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Men’s Soccer

Carson: Irish need a little luck to repeat

| Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What makes a championship team?

When it comes to soccer, three traits rise to the top as being the most important — a consistent goalscorer, a quality defense and a bit of luck.

So, as No. 4 Notre Dame prepares to enter the ACC Tournament this week, which of those traits does it possess — and is it enough to make the Irish national title contenders once again?

The consistent goalscorer

Almost every top team has one. Real Madrid has Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona counters with Lionel Messi. Last year Atlético Madrid soared to new heights thanks to Diego Costa. PSG has Zlatan, Bayern Munich has Robert Lewandowski and Man City has Sergio Agüero.

The point? To win in this sport, you almost have to have one (or two). Take last year’s Irish outfit for example — once the postseason started, junior midfielder Patrick Hodan was as consistent as a player can be. En route to the national championship, the Irish played six tournament games — two in the ACC tournament, four in the NCAA — and Hodan notched a goal in every one, even scoring twice in the team’s NCAA semifinal win over New Mexico. When it mattered most, coach Bobby Clark’s team was able to count on Hodan popping up with a goal to advance to the next round.

This year? Hodan’s started his scoring run earlier. Over the last eight games, the midfielder has seven goals, including one in Saturday’s 4-1 win at Pittsburgh to clinch the ACC regular-season title. If his scoring run can continue, it puts the team in a great position to run the tables — taking the ACC regular-season title, ACC tournament title and a repeat of the national championship.

The solid defense

Clark said just last week his team has not defended well enough. The Irish have pitched just one shutout in their last nine games. After four in the first eight games of the season, Clark and the Irish defenders will surely want to record a clean sheet or two in the postseason.

But on the flip side, Notre Dame has only twice allowed its opponents more than one goal in a game — in back-to-back matches last month against Michigan and Louisville.

And to be honest with you? I’m not sure the Irish need to keep regular clean sheets in order to find postseason success. For me, not conceding first — and limiting it to conceding just once — is more important. “Goals change games” is one of those tired clichés in the soccer world but it is often true, especially when one team is a clear favorite — a situation the Irish are likely to face on multiple occasions this postseason. If the Irish score first in such a game, they force their opponent to open up a little in search of a goal. That in turn leaves the opponent more open at the back — and as time goes on, the Irish are more likely to stretch the lead to 2-0 or even 3-0 than their opponent is to level scores.

But if Notre Dame goes behind early, it will have to chase — and its opponent can sit behind the ball the rest of the game. It’s a situation the Irish have had some struggles with this year and it brings us to the last part …

A bit of luck

If you look at Notre Dame’s losses this year, two of them are nearly mirror images of one another. Back on Sept. 8, the Irish fell 1-0 to Kentucky despite outshooting the Wildcats 18-5. Kentucky scored on its only chance of the half, a counterattack with less than a minute remaining in the match.

Oct. 3 produced another similar game against a lesser opponent. This time, the Irish outshot Boston College 19-3 — and while the Eagles’ goal came in the first half rather than the final seconds, it still represented another night in which Notre Dame couldn’t get the ‘luck of the Irish.’

A pesky opponent with an organized defense and a quality goalkeeper can keep even the best attacking teams at bay — and on the flip side, a good counterattack can be very, very hard to defend.

It is a year where no single team has really staked a claim to being title favorites. The Irish have three losses and four draws, yet still at No. 4 in the coaches’ poll. No team in the country has fewer than two losses. A team like last year’s one-loss Notre Dame team is just not out there.

So, what are the chances the Irish pull out the run the tables?

I’m not sure. But I wouldn’t feel all too confident betting against them.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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