Irish prepare for Spartans after winless stretch
Joe Everett | Tuesday, October 24, 2017
For the second year in a row, No. 12 Notre Dame stumbled during fall break action. The Irish (9-4-2, 3-2-2 ACC) fell to Pittsburgh and Akron, but salvaged the stretch by tying Duke at home on Senior Day on Friday.
On Oct. 13th, the Irish hosted unranked Pittsburgh (8-7, 2-5), aiming to extend their undefeated streak to five games. That never materialized, as the Panthers weathered the Irish offensive pressure in the first half — which saw the Irish outshoot their opponent 11-0 in the final 20 minutes — and then proceeded to capitalize on a counterattack in the 52nd minute for the game’s only score. The Irish couldn’t generate a response, and despite controlling the game for large portions, walked away with their second conference loss and first home loss of the season.
Traveling to face then-No. 19 Akron (10-3-1, 2-1-0 Mid-American) last Tuesday, the Irish were undone by a couple of penalty calls — both of which led to both Akron’s goals in the 35th and 88th minutes. The Zips finished the game with a 13-6 edge in shots, and preserved the shutout to hand the Irish their second straight loss, 2-0.
Looking to stop the bleeding, Notre Dame returned to Alumni Stadium to host No. 15 Duke (10-3-2, 3-3-1 ACC) on Senior Day. After an early Duke surge gave the Blue Devils an early 3-1 lead in shots, Notre Dame began to dominate the flow of the game from there on, as the Irish outshot the Blue Devils by a 16-4 margin the rest of the way.
The game quickly turned into a goalkeeper battle, as Notre Dame graduate student goalkeeper Chris Hubbard made three key saves in the first half, while Duke’s freshman goalkeeper Will Pulisic — cousin of USMNT star Christian Pulisic — made threes saves of his own against Notre Dame senior forward Jon Gallagher in the early portion of the second half to keep the game scoreless.
The Irish would have other chances, but failed to capitalize and the game went to overtime. Both defenses continued their stellar play in the extra period, but Notre Dame found its last bona fide chance in the 110th minute, when Gallagher was tackled by Pulisic and awarded a penalty kick. However, the Duke freshman saved Gallagher’s attempt and a follow-up from fellow senior forward Jeff Farina, improbably ending the game in a tie. While Notre Dame couldn’t come away with a win over break, Irish head coach Bobby Clark believes his team continued to grow over the three games.
“They were all good games — I think we learned something from each game,” Clark said. “Both the Pitt game and the Duke game we really dominated [time of possession]. Akron was a different game. Obviously it was on the road, and they’re a very good team, but I thought we played well in the game. It came down to two penalty kicks, and maybe one of those [fouls] wasn’t even in the box.”
“There were three referee decisions that were [harmful]: two offsides on Jon Gallagher — he might be too quick for the linesman — and the second penalty kick was certainly not in the box. That’s life, and I thought we played well. We had periods in the Akron game where we were very, very good — we just had two lapses where they got behind us.”
Last season, Notre Dame stumbled over this portion of the schedule as well, as the Irish lost all three games over their fall break stretch. Clark commented that the Irish have learned from the results of what is the unfortunate reality of scheduling, and still find themselves in a position to succeed in the postseason.
“It’s always a hard period … because you’ve just come off a lot of midterms,” Clark said. “It’s the same every year, around this time. There’s no way you can get the 17 games in without playing these games — if I had my way we wouldn’t have any midweek games during fall break, but it’s impossible to do that.
“That’s tough, but we’ve moved on, and I think we’ve learned some things. In a funny way I was quite pleased with how the team played in all three games. Obviously not happy with the results … but we’re still in a very good position if we can finish of the year [well].”
Continuing their string of tough opponents, the Irish will now face off against No. 9 Michigan State on Tuesday in the team’s final non-conference game of the regular season. The Irish have compiled a 6-2 record against non-conference foes this season, and although the Spartans (11-2-2, 5-0-2 Big Ten) will present a big challenge on their home turf, Cark believes the team is ready to get back on track.
“This is possibly the best Michigan State team there’s been,” Clark said. “They’re a good team; they play well, they’ve got good players, and they’re well-coached. It’ll be another tough game — we’ve got two really good road games to finish [the regular season] — but I think we’ll be ready. I’m looking forward to it, and the players are too.”
The Irish and the Spartans will face off at 7 p.m. at the DeMartin Soccer Complex in East Lansing, Michigan.