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Men’s Soccer: Tie of the Titans

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, September 9, 2013

The No. 4 Irish couldn’t secure a win in their first conference match in the ACC, but a strike from senior forward Leon Brown in the 79th minute led Notre Dame to an eventual 1-1 overtime draw with No. 1 North Carolina at Alumni Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The Irish (1-0-2, 0-0-1 ACC) gave up an early goal to the Tar Heels (2-0-1, 0-0-1 ACC), and the time left for an equalizer was slipping away when a Notre Dame corner kick gave Irish junior midfielder Nick Besler the opportunity to take a shot at goal. UNC junior goalkeeper Brendan Moore made the save, but senior forward Harrison Shipp came up with the ball and fed it to Brown, who put it in the back of the net.

Brown has now scored three goals in the first three games of the season. He remains the only Notre Dame player to score a goal in a non-exhibition game so far this season.

“He should’ve had another one, that’s my only complaint for Leon,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said, referencing a shot that went just wide of the goal in the second overtime period. “But Leon’s playing awful well, that’s the most important thing. Now the fact that he’s scoring, that’s a bonus.”

The Irish looked slightly uncomfortable in the early part of the first half. Many passes didn’t find their targets, and the forwards had trouble crossing the ball to their teammates in the box.

“I think one thing that UNC does very well, they pressure you very well, and they’re good at it,” Clark said. “And it took us a little while to get up to speed with that.”

In the 18th minute, Tar Heels junior forward Tyler Engel, a SMU transfer, chipped an unassisted goal past Irish senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall.

“It was a disappointing goal, I’m not going to point fingers,” Clark said. “I think we’ll talk about that through the week. Initially there didn’t seem to be a lot of danger. But sometimes, that’s the game. You don’t take care of business and sometimes they’ll slip in and get a goal; that’s what I felt happened. It just came out of nowhere.”

But the momentum swung the way of the Irish soon after that first goal, and they easily led the Tar Heels in scoring opportunities. 

Senior defender Grant Van de Casteele thought he tied the game in the 51st minute, but the referee saw an Irish foul in the box and called off the goal.

Junior forward Vince Cicciarelli came into the game as a substitute with about 20 minutes left in the first half, and his first touch of the game was a narrowly missed shot made possible by a pass from senior defender Luke Mishu. Cicciarelli, who took five shots, three of them on-goal, spent the rest of the afternoon striking fear into North Carolina’s Moore. Shipp had a great opportunity for a goal with 30 minutes left in regulation, but sent the ball sailing over the crossbar, while sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan bounced a shot off the crossbar with four minutes remaining in the second half.

Although the Tar Heels grabbed the early lead and led for most of the afternoon, Clark said he felt that the Irish controlled much of the game. Notre Dame outshot North Carolina 21-12, and took three more corner kicks.

“The fact that we were 1-0 down, I think drove us on,” Clark said. “We certainly didn’t want to lose, and I think that gave us that extra 10 percent, as it were, in our gas tank. And then the longer the game went on, I think they also were getting content to sit on the 1-0 lead. But I think we created many better opportunities.”

The game featured 40 fouls and six yellow cards.

“I think the ref did a really good job throughout, actually,” Clark said. “It wasn’t an easy game to referee, because it was very competitive.”

Brown, who was one of the two Notre Dame players to take a yellow card, said the team came away from the draw with mixed feelings.

“We knew we should’ve won the game, we knew we should’ve score multiple goals,” Brown said. “We had that feeling like, ‘We’re going to get one eventually,’ and it’s really a shame that we didn’t end up getting [a winner]. We definitely didn’t feel frustrated, just a little disappointed in ourselves at the end of the day. But it’s not a terrible result against a pretty good team.”

Clark said the match proved the Irish can play with the best of the best.

“They’re a good team, but I think with today’s performance, if you looked at it clinically, I think we were the better side,” Clark said. “I think early season rankings don’t mean too much. I think you’ve got to wait until the season plays out a bit.”

The Irish will attempt to get their first ACC win Friday when they travel to Syracuse, N.Y., to take on the Orange. The game begins at SU Soccer Stadium at 7 p.m.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]