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ND Men’s Soccer

Irish season ends in heartbreaking upset loss to Wright State

| Friday, November 22, 2019

The longer a playoff soccer game stays even, the more momentum swings towards the underdog. That’s exactly what happened Thursday night, as the Irish spent about half the game even with the Wright State Raiders, but they could never pull ahead.

Propelled by a stellar performance from keeper Joel Sundell and their dynamic playmaker Deri Corfe, the Raiders stayed with the Irish for the length of the game before burying the hosts with two late goals and holding on for a 3-2 victory in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. 

Despite playing in the first NCAA tournament game, Wright State hardly looked uncomfortable. Unwilling to sit back and defend against the higher-ranked Irish, the Raiders pushed the pace through their Corfe on the left wing, generating a plethora of chances in the opening 45 minutes. In just the first 15 minutes, Corfe created two golden opportunities; five minutes into the game, the senior midfielder muscled Irish senior defender Senan Farrelly off the ball and delivered a cross through the middle, but the dangerous chance went untouched and out of bounds. Minutes later, Corfe would dust Farrelly with some nifty footwork and cut across the top of the box, but he turfed his shot, and Irish senior keeper Duncan Turnbull easily handled the shot. 

Overall, the Irish outshot the Raiders 7-5 in the first half, but they put just one shot on target to the Raiders three. Sophomore forward Jack Lynn had Notre Dame’s two best chances; Lynn delivered a low rocket in the first minute of play, but Wright State’s Swedish keeper Joel Sundell dove and parried the shot away. With just under 26 minutes to play in the first half, Lynn found himself on the receiving end of a beautiful long distance cross from Farrelly; his header froze Sundell, but Lynn’s effort glanced off the post and out of bounds, keeping the Irish off the scoreboard.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish sophomore midfielder Mohamed Omar heads the ball during Notre Dame’s 1-0 win over Denver on Sept. 8.

It was one of Farrelly’s final plays of the game, as he would exit with injury later in the contest.

Despite the absence of Farrelly and starting center back sophomore Philip Quinton, who was ineligible after a red card in the ACC tournament against Clemson, the Irish held their own defensively.

“You always want to have your full group of guys,” Irish head coach Chad Riley said. “But I’d focus more on [senior reserve defender] Spencer Farina stepping in and doing an unbelievably good job. I thought [junior defensive midfielder Townsend Meyer] stepped in and did a great job. We were a little thinner, but we had experienced guys who I thought performed well.”

The Raiders’ pressure paid off with just over 18 minutes remaining on the clock in the first half. A Turnbull save off a long shot led to a Wright State corner and the Raiders would earn a quality chance off the set piece. After the original kick was touched out of the box by a Notre Dame defender, Corfe would again get his feet on the ball, chipping it into the box with a little pace. Wright State defender Alex Hummell crouched and flicked the ball towards the far post. His placement was perfect as the ball kissed the inside of the post and settled into the corner of the net for the opening goal of the match. 

After Wright State broke through, they refused to settle into a defensive mindset, continuing to push for a second goal. While Notre Dame prevented any more major chances, they were largely unable to create their own offense. Their only remaining chance of the half came via some combination work between junior midfielder Aiden Mcfadden and sophomore wing Patrick Coleman; Coleman was played in on goal from the right side, but he was unable to put much mustard on his shot, his look nudging wide of the near post. 

The first half delved into a midfield tussle, and several testy fouls were committed, culminating in a physical play at the end at the first half that had several players on each team nearly engaging in a small altercation.

The second half began in ominous fashion for the Irish — an early miscommunication led to a Wright State corner and a flurry of chances for the Raiders. Two shots were blocked by Notre Dame defenders, and the Irish eventually cleared the zone.

After the early mishap, Notre Dame appeared re-energized offensively, and they once again began pressing the Raiders, pinning them deep in their defensive third. After some bad luck in the first half, the Irish finally benefited from a fortuitous bounce, with a cross from graduate student defender Felicien Dumas being deflected high in the air, throwing off the positioning of both Sundell and the Wright State back line.

Lynn was the quickest to react, racing to the ball; Sundell got caught trying to decide between staying on his line and coming out to challenge Lynn, and he ultimately watched Lynn’s header float over his arms for the equalizer.

“I think you just settle into games,” Riley said about his team finally breaking through in the second half. “It’s going to take time. We wanted to be a little more aggressive.” 

From there, the Irish capitalized on their momentum, continually pressuring the Raiders and searching for the go-ahead goal. But Wright State answered with Sundell, the Horizon League Tournament MVP.

Sundell came up with multiple clutch saves to keep the Irish out of the back of the net, allowing his team time to recover from the shock of surrendering their lead. Graduate student forward Ian Aschieris had a great shot deflected, but Sundell, who had already dove to his left, reached back to scoop the deflection with his right hand.

Several other Irish efforts missed the frame, before Lynn put forth yet another spectacular chance for Notre Dame, using his left foot to one-time an Aschieris cross, but Sundell came up with the save of the match. Shuffling to his left, the Raiders’ keeper reacted to the point-blank shot with a stunning kick save. 

Fired up from their keeper’s stellar play, Wright State began to press back the other way, earning a few corner kicks that led to a pair of off-target shots. Shortly after, the Raiders would stun the home crowd with a quick goal, as Stefan Rokvic controlled a long ball along the end-line and was able to pass it into the middle where Raiders forward Zion Beaton blasted the ball into the uncovered net for a 2-1 lead. 

Before the Irish had recovered from that shock, it was Wright State’s playmaker, Corfe, who, after pushing for a score all game, finally broke through. On a spectacular individual effort, the England-born star cut into the box from the left side and unleashed an absolute rocket. Turnbull went full extension, but even his fully stretched 6’7” frame could not touch Corfe’s blast, which eluded the Irish senior and found the upper right corner for an absolutely stunning goal that hushed the Irish crowd.

Suddenly down 3-1, Notre Dame spent the remainder of the match desperately pushing for offensive chances.

The chances came, but, except for a late goal on a set piece, the finishes did not. Sundell made another kick save on a sizzling Aschieris cross, and minutes later, he went airborne to deny Coleman’s left-footed effort. Sundell would deny McFadden’s long-range try, and he punched away a Dumas cross to keep the Irish deficit at two goals. Notre Dame did creep within one on a free kick, with Dumas finding senior John Rea to keep the Irish’s hopes alive. But that was all they would get. A corner kick with three minutes left was Notre Dame’s final quality chance, but they could not quite get to a bouncing ball in the box and Wright State cleared and saw the game out from there, advancing to the Round of 32. 

On his team’s near-rally, Riley was complimentary of their efforts and chances.

“I think the guys did a great job, and their keeper made some great saves,” Riley said.

It was a brutal way to go out for Notre Dame, who seemed to be getting hot heading into postseason play, but they ran into a red-hot Raiders squad that played with passion from the opening whistle, and that spelt doom on the Irish season. Notre Dame will return a lot of talent, including leading goal scorer Lynn, but their graduating class will be missed, especially captains senior Jack Casey, Aschieris and Dumas. 

“I think the captain group, along with all the seniors, have done so much for the program,” Riley said. “It’s a program with a lot of pride and a lot of tradition. I thought they were great leaders for us, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way they led the group this year.”

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