Irish pursue revenge in matchup against No. 6 Virginia
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, September 25, 2015
Revenge will be in the air Friday night at Alumni Stadium as one of the ACC’s budding rivalries writes its next chapter.
In just two seasons as members of the same conference, No. 16 Notre Dame and No. 6 Virginia have met five times. So far, the Cavaliers (5-0-2, 1-0-1 ACC) hold the upper hand on the Irish (5-2-1, 1-1-0), posting two wins to Notre Dame’s one while the teams played to a draw in the other two matches.
Irish head coach Bobby Clark downplayed the rivalry Thursday, though he conceded there will be a little extra to defending the home turf.
“They’ve already beaten us twice in the last two years here at Alumni Stadium,” Clark said. “So I don’t think anybody’s going to take this lightly.”
It hasn’t just been how many times the two have played against each other that makes the series one of the best in college soccer, however — it’s also when they’ve played.
In 2013, Virginia took the first matchup between the schools, stunning Notre Dame, 2-0, on the Alumni Stadium pitch. Later that year, the two played to a 3-3 draw in the semifinals of the ACC tournament where the Cavaliers advanced to the ACC finals on penalty kicks.
Those two setbacks proved the only ones of the season for Notre Dame, though, as the Irish went on to win their first-ever national championship.
Last season, the Irish and Cavaliers again played to a scoreless draw in the two teams’ meeting at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia, early in the ACC regular season. Then, for the second consecutive year, the Irish and Cavaliers met up in the conference tournament, this time in the quarterfinals at Alumni Stadium.
Notre Dame blasted the visitors, 3-0, for its first win in the series as ACC foes.
The two teams returned to the Alumni Stadium pitch just sixteen days later, however, in the third-round of the NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame, the top seed overall, dominated the game, but it was the 16th-seeded Cavaliers who came away with the victory with the game’s lone tally in the 82nd minute.
The Cavaliers went on to win the NCAA championship, but return to the scene of their upset victory last season Friday.
“Obviously they’re coming into this year as national champions, so that’s a definite tag on them,” Clark said. “We had that tag all of last year, and there’s no question teams certainly like playing against the national champions.
“I’m sure that won’t have escaped our players.”
After Notre Dame dropped its first two matches of the season last week, the Irish returned to the win column Tuesday in East Lansing, Michigan, where they blitzed host Michigan State with a goal 70 seconds into the game in a 4-0 victory.
“To be fair, I didn’t think we played particularly badly at North Carolina [the game before Michigan State],” Clark said. “We coughed up a couple soft goals. We squandered some good chances.
“I think we came out as a determined group against Michigan State. We were ready for that game. I think the boys were still smarting from the previous game.”
Sophomore forward Jon Gallagher, freshman midfielder Thomas Ueland and graduate student Max Lachowecki all tallied for the Irish (the Spartans also conceded an own goal), matching the team’s highest-scoring offensive effort of the season.
Following losses to Xavier and North Carolina the week before, Clark said his team played about the same against Tar Heels and Spartans but finally finished on the offensive side.
“You obviously gain courage when you score goals; the confidence rises,” Clark said. “The secret is to continue in that vein of form.
“Some days I think it goes wrong for you, and that was kind of what happened at North Carolina, even though we played quite well, and against Michigan State everything went well for us.”
Notre Dame’s offense now faces one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. The Cavaliers have held opponents to one goal or less in six of their seven games and just four goals combined this season.
Clark said the first goal of the game will be very important.
“They are very comfortable sitting on a one-goal lead,” Clark said. “They sit, and they do that very well. I feel they are a comfortable team in that situation.
“We’ve got to be patient.”
One man who could provide the needed boost for the Irish is Patrick Hodan. The senior midfielder enters the game against the Cavaliers scoreless in Notre Dame’s first eight games, but he can pile up goals in a hurry.
It was in the two teams’ regular season meeting last year, Notre Dame’s sixth game, when Hodan finally broke through last year, scoring Notre Dame’s goal in the 1-1 draw on a penalty kick.
Hodan went on to lead the Irish with nine goals, two better than then-graduate student forward Leon Brown, and five more than current senior midfielder Evan Panken.
Clark said he’s confident in Hodan’s ability to heat up as the temperature begins to drop.
“He’s overdue. I know he will, so it’s just a matter of when,” Clark said. “This would be a nice day for him to break out. … He’s a slow starter.”
Hodan and the Irish look for redemption Friday night at Alumni Stadium when they take on the Cavaliers at 7 p.m.