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ND Men’s Soccer

Series of bad breaks defined season, but Irish made best of it

| Friday, May 15, 2020

The 2019 Notre Dame men’s soccer team entered the season with high expectations, coming off an Elite Eight appearance and thrilling NCAA Tournament run. Throughout the year, the Irish flashed a lot of upside and potential, with sophomore forward Jack Lynn scoring 10 goals, senior defender Felicien Dumas taking dazzling set pieces, and 6-feet-7-inches senior goaltender Duncan Turnbull solidifying the backline of defense.

With some strong young players and a senior core, Notre Dame (10-8-1, 3-5 ACC) had a lot of pieces, but they could never seem to catch a break as a bad bounce or call here or there seemed to plague them at extremely inopportune moments. However, as second-year head coach Chad Riley reflected on, it was certainly not a season without success.

Notre Dame played a grueling schedule this past season, as their ACC slate was filled with ranked opponents. They started off conference play with a tough and high-scoring battle against the Tigers, who scored 7 of the 24 goals the Irish allowed all year. After the 4-2 loss to Clemson, Notre Dame struggled to gain momentum in conference play, losing to UNC, dropping a home heartbreaker to Virginia on a controversial penalty kick and an ugly road defeat to NC State. At 0-4 in conference play, it looked like it might be a lost season, but the Irish had a far too resilient senior core to let their season end with a whimper. 

Their resurgence began on Oct. 11 with a home victory over Duke, and then, a few games later, a stunning road victory at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were ranked No. 2 in the nation, and they hadn’t lost at home since 2013. But Notre Dame came in and served Wake Forest a shocking loss.

“That was a big game for us. We were pretty hard-done by some midweek games where we played pretty well and didn’t get the result we wanted,” Riley said, referring to a home loss to Michigan, where the Irish were again undone by questionable officiating. “We talked as a group that we needed to play well, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t do, and I thought we went down there and played a really good game on the road against a good team, scored a great goal and got the victory we needed.”

Kicking off a season-high three-game winning streak for Notre Dame, the victory culminated in a comeback win over Boston College in an ACC preliminary round game held on Notre Dame’s campus. After a stunning goal from the Eagles early on a strike from about 30 yards out, the Irish rallied, tying the score before winning in double overtime.

“Classes were still going on campus, so it was a different environment,” Riley said. “This team didn’t always get the bounces we hoped for, and we found ourselves fighting back a lot, and this game encapsulated that. We gave up a tough goal from way deep, but we fought back and got a big win that ensured we would get into the NCAA Tournament.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish defender Patrick Coleman dribbles the ball during the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament when Notre Dame notched a 1-0 win in the  over the University of Denver on Sept. 8 at Alumni Stadium.

For a season that didn’t end the way the Irish wanted, getting a postseason victory on their home field was at least a small trophy they could hold onto. Notre Dame had a chance for another, but the team ran into a red-hot underdog squad in Wright State. The Raiders topped the Irish in a thrilling 3-2 opening-round tournament contest, prematurely ending the Irish’s season.

Despite the scoreboard not displaying the desired result, the game exemplified some of the key attributes of this particular Irish squad. With one defender already ineligible for the game due to a red card in the game prior and junior defenseman Townsend Meyer going down with an injury, Riley turned to Spencer Farina, a senior reserve defender, to step up. Farina did an excellent job of limiting Wright State’s forwards, later earning Riley’s praise in his postgame comments. Farina was just one of a few seniors who embraced their role and were ready to play when their name was called, and Riley praised this aspect of his team.

“I think that shows the culture of our team for a long time, and I think our senior class exhibited that,” he said. “It can be hard at times when your number isn’t called to put the team’s needs ahead of your time. That senior class really showed that well. There may have been guys that wanted more minutes, but when their names were called, they were always ready to step up.”

Riley also spoke specifically about his senior class, and the talent and heart he was losing heading into 2020. The Irish were led by captains Ian Aschieris, Jack Casey and Dumas, all of whom, Riley said, displayed different qualities. Aschieris, the team’s top returning goal-scorer, embraced a less flashy role, slogging out games as a midfielder. Aschieris ended up scoring the game-tying goal against BC in the ACC Tournament.

Dumas anchored the backline for the Irish, and he delivered the set pieces that made Notre Dame one of the most feared teams in the country in dead ball situations. Riley remembered his first year as head coach when he first realized the talent he had in Dumas.

“In 2018, he just showed the ability to deliver those set pieces for us, scored some unbelievably good goals for us,” Riley said. “So it was my first year back that I really saw that unique ability.”

Meanwhile, Riley praised Casey’s leadership ability as well.

“Jack Casey had the respect of the team with his consistent play and a model of a student-athlete at Notre Dame,” he said.

The leadership of all three senior captains will be missed, Riley said. Dumas will be continuing his soccer career after he was drafted 48th overall in the MLS Draft. 

Riley will also have to groom a new keeper after Turnbull played all but three contests in net this season. After winning the job during Notre Dame’s postseason run in 2018, Turnbull was sharp all season long, making a bevy of huge saves when called upon.

“Duncan did an awesome job. On top of being a very good goalie, he just had a presence back there,” Riley said of Turnbull. “There were games where he wasn’t called on as often, but he was always there to make that save, or a couple of saves, to make sure. When you have a goalie like that, your defense can play and defend a little more aggressively, and Duncan certainly provided that.”

Turnbull went through extended tryouts with some English clubs, and he ultimately signed with Portsmouth FC, opting to play overseas rather than head to the MLS, where he was drafted in the third round.

Notre Dame ultimately graduates nine players overall. Joining Dumas, Aschieris, Casey and Turnbull are John Rea, Farina, Brian Finn, Nick Cullen and Senan Farrelly.

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