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Despite a strong second half, Irish fall 2-0 at Chapel Hill

| Monday, September 23, 2019

In the second contest of No. 16 Notre Dame’s three match stint away from home, No. 11 UNC was able to cruise to a 2-0 victory on Friday. The Irish (3-2-1) had fought through two overtime periods to hold No. 4 Indiana’s potent offense to one goal in a 1-1 draw, but they still traveled to Chapel Hill as an underdog. The Tar Heels (4-1-2) had not lost a game since September 1st and were fresh off of a three match winning streak before tying their in-state rival, Davidson.

The statistics seemed to indicate that North Carolina had a slight edge over the Irish. UNC scores about 2.14 goals per match while limiting their opponents to a mere 0.71 goals on average. On the other hand, the Irish rack up more points than UNC on average (2.20 per contest) but allow 1.80 goals per game. It would be a difficult match, but Notre Dame had more than enough talent to challenge North Carolina.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
During Notre Dame‘s 1-0 exhibition victory over the University of Denver at Alumni Stadium on August 26, sophomore midfielder Mohamed Omar controls the ball before passing to a teammate.

The first half of action was dominated by the Tar Heels who controlled most of the possession and forced the Irish’s keeper, senior Duncan Turnbull, to make four saves before the 45th minute mark. Having pressured the Notre Dame defense relentlessly, UNC did not have to wait very long for their first goal as Turnbull deflected a powerful shot from junior Raul Aguilera in the 13th minute. The ball was corralled by senior forward, Jelani Pieters whose own shot reached the back of the net giving the Heels a 1-0 lead. UNC finished the half with eleven total shots while Notre Dame was only able to muster one.

The Irish responded to their first half struggles by starting the second period aggressively. Notre Dame created many chances and, in the 56th minute, junior midfielder, Aiden McFadden launched a spectacular 30 yard volley that came just short from leveling the score.

However, the Irish’s hopes for a comeback were dampened by freshmen defender, Blake Malone who scored the first goal of his collegiate career in the 67th minute. Malone was able to head the ball in near the back post off of a Jack Skahan corner, which extended the Heel’s lead 2-0. Notre Dame battled back valiantly and pushed sophomore goalkeeper Alec Smir to make his first save of the night in the match’s final minutes. As Irish head coach Chad Riley reflected upon the contest, he was encouraged by his team’s aggression in the second half despite the overall result.

“I think [UNC] came out with a lot of aggression,” Riley said. “We didn’t have a lot of the ball in the first half. I thought that they actually scored their goal on one of their worst chances. It bounced off a couple of people and fell right to their striker. In the second half, we were very good and responded really well.

“We were really pushing hard and had some close chances to even-up the game. Against the run of play, they scored on a corner, which then led us to chase the game a little bit more. I loved that the team really fought until the very end. Overall, we are disappointed with the result, but I think the second half was the best half of soccer that we’ve played all year.”

Coach Riley also commented on how this three match road stretch helps the Irish prepare for the postseason.

“Playing on the road is a little bit different, but … at the end of the day, I think my team is pretty used to it. I like playing away from home because you have to do that to win a national championship. This road trip has been excellent preparation for us.”

While Notre Dame came out of Chapel Hill without a win, their gritty second half performance gave the team a lot to build off of as they travel to Michigan State (0-4-2) on Tuesday. Turnbull will look to build off of his great start between the posts as he has recorded 16 saves in only five matches. The game in East Lansing will be at 7 p.m. and is a good opportunity to pick up a valuable road win before the Irish really get into the core of their tough ACC schedule.

When asked about Notre Dame’s immediate goals, Riley stated that the team’s preparations are geared towards defeating the Spartans.

“It’s tough any time you go a couple of games without getting the result you want,” Riley said. “A draw with Indiana is not a terrible draw, but, at the same time, you want to win that game. I think right now everybody is just focused on Michigan State. We know that this is an important game against a good team, so the short term goal is to be prepared to attack the Spartans with a high intensity.”

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