work, a little bit of tactics and then we’re playing again. You don’t do a lot of training. It’s hard.
I like that teaching time in spring, but I do see the advantages of the year-round schedule. It would give you a week between games to prepare properly and it would help with missed classes as well. Players shouldn’t be taking as much time away from school.
Dec. 15, 2013 — Clark And Cirovski’s Journey From Pittodrie To PPL Park