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ND Men’s Soccer

Irish soccer set for top-5 clash vs. Pitt

| Friday, September 25, 2020

After last Thursday’s 1-0 win over Kentucky to open the 2020 season, No. 5 Notre Dame (1-0) returns to action at Alumni Stadium Saturday night against No. 4 Pittsburgh (0-0). 

With the ACC being the one of the few conferences still playing this fall, the United Soccer Coaches’ poll cut their customary top 25 to just a top five. Unsurprisingly, the first poll solely consisted of ACC teams. The voters took notice of Notre Dame’s professional performance against the Wildcats, placing the Irish right behind Pitt to round off the list. 

Though Pitt has been a traditional conference foe dating back to both programs’ days in the Big East, Saturday’s top-5 clash will be considered Notre Dame’s last non-conference game of the season.

This fall, the ACC has been split up into a north and south region, with every team playing six conference games against division opponents over a nine-week period to minimize travel and other risk factors associated with COVID-19. The Panthers join the Irish in the north region, and both squads will meet again in Pittsburgh on Oct. 30 to play their conference matchup. 

Notre Dame was picked to finish last in the north region in the ACC coaches’ preseason poll. The Panthers were picked to finish second, receiving two first-place votes behind runaway north region favorites, defending ACC champions and 2019 national runner-up Virginia.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Senior midfielder Aiden McFadden cuts away from a defender in a game against Denver in 2019.

 Last Thursday’s victory over Kentucky suggests the Irish could be a dark horse in the conference this fall, however. Despite periods of sustained pressure from the Wildcats, the veteran Irish back line held firm and did not allow a single shot on target in the final 14 minutes. Senior keeper Keagan McLaughlin looked assured in just his fifth game for Notre Dame, making a career-high four saves in difficult goalkeeping conditions. The Zanesville, Ohio native has yet to concede a goal in an Irish uniform. 

The breakthrough came courtesy of freshman debutant Daniel Russo off the beach, who headed home a corner taken by senior midfielder Aiden McFadden in the 62nd minute. Jackson, N.J. native Russo and McLaughlin were awarded ACC offensive and defensive player of the week, respectively. 

Freshmen Matthew Radivojsa — who led all players with four shots — and Paddy Burns, sophomores Reese Mayer and Ethan O’Brien and senior Michael Lynch joined Russo in making their Notre Dame debuts against the Wildcats. After the victory, Notre Dame head coach Chad Riley said he was excited by what he saw from his freshmen as the rest of the squad continues to mature. 

“It was good all around for the young guys,” he said. “I think we have a good, deep group. I think we’re kind of … turning the corner to become more of a veteran team.” 

The Irish also possess leadership and a goal scoring threat with junior forward Jack Lynn, who was one of the eleven players highlighted on the ACC preseason watch list. The St. Louis, MO native led Notre Dame with 10 goals last season. Five were game-winners, which was tied for second in the ACC and 11th in the country, respectively. One of those match-winners came against Pitt last November, as his 17th-minute strike proved to be enough in a 1-0 victory at Alumni Stadium.

Leading the line for Pitt is Edward Kizza, a senior forward who was also featured on the watch-list. Kizza is coming off two consecutive All-ACC first-team selections. He finished fourth in the conference with twelve goals in 2019 and also scored five match-winners. 

Last year, the Panthers advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they were thumped 5-0 by eventual champions Georgetown.  

Saturday’s game will be Pitt’s official season opener, but they are coming off a 5-0 home win over Louisville Sunday. Kizza scored the opener 25 minutes in before fellow senior forward Alexander Dexter, who led the Panthers with six assists in 2019, added a brace before halftime. Sophomore midfielders Valentin Noel and Veljko Petkovic added goals of their own after the break to complete the rout. 

Kickoff at Alumni Stadium Saturday is scheduled for 7 p.m. No in-person attendance is permitted, but the match will be available to stream on ACC Network Extra. 

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