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Jacobsen: Men’s soccer putting on a show (Oct. 9)

Vicky Jacobsen | Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Another night, another hard-fought draw for the No. 2 Irish.

The small but vocal crowd at Alumni Stadium witnessed what has become something of a trend for Notre Dame (6-0-4, 3-0-3 ACC). Once again, the Irish proved they could hang with a well-regarded top-10 side, this time playing No. 5 Maryland (5-2-3, 4-0-2) to a 1-1 stalemate. Once again, Notre Dame finished with many more opportunities on offense, taking 23 shots to the Terrapins’ nine. And once again, the Irish were left with the knowledge that the potential winning goal – several of them, in fact – were mere inches away from their target.

But that minor disappointment should be tempered by the fact that Notre Dame remains undefeated 10 games into the season, a feat that has not been accomplished since the 1988 Irish squad started the season 10-0-2. Notre Dame was one of just five Division I teams that entered Tuesday night without a loss. Wins are obviously preferable to ties – both in terms of building confidence and collecting points in the ACC conference standings – but four draws in 10 games is more of a statistically anomaly than a reason for concern. Senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall and his defenders have yet to allow more than one goal in a match, stymying opponents like Maryland’s senior forward Patrick Mullins, who last year took home the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy for the best player in NCAA soccer. Hold opponents like that to just one goal, and even a small amount of offense can take a team a long way.

Even so, it’s not time to declare the Irish NCAA tournament favorites. Frankly, it’s not time to ordain any team a favorite for the title. Soccer is an unpredictable and unforgiving game; a single fluke goal at an inopportune time can send a dominant team packing. Notre Dame knows this better than anyone: the Irish were the top team in the country when then-No. 16 Indiana ended their season in the third round of the 2012 NCAA tournament with a goal in the second overtime period.

But right now, the Irish look awfully good. They don’t blow teams out – their greatest margin of victory so far came in back-to-back 3-0 wins over Syracuse and Michigan in mid-September – but a slate of prominent ACC opponents and high-profile non-conference rivals has ensured that each match is exciting up to the 90th (or 100th or 110th) minute. Senior forward Harrison Shipp, often called “the little wizard,” has lived up to his moniker, outmaneuvering opponents with several inches and several dozen pounds on him, and getting spectacular scoring attempts even on nights like Tuesday, when he doesn’t put the ball in the net. Sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan and senior forward Leon Brown are dangerous off the bench. Junior defender Max Lachowecki has developed a taste for striking, and junior forward Vince Cicciarelli celebrated the first goal of his college career, which he scored against Indiana on Oct. 2, by scoring another Tuesday.

I can’t tell you how far the Irish will go in the NCAA tournament, or whether they’ll move from third place in the ACC conference standings. But this much is for sure: if you’re not watching, you’re missing out.

Contact at Vicky Jacobsen vjacobse@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.