Controversial penalty sinks No. 21 Notre Dame versus No. 3 Virginia
Aidan Thomas | Monday, September 30, 2019
Aggressive defense can give, and aggressive defense can take away just as fast. The Notre Dame men’s soccer team found that out the hard way Saturday morning against Virginia.
With 39 minutes to go in the game, junior midfielder Townsend Meyer rescued the Irish with a hard sliding block to deny a breakaway blast by Virginia star Daryl Dike. Less than twenty minutes later, Meyer went in for a challenge and was whistled for a controversial foul and penalty kick with 20:25 showing on the clock. Joe Bell stepped up to the spot and buried his effort in the bottom left corner, giving the Cavaliers a 1-0 lead that they would see out the rest of the way.
Virginia has given up just one goal in eight games, and despite several chances, No. 21 Notre Dame could not break through in their morning matinee match with the third-ranked Cavaliers, who avenged last year’s Sweet 16 loss to the Irish.
The Irish fell to 4-3-1, ending an extremely tough five-game stretch with a hard-fought 1-3-1 record. Their offensive output has dried up during the mini-slump, but Saturday’s shutout was hardly a deserved result. The Irish looked like the better team for much of the first half, creating most of the chances.
Just 90 seconds into the game, graduate student captain Ian Aschieris fed sophomore striker Jack Lynn down the right side, but Virginia keeper Colin Shutler got his palm on Lynn’s cross, keeping it away from danger. Virginia had a few small chances, as left wing Nathaniel Crofts threatened several times to break through; he was whistled offside once, and Irish keeper Duncan Turnbull beat him to a pass that split the Notre Dame defenders.
The grass was extremely wet after the game was postponed Friday due to extreme rainstorms, and the ball often skidded too fast for Virginia’s speedy forwards, eliminating much of their deadly flank attack.
On the few times that Virginia did manage to generate momentum along the wing, freshman Mohammad Abualnadi was there, twice breaking up potential scoring opportunities with superb sliding tackles. Head coach Chad Riley was complimentary of the freshman’s performance in such a high-profile game.
“We wanted to get some freshness in the wingback roles, and I thought Mo had a very good game,” he said.
In the last ten minutes of the half, Notre Dame had most of the chances, as Lynn’s effort was saved by a diving Shutler, sophomore forward Tyler Shea’s drive soared high, and freshman midfielder Michael Pellegrino saw his look trickle wide.
With under two minutes to go, Notre Dame came painfully close to breaking the deadlock: Abualnadi raced down the left side, delivering a strong cross to the opposite side of the 18-yard box. Pellegrino met the cross with a header back into the middle, where senior forward John Rea and Shea both got their foot on the ball but saw their chances blocked before reaching Shutler.
“We created a lot of good attacking moments. Virginia is obviously a solid team on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they’re not going to give you a lot of moments. I thought we created some of the best chances they’ve had against them,” Riley said of his team’s attacking performance.
Notre Dame outshot Virginia 7-3 in the first half and had the only on-target shot, but the score remained tied heading into the second half.
The Irish picked up where they left off, earning two free kicks in the first five minutes. Graduate student captain Felicien Dumas delivered two strong crosses, but one was punched away by Shutler, and the other was headed wide right.
The Cavaliers seemingly woke up after nearly conceding to start the second half, and for the next fifteen minutes, the Irish defended for their lives.
Meyer’s sliding tackle on Dike denied Virginia their first true quality scoring chance, and Virginia created more opportunities off an ensuing corner kick. Another potential breakaway was nullified by an offsides call, and Cavaliers junior forward Irakoze Donasiyano ripped a left-footed blast inches over the crossbar. Minutes later, Donasiyano saw another promising effort headed away by a Notre Dame defender. Finally, with under 27 minutes to play, Turnbull snatched a Cavaliers corner kick, and Notre Dame finally had a chance to breathe and build their attack from the back.
A sprawling Shutler denied junior midfielder Aiden McFadden’s hooking blast, and Virginia cleared several other loose balls in the box. The Cavaliers would break out on a counter-attack, leading to Meyer’s ill-fated challenge. The whistle was met with vehement protest from several Irish players, with fellow defenders Dumas and Philip Quinton outraged that their team’s stellar defensive effort was being nullified with such a controversial decision. Regardless, the call stood and Bell buried the kick for a 1-0 lead.
Virginia played the rest of the game to near perfection, possessing the ball at a high rate, and allowing the Irish few chances to equalize. Riley, who had taken Lynn off the field, put him back in on the wing for the first time in 2019, hoping to energize their attack.
“I was trying to get some fresh legs and goal-scorers on at the same time,” Riley said.
Despite this, Notre Dame managed just a few minor chances. McFadden’s cross was cleared with ease in the 78th minute, and his long-range shot soared well above the crossbar with about seven minutes to go.
The rest of the game was a slog, as Virginia continuously gave the ball to Dike, and the 6-foot-2, 220-pound forward would dribble into the corner and watch the clock trickle down. Notre Dame never seriously challenged for a goal again, and the Cavaliers escaped South Bend with a 1-0 victory.
It was hardly an underwhelming performance for the Irish, who played the No. 3 team in the nation virtually even for the majority of the game, even creating a plethora of solid chances against arguably the best defense in the country. It was a tough loss that gives the Irish three losses to Top-15 teams in the past couple of weeks, but they’ll look to carry the energy they played with Saturday into next week’s matchups with DePaul and NC State.
Riley was optimistic about his team’s performance and their future after the Virginia game.
“I’m very proud of this group,” he said. “I think we played well, and there’s no shame in losing to a good team. I think we had a lot of chances and could have gotten a better outcome. Overall, they have to let it add fuel to the fire.”
The Irish are back home Tuesday against DePaul, scheduled to start at 7 p.m.