Virginia loss showcases Irish potential
Aidan Thomas | Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Coming off their first quarterfinal appearance since their 2013 national championship, the expectations were sky-high for the Notre Dame men’s soccer team at the start of this season. But, heading into this past weekend, a bevy of inconsistent and tentative performances had raised several questions about the Irish (4-3-1, 0-3 ACC). Notre Dame was slated to play No. 3 Virginia at the tail-end of a five-game stretch that saw them face the Cavaliers, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Indiana, No. 14 UNC and 2018 national semifinalist Michigan State. The Irish seemed to struggle at times, but worse, there were large stretches of times where they appeared outclassed by their opponents.
The Clemson loss was eye-opening as defensive struggles gifted the Tigers numerous opportunities. Only a stunning free kick from graduate student defender Felicien Dumas and a dazzling individual effort from sophomore forward Jack Lynn kept the 4-2 loss from being a complete blowout. The Indiana game was a tale of two halves, as the Irish pressed early and were rewarded with a goal in the 40th minute, but they sat on their heels in the second half, conceding once and needing a few spectacular saves from senior keeper Duncan Turnbull to force overtime and hold for a draw.
Notre Dame’s sluggish second half against Indiana carried over to the UNC game, where they looked tentative and defensive, going down in the 14th minute. They played what coach Chad Riley described as their “best half of the season” in the second half, but they still conceded another opportunity and couldn’t break through, losing a 2-0 decision. Facing a winless Michigan State team, the Irish barely escaped East Lansing with a victory, scoring off a long throw in the 80th minute to get the win.
Their inconsistency and inability to generate any offense against elite teams begged the question about whether the Irish were truly still a national powerhouse. They dropped from their preseason ranking of No. 11 to No. 16 and then again to No. 21. However, the Irish hosted Virginia over the weekend and answered some questions about the quality of their team, and their potential as they head forward. While the 1-0 loss was tough to swallow, those in attendance saw Notre Dame put forth their most complete effort of the year.
The Irish took it to the Cavaliers early, earning most of the scoring chances in the first half. Tough field conditions due to the several inches of rain the night before caused the ball to take several weird bounces, shutting down several prime Irish scoring chances on loose balls in front of the goal. Overall, outside of a 15-minute window where the Cavaliers poured heavy pressure on the Notre Dame defense, the Irish looked like the better team. Graduate student forward Ian Aschieris distributed the ball well, Lynn created several chances including a shot on target, senior forward John Rea provided energy off the bench and their defense led by Dumas and junior midfielder Townsend Meyers denied Virginia’s prolific offense many quality scoring chances. An unlucky penalty gifted the Cavaliers a goal and the victory, but the Irish left the field with a considerably different taste in their mouths.
Despite the frustrating result, Notre Dame showcased their offensive potential and flashed a dominant defense that was one whistle away from shutting out an elite offense in Virginia. However, after a brutal stretch of games, the time for moral victories is over. The Irish finally put together a performance worthy of an elite team Saturday, but now it’s time to parlay that performance into some results that can move them back up the rankings and into the national championship conversation once more.