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Irish suffer yet another narrow loss to No. 10 Clemson

| Monday, September 23, 2019

For the second time in as many weeks, the Notre Dame women‘s soccer team traveled to South Carolina to take on top-10 opposition and again came agonizingly short of sharing the spoils, this time suffering a narrow 1-0 loss against Clemson on Friday night. Friday‘s result was the Irish’s third defeat in as many games, with the losses at No. 7 South Carolina and at home against Iowa also being decided by a single goal. Notre Dame head coach Nate Norman admitted that frustration has set in amongst the squad, especially after being the better team for significant portions of all three contests.

“I don’t think that frustration is because we‘re like, oh, man… [South Carolina and Clemson are] just so great… [or because] we can‘t play at that level,” he said. “I actually think that not only are we playing with them, but, in many instances, we‘re playing above that level, and … whether it‘s taking care of a little finer detail defensively, or with finishing … or with grinding out the result … it‘s becoming a little bit infuriating.

“But we‘re doing so many good things and controlling large portions of the game against quote-unquote top 10 teams. … At the end of the day, we‘re still coming out with that loss. So we have got to figure out how to fix that. And hopefully, we‘ll have a little chip on our shoulder and play with an edge … because I think we all realize how good we can be and we need to take care of business.”

It was a relatively mundane first forty-five minutes, with the only gilt-edge chance of the half coming Clemson’s way courtesy of a set-piece in the 20th minute.

After referee William Ate called a soft foul on freshman midfielder Maddie Mercado on the Irish right, Clemson’s Renee Guido lofted a masterful flat ball into Irish penalty area. Engineered commotion at the top of the 18 by the Tigers left two Irish defenders in heap, giving Clemson senior defender Mackenzie Smith an incredible amount of space on the six yard box. Smith had time to chest the ball down but then took one touch too many, allowing Irish sophomore goalkeeper Mattie Interian to bolt off her line and smother Smith’s effort to make the best of her four saves on the night.

After an uninspiring first half, Norman and his side talked during the break about exploiting Clemson’s flanks in hopes of breaking the deadlock.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
During Notre Dame’s 3-2 loss to Iowa on September 15 at Alumni Stadium, sophomore forward Olivia Wingate drives the ball past a defender.

“We did some things where we thought there was a lot of space in the wide areas, so we tried to create the overload [in those areas],” Norman said. “[That] was one of the main things we did in that game to really push the envelope a little bit in the second half, which would help us create more chances, but … in the end, left us a little more vulnerable from a defensive standpoint. But … that was the main adjustment — to get more players in those wider areas to where we felt [Clemson] was more susceptible to where the space was for us.”

The game would indeed open up in the second half, but it would be the Tigers who struck first in the 57th minute. Smith would more than atone for her failure to finish in the first half with a wonderful strike from 25 yards. After maintaining a brief spell of possession in the Irish half, Guion played a simple ball to Smith, who took advantage after Notre Dame failed to close her down. Interian got a hand to Smith’s dipping effort but could not keep it out, as the ball just managed to cross the goal line after nicking the underside of the crossbar.

Norman reflected that his team paid dearly for making a rare mistake against top opposition. When asked if Smith — a defender — was given too much space, Norman agreed.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “There are multiple things that went wrong defensively, where we could have [put] more pressure on the ball that close to our goal. … You‘re playing a good team …. they’re gonna punish you if you make those mistakes and … Clemson did. So … credit to them for taking advantage of a defensive error on our part and finishing off that chance.”

Notre Dame would grow back in the match, however, and create multiple opportunities to score the equalizer. The best chance would come in the 72nd minute, when Clemson’s senior keeper, Sandy MacIver, made a magnificent save to deny Irish junior midfielder Sammi Fisher at MacIver’s near post.

Sophomore forward Olivia Wingate put the Tigers on their heels with a strong run down the near touchline before working the ball to grad student Shannan Hendricks, whose cross was only cleared as far as Fisher. Fisher duped the Clemson back line by feigning a cut inside before entering the Tiger penalty area and unleashing a low drive that was only kept out by the strong right hand of MacIver.

On the ensuing corner, Notre Dame sophomore Brianna Martinez got her head to the delivery after a great leap, but her effort flew well over the crossbar. A half a minute later, sophomore Luisa Delgado dragged a shot wide. Finally, with five minutes to go, Fisher put another decent chance on target after a well-executed play from a set-piece. Martinez drew the foul and a yellow card after being taken down by Tiger sophomore Syndey Dawson, and with Clemson expecting junior forward Eva Hurm to whip a ball to the back post, Hurm slipped in Fisher, who had peeled off the Tiger’s three-person wall. Fisher attempted a deft side-footed finish to the far-post, but MacIver’s right foot was enough to guarantee her side the clean sheet and the three points.

While pleased with how the Irish played overall, Norman acknowledged that his team could learn from Clemson’s efficiency in front of goal.

“Clemson is a good team,” he said. “They are a legitimate top 10 team and they’re tough to play against. We limited their opportunities. We were able to create what we felt like were enough opportunities to win the game, but soccer’s a funny sport because, you know, they had a player that made the plays. … [Smith had a] great shot about twenty-five yards out that found a way over the goal line and you know, even with even controlling sections of the game and creating enough chances, we got to figure out how to finish some of those opportunities.

On the same theme of being clinical, Norman discussed the team’s frustration.

“If you walk out of a game where the other team smashes you and they create a bunch of chances and you create nothing and lose by a goal or two, that’s a very different, depressing feeling than when you get out of a game and you feel that you created more than enough chances to win,” he said. “I mean … the feeling’s more of an extreme, like, frustration, just because I feel bad for players. I feel like they’ve done [enough to get a result]. I feel for them. But at the end of the day, it’s on us … there aren’t moral victories here. No one’s gonna pat them on the back because they put in a good performance and … controlled parts of the game and created a lot of chances.”

The Irish will look to get back to winning ways when they host Pitt at Alumni Stadium in their first conference clash of the year at home. Norman does not see the need for any drastic change, although he is anticipating a strong reaction from his side.

“We‘re not going to change a whole lot because there have been so many good things,” he said. “We just have to play with an edge and attitude all game. And we have got to be more ruthless and cutthroat when we get into the box. You know, we have got to [take care of] some finer details on the defensive end, but there won’t be any massive changes. … I hope there’s an angry team that comes out to play on Thursday.”

Kickoff on Thursday is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will air on ACC Network Extra.

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