Carson: Irish need to take advantage of upcoming stretch
Alex Carson | Wednesday, October 8, 2014
After Friday’s 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Boston College and Tuesday’s 3-2 road loss to Michigan, the Irish have lost consecutive regular-season games for the first time in five years.
Some might say that Friday’s defeat was a fluke — a viewpoint that is, quite honestly, hard to disagree with. The now-No. 6 Irish fired off 19 shots. The Eagles? Just three. From time to time in soccer, a team can completely dominate all aspects of the game — as Notre Dame did Friday — and still manage to lose.
But when do results like Friday’s become concerning? When the same story lines, those same “fluky” defeats and draws, keep repeating themselves. The loss to unheralded Boston College — it was the Eagles’ first ACC win in four tries on the season — was not the first time the Irish dominated a match only to fail to come out on top. On Aug. 31, the Irish outshot Georgetown, 23-9. The result? A scoreless draw. And on Sept. 8, outshooting unranked Kentucky 18-5 was simply not enough to avoid defeat as the Wildcats scored in the final minute for the shocking 1-0 upset.
In a sport where the champion is decided by means of a small sample size — a seeded team only has to win five matches to win a national championship — it is something that can be quite the worry. What if it happens again? Could the Irish get knocked out of the first round by a lesser opponent because they get hit on the counterattack? How can this even be rectified?
And then you have results like Tuesday’s against Michigan. The Wolverines — now just 3-5-2 — held their own. They sent 18 shots toward graduate student goalkeeper Patrick Wall, even with Notre Dame’s output. And the most surprising part of the game? It would probably have to be the fact that Michigan earned an astronomically high 21 corner kicks — roughly one every four and a half minutes. Unlike the losses to Kentucky and Boston College, the Irish were matched on the pitch by a perceived lesser opponent.
Granted, whenever the Irish and the Wolverines get together in any sport, the game is a rivalry. That is a given. But in theory, that rivalry game should not allow an unheralded, two-win team to play with the defending national champions. And in many ways, it is the type of result that could send Notre Dame’s season spiraling downhill fairly quickly.
The good news? The Irish play three top-25 teams in the next two weeks.
The bad news? The Irish play three top-25 teams in the next two weeks.
Welcome to crunch time.
On Friday, the Irish play host to No. 18 Louisville. A home match with No. 24 Northwestern follows Tuesday. The next week, the Irish visit No. 10 Indiana. The run, which includes a visit to Duke on Oct. 17, signifies a chance for Notre Dame to make a statement. Despite losses to a pair of unheralded sides, the Irish can come back and sweep through the run. The side has the quality to do so, and with two of the three matches at home, Notre Dame should have a good opportunity to impose its will on the game.
But there is another statement Notre Dame could make — one that would signify quite the opposite. Struggling through these next two weeks would show weaknesses in the squad and would perhaps signal an inability to make a national championship run. At the very least it would likely take the Irish out of contention for earning a seed in the NCAA tournament and make them go on the road early on.
Indiana won the national championship two years ago from the 16th seed. But those Hoosiers are the only team in recent memory to take home the title without earning a single-digit seed in the tournament. The time has come for the Irish to reassert themselves, to tell the college soccer world that they can still play with the best.
Otherwise? It might be a long finish to the season for the defending national champions.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.