Irish fall to Clemson in top 15 clash
Greg McKenna | Monday, September 16, 2019
A raucous crowd of over 1,000 was treated to several sensational goals by both No. 10 Notre Dame and No.13 Clemson at Alumni Stadium on Friday night, but ultimately, the Fighting Irish (3-1-0) fell to Clemson (7-0-0) by a score of 4-2 in an enthralling first conference clash of the season for both sides. Notre Dame head coach Chad Riley remained confident and composed following the loss, but he regretted how Clemson dominated the contest’s early stages.
“I think we weren’t great tonight,” he said. “I think a lot of that can be credit to Clemson. I thought they were good on the night. … I just didn’t feel like we started with the right level of intensity. And… that’s the biggest disappointment for me.”
Riley’s frustration with his team’s start was not surprising given how Clemson piled on the pressure early, especially by pressing the Irish high up the field and throwing numbers forward. The first chance for the Tigers came from a set play off a corner. Sophomore star Robbie Robinson found himself unmarked on the top of the 18 with barely two minutes on the clock, but he put his shot just over the crossbar of Notre Dame senior goalkeeper Duncan Turnbull.
The Irish would not be as fortunate when the Clemson sophomore received the ball about twenty-five yards from goal towards the near touchline. Though seemingly closed down by about six men, Robinson managed to wriggle his way through all of them, concluding his incredible mazy run through the Irish penalty area with a finish across his body that trickled inside Turnbull’s left post. Just six minutes in, Notre Dame was trailing for the first time this season.
A key talking point in the game was the absence of senior center-back Senan Farrelly due to injury, but Riley refused to pinpoint missing his senior leader as a key factor in the loss and discounted the impact of Clemson’s frantic press on the actual outcome of the game.
“I think we’ve got good guys that can step up,” he said. “I think anytime you lose someone that’s been playing [lots of] minutes you don’t want that. But at the same time, I don’t think that was [the reason for the loss]. I think on the night too many […] guys individually had less than their optimal performance. And I think that when teams are pressing you and you’re not sharp, it kind of compounds the problem at times. I think Clemson put us under pressure. I think we played through it well at times but at other times they cause[d] us some problems, but their goals actually didn’t come from that.”
One of Notre Dame’s three captains and the team’s career leader in assists, graduate student defender Felicien Dumas, started the game as Farrelly’s replacement at center-back. As the first half progressed, however, Riley moved him back into a more advanced position.
“[Dumas] is naturally one of the guys that plays wider,” Riley said. “But when Senan picked up an injury, he’s also given us minutes there. So we did that for a little bit and then shifted things.”
As Dumas again occupied his more natural position as a marauding right-back and found himself in more forward positions, the Irish eventually gained a foothold in the game. Dumas, the team’s set-piece specialist, would provide the equalizer.
On a free kick near the far touchline, Dumas curled in a superb delivery that Mohamed Omar rose up to head home. Omar would actually fail to make contact, but his attempt kept Clemson keeper George Marks rooted to his line in the center of the goal. Marks could only watch as Dumas’ ball took one hop before nestling into his side-netting.
The last 20 minutes of the first half became increasingly stretched as both sides looked to gain the advantage before half-time, but it would be Clemson who struck right before the interval and silenced the Alumni Stadium crowd with another stunning individual goal.
Following a Tiger corner, a second deep cross launched into the Irish box was only partially cleared and fell to Clemson’s leading scorer, Kimarni Smith. The sophomore from Nottingham, England measured his volley to perfection, giving Turnbull absolutely no chance from just over 12 yards out.
With barely two minutes played in the second half, Smith completed his brace and resumed the Clemson onslaught. Notre Dame defender Townsend Meyer struggled to deal with a thunderous clearance by the Tiger defense that seemingly carried in the air for an eternity, allowing Smith to sneak in-behind the Irish junior and slot home his seventh goal of the season.
The third unanswered goal for Clemson was scored just after the hour mark following some brilliant combination play. Tiger midfielders Tanner Dietrich and Phillip Mayaka played a one-two at the top of the Irish penalty area, and Dietrich found himself behind the Irish back line before smashing home his first goal of the year from just six yards.
While Riley was unhappy with the defending on the fourth goal, he felt his squad was generally unlucky on the night.
“[For] the first goal, we clear it off their player and it randomly goes in the net,” he said. “The next one [is a] little bit fluky, but we clear the ball [and] it happens to drop right to the guy… Can’t criticize officials, but a guy [is] 10 yards offside on the third goal. So I do think things bounced their way. I think they were good. But … the fourth goal, I think that was clearly defending. Poor defending.”
Sophomore forward Jack Lynn answered just a minute later for Notre Dame, however, with an early candidate for goal-of-the season. The sophomore, who surpassed his freshman year tally with his fourth goal of the campaign, picked up the ball near the halfway line and drove at the Clemson back line before unleashing a fantastic drive that smacked the underside of the crossbar before heading in.
Lynn’s blast would be one of the few bright spots for the Irish attack in a choppy second half. Amidst three yellow cards and a litany of fouls from both sides, the Irish struggled to create late on and actually ended up being out-possessed by the Tigers, who were happy to keep the ball and see the clock wind down. Riley, however, was not concerned with his team’s ability to create opportunities in the future.
“I think that’s always about performing on the night,” he said. It’s not that you can or can’t do it. It’s about doing it on the night … it’s playing more of the game in their half. But I think a lot of it’s just down to, you know, we weren’t as sharp as we should have been tonight.”
It does not get any easier for the Irish, who travel down to Bloomington on Tuesday to face No. 4 Indiana, who knocked Notre Dame out of the NCAA tournament at the quarterfinal stage last year. Riley was confident his team will bounce back from Friday’s defeat, however.
“You’ve got to turn (the loss) into something that propels us forward, and I think we will,” he said. “We’re good at doing that.”
Kickoff on Tuesday versus Indiana is scheduled for 7 p.m.