Joe Meixell | Thursday, November 3, 2005
Freshman Matt Besler’s first career goal certainly was a big one.
After Notre Dame and Syracuse battled through regulation and two, 10-minute scoreless overtime periods, the teams settled their first round Big East Tournament matchup on penalty kicks.
With Notre Dame leading the shootout 3-2, head coach Bobby Clark called upon the young Besler to take Notre Dame’s fifth and final shot. The freshman came through, beating Syracuse goalkeeper Robert Cavicchia and pushing the Irish into the second round of the tournament.
“I really wasn’t thinking about winning the game for our team,” Besler said. “I was just thinking about making the shot.
“It’s definitely exciting. I probably couldn’t have asked for a better first goal of my college career.”
Clark had striker Justin McGeeney take the first penalty shot. Cavicchia guessed wrong, and McGeeney sent a goal into the left corner for a 1-0 Irish advantage.
Syracuse freshman Pete Rowley then beat goaltender Chris Cahill to even the score, but midfielder Ian Etherington immediately answered with a blast into the top right corner of the net, giving the Irish a 2-1 lead.
Syracuse failed to convert on its next two shots, as sophomore Brad Peetoom hit the right post and Mike McCallion missed high. Kurt Martin, Notre Dame’s third shooter, gave the Irish a commanding 3-1 lead when he beat Cavicchia to the right.
Lapira had a chance to end the match for the Irish, but Cavicchia made a terrific save diving to his right. Collings then sent one past Cahill to keep Syracuse alive before Besler’s final goal ousted the Orange from the tournament.
The Irish entered the penalty kicks confident thanks to Cahill’s strong play on the season.
“I’m going to tell you why we are confident – because of Chris Cahill,” Rellas said. “Having Cahill in goalie, I think we have an advantage over any team [in a shoot out]. He’s a good goalkeeper. He’s very long.”
Notre Dame started the game off slow.
Syracuse pressured hard from the opening whistle and controlled much of the action early in the first half, outshooting the Irish 11-8 in the period.
Clark made a key adjustment early in the second half. The coach inserted often injured senior captain Dale Rellas in at centerback and moved junior captain Greg Dalby up to center midfield. The switch allowed Dalby to help coordinate the Irish offensive attack and solved key defensive problem from the first half.
“We weren’t handling the high balls,” Clark said. “The balls were coming into the box and nobody was getting a hold of them really. Dale is very good in the air.”
Rellas, who had not seen action since suffering a high ankle sprain in a game at Providence on Oct. 19, proved up to the task, cutting off the Orange’s aerial attack in the second half. The senior, who practiced Tuesday for the first time since his injury, was thrilled to be back in action.
“I got off the injured reserve a little bit early, but I was so happy to actually help the team on the field,” Rellas said. “I haven’t been able to do it in awhile.”
Notre Dame quickly seized control of the game. The Irish outshot Syracuse 22-6 in the second half and two overtime periods.
“The second half and the overtime it was just total dominance,” Clark said. “We just absolutely killed them.”
The Irish had numerous scoring opportunities that they failed to capitalize on, however. Sophomore forward Joe Lapira consistently got behind the Syracuse defense and logged 11 shots, but could not seem to find the back of the net.
“We had our chances,” Rellas said. “We just couldn’t put it away.”
Syracuse had some scoring opportunities of its own, but the Irish defense held strong. The Orange’s best chance came with just 2:25 remaining in the second half. Sophomore forward Isaac Collings collected the ball and fired a rocket from the far left wing. 6-foot-6 Irish keeper Chris Cahill jumped and tipped the ball just enough to cause it to ricochet off of the crossbar. Cahill recorded five total saves on the night for his seventh shutout of the year.
The win certainly helps Notre Dame’s chances of receiving an at large bid to the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately for the Irish, though, a shoot out victory is officially counted as a tie, meaning Notre Dame still only has 10 victories on the year in the eyes of the selection committee. The Irish may need another victory in Sunday’s second round match at St. John’s to guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“If we could get that, I think we’d almost be a lock for the NCAA’s,” Clark said. “We’ve still got a good chance as it stands, but that would make us a lock.”
But St. John’s, one of the top programs in college soccer, rarely loses at home. The Irish have never won in New York in Clark’s five year tenure. The coach is hoping that streak will come to an end Sunday, though.
“We’re still alive and kicking and there is a bit of soccer left in this team yet,” Clark said.