Irish aim to restart momentum in first round of ACC tourney against Duke
R.J. Stempak | Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Notre Dame begins its postseason journey at home, hosting Duke for the first round of the ACC tournament on Wednesday. The Irish (10-5-2, 3-3-2 ACC) are winless in their last five outings, while Duke (7-7-2, 2-5-1 ACC) has won one and lost one since defeating the Irish 2-1 in double overtime on Oct. 21.
Irish head coach Bobby Clark saw his team’s draw against No. 3 North Carolina on Friday as a step in the right direction, but the team needs to improve more if they are going to find success in the postseason, he said.
“[Tying North Carolina] is obviously a step in the right direction because we stopped the succession of losses,” Clark said. “To be honest, the other games were not played badly. It’s funny, we lost four games on the trot there and we played fairly well in all four of them. They are all teams that were reasonably good teams. I would’ve liked to take more out of the game, but there is not anything we can do about it now, so we move on. I never felt the team was going in the wrong direction. The results were, but the team never was.”
In their previous matchup, the Irish fell short in double overtime to the Blue Devils, unable to get past Duke’s graduate student goalkeeper Robert Moewes more than once. Moewes tallied seven saves against Notre Dame. Since then, he has made only five saves in two games. Nevertheless, Clark knows that Duke beat Notre Dame last time, and they are not to be underestimated.
“They are very talented, and they arguably have the most talented squad in our league,” Clark said. “It just shows you how hard it is to win in soccer. Here you have one of the most talented teams and they are .500. Looking at the players, they have pace and technical ability. They are a very good team. I know they beat us last time and that’s all I need to know. They are a very good team.”
Moewes is unlikely to be able to replicate his top-form performance, but the Irish will still need to generate offense like they did earlier in the season. Notre Dame has converted three goals in their past five games, their worst offensive stretch of the season.
“I hope we can find a solution,” Clark said. “We are not doing anything different when we scored four goals against IU and five goals against Cal. Some days, goals fall for you. The first one is the most important, because once you get ahead the other team has to eventually come out after you and that is often when you can get in behind them and build on your opening goal. I think when you come to this time in the season every result matters — every team you play is playing for something. They don’t usually give up many chances. They are usually more cautious.”
Irish junior forward Jon Gallagher, the Irish leader in points and goals, has not found the back of the net since Notre Dame’s 2-0 victory over Michigan on Oct. 11. The second leading point-scorer for the Irish, senior defender Brandon Aubrey, has not scored a goal since the game before that, a 2-2 tie against Wake Forest on Oct. 8.
Instead, Notre Dame has been led by senior midfielder Mark Gormley, who has two of the Irish’s three goals in the past five games. Clark said he’s pleased with Gormley’s contributions, but believes that an elite team should have goals coming from all of its attackers.
“Mark has played well all the way through,” Clark said. “Once a team starts to play well, you want to have a lot of people who have potential to score, and I think we have that. Blake Townes can score goals, Jeffrey Farina can score goals, Mark can score goals and the thing is having as many people as we can have that can score goals.
“We can’t rely on our center back Brandon Aubrey to score all of our goals. All of your midfield players and your attacking players have to look to score. We need to get a lot of players that want to get themselves into position to score. We can’t put the burden on Jon Gallagher, or Mark Gormley for that matter, and certainly not on your center back. We’ve got to have other guys that are going to get into good positions.”
Clark said he is looking forward to the ACC tournament as a competition that can be more difficult to win than the national championship because of the caliber of the teams.
“You are competing for silverware now,” Clark said. “You are looking to win something. I feel that it’s possibly harder to win the ACC than to win a national championship if you look at the teams you have to play. You would have one game less to play, but the caliber of team you are going to meet to get to a final in the ACC is higher. Last year we did very well: we had to go to the No. 1 team in the country and win at Wake Forest. That’s the funny thing, when you look at Virginia a couple years ago when they won the NCAA, they were the seventh or eighth seed in the ACC tournament. Last year, Syracuse won the ACC tournament and they were the eighth seed. The strength of our league is very, very high.”
The Irish will look to take down the Blue Devils at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Alumni Stadium.