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Men’s Soccer: From out in the cold, into the College Cup

Vicky Jacobsen | Sunday, December 8, 2013

As the announcer counted down to zero and the horn blew to end the game, despondent Michigan State players sank to the ground and the No. 3 Irish rushed to embrace each other in celebration of a 2-1 NCAA tournament quarterfinal win, the first in program history.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” sophomore midfielder Evan Panken said. “We’ve been working for it all year, all summer. Everyone worked so hard, and it’s just a team win here, and we’re all really excited.”
The Irish (15-1-6, 7-1-3 ACC) are now headed to their first ever College Cup, where they will face No. 7 New Mexico (14-5-2, 7-1-1 Mountain West) in the semifinal game in Chester, Pa., on Friday.
“It’s a huge win for us,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said. “We’ve been knocking on the door for a while now. I think this is our third final-eight, but the first time we’ve actually gotten [to the College Cup.] Last year we felt we had a very good team and were the No. 1 seed going in but we fell [in the third round] to Indiana, the eventual winners, so that was disappointing. That inspired the guys.”
The Irish controlled the ball during the opening minutes of the contest as senior forward Harrison Shipp gave the Irish a couple of close scoring opportunities before Notre Dame cracked open the scoring in the 31st minute. An Irish corner kick landed near the far post, and though the ball was initially cleared, Panken corralledit. His first shot bounced off a Spartan defender, but he found the ball again, this time burying it in the back of the net.
“We’ve been working on that corner kick for a while now,” Panken said. “[Junior midfielder Nick] Besler got a great flick on it, and it came back post and I saw it, took a touch, and I just put it in the back of the net. I was at the right place at the right time. It felt great, scoring a big goal to put us up ahead in a big game like that. It’s a great feeling.”
Michigan State coach Damon Rensing said his No. 11 Spartans (14-6-3, 3-2-1 Big Ten) were not worried after the first Irish goal.
“You don’t want to give up goals on restarts, but to their credit they finished it,” Rensing said. “I never thought this was going to be a one-goal game, so I don’t think that was the end. I think the goal that really hurt was the one that we gave up early in the second half.”
That second goal came from sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan, who has now scored a goal in each of the last five games. Three minutes into the second half, Hodan dribbled the ball around multiple Spartan defenders and threaded a right-footed kick past another to put the Irish up by two. Clark described the goal as “a piece of beauty.”
The Spartans battled their way back into the game with a goal of their own following Notre Dame’s second. With 31 minutes remaining, redshirt junior forward Tim Kreutz sent in a cross that sophomore midfielder Jay Chapman headed into the net to cut the lead to one.
“It was good build up. [Redshirt junior Tim] Kreutz made a great serve, [sophomore midfielder] Jay [Chapman] flicked it in,” Rensing said. “Our guys played well tonight from top to bottom, so I’m very proud of them.”
Each team had a few more close misses in the tense final minutes, but as victory drew closer and closer the Irish did their best to run out the clock.
“You don’t want to sit too far back and just invite them to hit balls behind us, so it’s tough,” Panken said. “We just want to get the ball down as fast as we can and try and play the ball in the corners and kill the game off.”
The entire match was played in sub-30 degree weather, and players on both teams occasionally struggled to find their footing on the frozen pitch.
“It was a hard game on a very difficult surface,” Clark said. “Our ground staff was getting it ready, but the longer we played the slicker it became. They took the cover off maybe at three o’clock, but by nine o’clock it’s really quite difficult. I was glad it didn’t go into overtime.”
Also on Saturday night, Clark’s son, Washington coach Jamie Clark, was busy coaching his No. 2 Huskies in their own Elite Eight match against the Lobos. But Washington fell to New Mexico 1-0, and Clark and his son will not meet in the Final Four.
The Irish will kick off their first ever visit to the College Cup against the Lobos at 5 p.m. on Friday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. The game will be followed at 7:30 by the second semifinal game between No. 5 Maryland and No. 8 Virginia, the only team that has defeated Notre Dame this season.
Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]