No. 21 Irish face difficult test against No. 3 Virginia
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, September 27, 2019
After a difficult stretch of three straight road games, two of which were against ranked opponents, the No. 21 Irish return to Alumni stadium on Friday night to face familiar ACC-foe No. 3 Virginia.
The Cavaliers enter the game undefeated, picking up wins over North Carolina State and Western Michigan in the past week. The Irish also head into this conference matchup with some momentum after picking up a much-needed victory in East Lansing against Michigan State, a team that reached the semifinals of the College Cup last year. Freshman midfielder Michael Pellegrino provided some late-game heroics for Notre Dame, scoring the first goal of his career in the 80th minute after collecting a failed clearance in the 18-yard box to lift the Irish to a 1-0 road victory. However, the more encouraging performance came from the Irish back line. After allowing seven goals in three games against Clemson, No. 5 Indiana and No. 14 North Carolina, junior goalkeeper Keagan McLaughlin and the Notre Dame defense turned in a clean sheet against the Spartans.
The Irish will certainly need another strong defensive performance against a consistent and formidable Virginia offense. While the Cavaliers offense may not score in bunches, it possesses a number of different options for the Irish to be concerned with, as eight different Virginia players have found the back of the net this season. Sophomore striker Daryl Dike, who has dished out four assists to go along with two goals, serves as a main facilitator for Virginia.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish display their own versatility. Pellegrino’s goal made him the seventh Notre Dame player to score this season. Notre Dame also possesses their own talented sophomore striker in Jack Lynn. The St. Louis native has been the key offensive weapon for the Irish so far, leading the team in goals with four. Graduate student defender and captain Felicien Dumas, one of the best free kick specialists in the nation, can also be dangerous when attacking for the Irish and will pose a challenge to the Cavaliers on set pieces.
When the Irish and Cavaliers squared off last year in the Round of 16 of the NCAA tournament, Lynn scored the winning goal with one second remaining in the first overtime period to send the Irish to the quarterfinals and break the hearts of the Cavaliers. Lynn will probably have difficulty finding scoring opportunities against arguably the stingiest defense in the country. Through their first seven games of the season, the Cavaliers have recorded six clean sheets and have surrendered just one goal. Virginia will also start redshirt junior goalkeeper Colin Shutler. Shutler leads a Virginia back line with the lowest average goals scored against in the nation at 0.14.
Kick off between Notre Dame and Virginia is set for 7 p.m. in Alumni Stadium.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.