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Sports

Unranked Irish eye statement victory versus NC State

| Friday, October 4, 2019

Coming off a thrilling victory against DePaul, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team heads to NC State for a critical conference matchup, and the Irish are hungry to make a statement after falling out of the Top-25 this past week. After a grueling portion of their schedule, the Irish appear to be hitting their stride, especially on the defensive side of the ball. 

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish junior midfielder Aiden McFadden dribbles the ball during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Denver on Sept. 8 at Alumni Stadium.

After giving up seven goals in three games to Clemson (2-4 loss), Indiana (1-1 tie) and UNC (0-2 loss), the Irish seemed to have lost their way on the defensive side of the ball, but they turned it around in a hurry.

In the three games since that tough three game stretch, Notre Dame has not given up a goal in the flow of play, the lone blemish coming on a controversial penalty kick awarded to now No. 1 Virginia in a 1-0 loss last Saturday. Besides that, some late-game heroics have rewarded the Irish defense with a pair of shutout victories over Michigan State and DePaul. NC State has been inconsistent offensively, looking flummoxed against Virginia’s system but scoring six goals in the two victories sandwiching that defeat.

Notre Dame tends to start a back line of sophomore Philip Quinton, grad student Felicien Dumas, junior Townsend Meyer and freshman Mohammad Abualnadi. The unit has seemed to gel as the season progresses, and head coach Chad Riley was complimentary of his team’s defense.

“I think we’re beginning to get some consistency back there, and we’re starting to understand each other,” he said. “It’s really a team mindset from striker to keeper, that we have to be great defensively to do what we want to do.” 

Offensively, the Irish have been clutch at times, but they have not established consistency, scoring just twice in their past four games. However, both goals were game-winners, with freshman Michael Pellegrino finding the back of the net with 10 minutes to play against Michigan State, and Felicien Dumas, captain and set-piece specialist, drilling a free kick with just five ticks remaining on the clock against DePaul.

The goals have been spectacular, but they need to come more regularly for the Irish to keep competing with the elite squads in the ACC, which has three of the top six teams in the country as well as seven in the Top 25 rankings released on Sunday.

Grad student and captain Ian Ascheris has distributed the ball well, leading the team in assists, but as the team’s top returning scorer, he has failed to find the back of the net. Sophomore forward Jack Lynn scored in each of the first four games, but he has been shutout since the Clemson game. The chances have been there, but the finishing touch has not been, as the Irish look to spread the scoring around the offense.

They’ll be facing an average NC State defense, which has posted just two clean sheets this year, allowing seven goals in eight games. If the Irish can continue to possess the ball — they held the ball in their attacking half for almost 70% of the DePaul game — then the Irish should create opportunities to poke holes in the Wolfpack defense. 

“[We have to] let it come, play the open man, use the big spaces, get it around the box, and be composed,” Riley said on his team’s recent offensive production. “I think that the hardest part of being involved in a lot of 1-0 games is finishing your chances.”

The Irish figure to be tested by the Wolfpack, who have posted a 5-2-1 record, including a 4-1 record at their home stadium. They’ve won three of their last four, and they are coming off a true road victory, 2-1 at Louisville, which was ranked No. 17 at the time of the game. Both Notre Dame and NC State are just outside the Top 25, and if one of these squads can emerge with a victory, they’ll likely find themselves back in the rankings.

However, the pressure may be more on the Irish, who are 0-3 in ACC play. After being outclassed by Clemson and UNC, Notre Dame was an unlucky loser in the Virginia game. But unlucky or not, the pressure is starting to mount for a team that started the year ranked 11th in the country. Riley acknowledged the pressure to get a result.

“I think in our league, every weekend is that way,” he said. “But I think especially with the Virginia game, we felt that was a good performance and we didn’t get a result so we’re pretty excited to play NC State.”

The Irish are finding their groove, and if their defense maintains their stellar performance and the goals start coming, the rest of the ACC may not be too excited to line-up against Riley’s squad. 

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