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Men’s Soccer

Klonsinski: Irish offense given the spark it needed to fire up season

| Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Two weeks ago, in this very same column, I discussed that despite losing last season’s top goal scorer Harrison Shipp to graduation, Notre Dame was still in an extremely desirable position. All of the other players who scored for the Irish (3-1-1, 1-0 ACC) last year are back this year, as well as a large chunk of the remaining starters.

“No, ladies and gentlemen,” I proclaimed, “the Irish are going to be quite alright.”

Two weeks later, the Irish already have two non-wins on their record and have fallen from the preseason No. 1 to a “lowly” No. 5. They were upset at home by an unranked Kentucky team during their own tournament. At times, goals have seemed to be impossible to come by.

But yes, ladies and gentlemen, they are still going to be quite all right.

Irish sophomore defender Brandon Aubrey sends a pass in a 1-0 loss to Kentucky on Sept. 8. Aubrey has started all five matches for Notre Dame this season and has tallied one goal and three shots.  Emmet Farnan| The Observer

Irish sophomore defender Brandon Aubrey sends a pass in a 1-0 loss to Kentucky on Sept. 8. Aubrey has started all five matches for Notre Dame this season and has tallied one goal and three shots.

In the loss to Kentucky, Notre Dame controlled almost the entirety of the game. For most of the second half, the Wildcats had 10 players, sometimes even all 11, inside their own penalty box, desperately trying to cause as much traffic as possible to stymie a relentless Irish attack. Twenty-five seconds from overtime, the Irish had their hearts broken on what seemed like a harmless clearing attempt and Kentucky’s only shot of the second half.

Go back another week and you see Notre Dame’s draw with then-No. 9 Georgetown at the IU Credit Union Classic on Aug. 31. At first glance, one might think a 0-0 tie between the No. 1 and No. 9 teams in the country would mean a fairly even match.

Quite the contrary, actually.

Notre Dame outshot its opponent 23-9, including an 8-3 advantage in shots on goal, appearing to have the upper hand for the majority of the 110 minutes. Again, like the Kentucky game, the Irish just could not find the back of the net.

“Soccer is a strange game,” Clark said last week. “I’m still trying to seek answers for this, and I’ve been doing it for long time.”

Notre Dame’s goal production has been streaky so far: In their final exhibition match of the year, the starters scored four goals in their 60 minutes of action; the team tallied five altogether in the match. The offense then buried two, zero, four and zero goals in the first four matches of the regular season.

Last weekend, the Irish opened their ACC schedule with a tough road match at No. 20 Syracuse, a team that had not given up a goal in its first four matches of the season. It did not take much to see how important this matchup was for Notre Dame, especially with its offensive streakiness.

It took nearly 75 minutes, but Notre Dame finally got the breakthrough its season may have needed.

Sophomore defender Brandon Aubrey rose up and headed in a cross from junior forward Patrick Hodan for his first career collegiate goal, and the Irish withstood an Orange blitz for the final 15 minutes of the game to escape, 1-0. It was the first match all season during which Notre Dame was outshot, 13-12, yet held another commanding 8-3 advantage in shots on goal.

Aubrey’s goal was not just important in the Syracuse match: I believe it could be the one that opens the floodgates for the whole team. In the draw and loss earlier this year, the Irish swarmed, buzzing around all around the net, but could not buy a goal. Especially coming off the Kentucky loss, there must have been a nagging frustration about dropping a game they should have won. At what point does not being able to score in big moments begin creating doubts in the back of the mind, especially with the ACC season beginning and a number of the top teams in the country looming?

Aubrey’s goal cleared most of that up for me and gave me more confidence in the depth of scoring talent the Irish have on the roster this year. Six goals have been scored by five different players so far, and that does not even include graduate student captain Andrew O’Malley or his fellow defender senior Max Lachowecki, both of whom recorded three goals for the Irish last year. Neither does it include Hodan, whose 11 goals last year was second on the team, nor a goal from either of the two talented freshmen forwards who have seen plenty of playing time already, Jeffrey Farina and Jon Gallagher. It is only a matter of time before the Irish consistently score two or three goals a game with all the talent they have, and the Aubrey goal last weekend may just have been the breakthrough they needed.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Irish are still going to be quite alright.

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

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About Zach Klonsinski

A senior History major, Zach resides in Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he has covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus.

Contact Zach