Irish focus on ACC tournament title
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, November 13, 2014
For the second time in as many years, No. 2 Notre Dame travels to Cary, North Carolina, to play in the ACC tournament semifinal today against No. 14 Clemson. The winner will have a chance to claim the tournament title Sunday afternoon.
The Irish (11-4-3, 6-1-1 ACC) advanced to the semifinal match after a 3-0 shutout of No. 20 Virginia last Sunday at Alumni Stadium. The Irish had shut out their opponents only once in the nine matches prior to the game against the Cavaliers (10-6-2, 3-3-2 ACC). Irish coach Bobby Clark said he was pleased with the team’s defensive play, but emphasized that it would need to continue moving forward.
“It was about time,” Clark said of his defense’s performance. “If we are going to [win], you’ve got to defend well. That was a good shutout against a good team in a good game. … I always say it’s not just about the defense. It’s the whole team defending. … It takes a whole team to defend and it takes a whole team to attack.”
Irish graduate student goalkeeper Patrick Wall tallied eight saves, one shy of his career high, to record the clean sheet, as the Cavaliers finished with the shots on goal advantage, 8-4.
“Pat certainly had a couple of very good saves, but a lot of them [were] stuff that he could handle,” Clark said. “I thought Pat just did a really good job of collecting balls that came in behind him. Just his decision-making was very good.”
Graduate student forward Leon Brown, sophomore defender Brandon Aubrey and newly-christened ACC Offensive Player of the Year junior midfielder Patrick Hodan scored for top-seeded Notre Dame. It was Brown’s third goal in the last two matches after he notched a pair at Pittsburgh in the final game of the regular season. The graduate student only found the net three times all season before his recent outburst.
“Leon was terrific,” Clark said. “His movement on the field and how he’s creating space and finding space for himself, how he’s linking with other players, is the best he’s ever done.”
Brown had been away from the team for a few days before the Virginia game in order to travel to Jamaica and attend his grandmother’s funeral, returning to the team just in time to be ready for the match.
“Maybe his grandmother was upstairs helping us a bit, but he certainly played well,” Clark said. “He’s very important. He’s the most experienced of the four forwards now, and I think he’s showing that. … He’s now showing that he’s a leader out there. He never did that before.”
Notre Dame and Clemson (10-6-2, 5-2-1 ACC) did not play in the regular season. However, Notre Dame defeated the Tigers 2-1 in overtime last year. Clark said Clemson is very experienced and the Irish remember how hard they played last season.
“A lot of their players are returning from last year,” Clark said. “It was one of our hardest, if not the hardest, game we had last year on the road. … It’ll be a hard game again. They’re a good team. There’s not many weak sisters in the ACC, so it’ll be a tough one.
“Hopefully we’ve got two tough games in front of us, because that means we’ll have won the first one. None of our boys will overlook Clemson, because certainly the ones who were there last year have a healthy respect for them.”
The Tigers defeated Wake Forest on Sunday, 3-2 in penalty kicks, to earn a berth in the semifinal match. Clemson is led by two-time captain, all-ACC selection and senior defender Phanuel Kavita on the back end, while sophomore forward Austen Burnikel has a team-high five goals on the season.
While he was happy with how his squad competed against Virginia, Clark said the Irish can still improve against Clemson.
“We always take something out of the last game that we’ve got to get better at,” Clark said. “We’ll look at some video, and there’s some pieces that we didn’t do so well on last week. We take something out of every game that we play. … By the end of the season, if we take a little bit out every week, by the time you finish the year you should be a lot better.”
The other semifinal match features two former Big East rivals in No. 19 Louisville and No. 1 Syracuse. The Irish beat both teams during the regular season.
Both semifinal games are hosted by WakeMed Soccer Park, with Notre Dame and Clemson squaring off at 5:30 p.m. The ACC title game is slated for Sunday at 2 p.m.