Klonsinski: Irish doomed by inconsistency
Zach Klonsinski | Tuesday, December 2, 2014
After the crowd filed out of Alumni Stadium on Sunday, Leon Brown walked back out of the tunnel leading to the Irish locker room. The graduate student forward stopped and crouched at the edge of the pitch, where minutes before his collegiate career came to an end after Notre Dame fell to ACC rival Virginia, 1-0.
Sunday night’s loss in the third round of the NCAA tournament was a fitting microcosm of the Notre Dame season. The two previous games against the Cavaliers ended in a 1-1 draw and 3-0 Irish win, yet this time around, the Irish failed to find the back of the net in 90 minutes of play. Irish coach Bobby Clark said after the game that of the three matchups against Virginia this season, this match was the one in which he felt his team played its best.
It was not the first time the Irish dominated a game in which they struggled to find the back of the net. It happened in a pair of 1-0 losses to Kentucky and Boston College but also in the 1-0 double overtime win against VCU and the 1-0 victory over Northwestern.
Inconsistency on offense was a concern all season, especially during the first half of the year. Although they scored three or more goals six times, the Irish were either shut out or managed only a single goal in 10 of their 21 matches. While Notre Dame seemed to find something offensively during the second half of the season, especially during its six-game unbeaten streak prior to Sunday night, the team’s lack of consistent offensive production eventually doomed its playoff run.
This is not to take anything away from the Cavaliers, of course; they played a strong game defensively. Yet Clark was again left talking about a loss in which the Irish were the better side. That didn’t make it any easier for this year’s graduating class, either.
After a few minutes back at Alumni Stadium, Brown sat down on the turf on which the Irish went 29-7-8 during his four years in the Irish lineup. This year, the pitch witnessed three Irish defeats, all by a score of 1-0. Yet it also saw plenty of high moments: senior midfielder Nick Besler’s header in double overtime against VCU, junior midfielder Patrick Hodan’s beautiful strike to beat Louisville in overtime and a 3-0 victory over the Cavaliers in the ACC tournament quarterfinals just three weeks ago, to name a few.
Brown and his fellow fifth-year classmates — defender Andrew O’Malley, goalkeeper Patrick Wall and defender Luke Mishu, along with six seniors who may never again put on an Irish uniform — comprise a class that carried the Notre Dame program to new heights.
Notre Dame reached the ultimate peak last season, of course, by winning the program’s first national championship. The year before, the Irish earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, as they did again this year, with the third overall seed during the 2013 championship campaign sandwiched in between. The Irish won two regular-season ACC titles as well as the Big East tournament title the year before. Over the last four years, the team compiled a 55-15-15 overall record, including a 13-2-4 record in its first two seasons of ACC play, far and away the toughest conference in all of college soccer.
In addition to the team accomplishments, this year’s senior class racked up individual accolades both on and off the pitch. This season saw Wall named a Senior CLASS Award finalist and Mishu honored as an Academic All-American. The class boasts two NCAA All-Tournament Team selections, three All-ACC Team selections, two All-ACC Academic Team members, one All-Big East Team player and seven Big East Academic All-Star selections.
“[These seniors] took the program to a level it had never been before,” Clark said Sunday night. “We’ve also been a top-three seed [in the NCAA tournament] each of the last three years. That’s a phenomenal record for any team. … These seniors can walk away and hold their heads up pretty high. I think this senior class can feel good about themselves.”