ND Men’s Soccer
Irish hold off D-III Calvin in spring home opener
Greg McKenna | Wednesday, March 17, 2021
It wasn’t always comfortable, but Notre Dame recorded their third clean sheet in four spring games Tuesday night as the Irish (8-5, 4-3 ACC) downed Division III Calvin University (0-1, 0-0 MIAA) 1-0 in Notre Dame’s spring home opener at Alumni Stadium.
Notre Dame head coach Chad Riley said he was aware the scoreline did not look overly impressive by itself.
“But to be honest with you, I know their coach, I know their program and we knew it would be a tough game,” he said. “And especially if you don’t get that second goal — I think we were close a number of times to kind of getting it, and I think you get a little bit more comfortable [after that]. But those are always tricky games in the sport of soccer. And I think I give our guys a lot of credit for the way they handled it.”
The Irish are yet to concede a goal in regulation during the spring season. The only goal against the Irish in 2021 came in the 95th minute of a 1-0 overtime loss to Virginia.
Tuesday night was Calvin’s first game since a 4-0 loss to Tufts in the semifinals of the Division III NCAA Tournament in December 2019. After having their fall season postponed due to COVID-19, the Knights were picked to collect their 14th Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association title this spring in the conference’s Coaches Poll.
Calvin was unafraid to put the high press on the Irish early, playing the majority of the first ten minutes in the home side’s half before Notre Dame used their penalty area prowess to go into the ascendancy.
Irish sophomore center back Mohammad Abualnadi had a good header to the bottom right corner saved by Calvin goalkeeper Daniel Wunder at full extension in the 13th minute. The Knights were not able to fully clear, and Abualnadi’s center back partner, junior Philip Quinton, saw his header denied by the crossbar and cleared for a corner a few seconds later.
Two corner kicks later, however, the pressure finally paid off, as the two picks in the 2021 Major League Soccer SuperDraft combined for the evening’s only goal after almost a quarter hour.
Portland Timbers second-round pick Dawson McCartney, a senior transfer from Dartmouth, whipped in a dangerous cross that was met by senior midfielder Aiden McFadden. McFadden, a third-round selection by Atlanta United FC, found himself a pocket of space in the six-yard box before dispatching the free header into Wunder’s bottom-left corner.
McFadden scored Notre Dame’s opening goal for a second consecutive game Tuesday after scoring against Duke in the sixth minute Saturday. McFadden, who leads the Irish with four assists in 2020-2021, also made a vital sliding challenge to end a three-versus-three Calvin counterattack late in the second half.
Riley lauded McFadden’s constant motor and leadership as one of the team’s captains.
“I never take it for granted that he puts in a lot of work every time he goes out there to compete,” Riley said.
Tuesday marked the first start in an Irish uniform for McCartney, who won Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2017 during Riley’s last year in charge of the Big Green before he succeeded the legendary Bobby Clark in South Bend.
“I think he’s someone that gives us a great presence on the left wing,” Riley said of McCartney. “He’s someone that brings a lot of energy and a lot of ability to get good service in on the wide area.”
Despite conceding eight corners, Calvin held firm and pressed hard for an equalizer in the final 15 minutes of the first half. Notre Dame freshman goalkeeper Bryan Dowd marked his debut for the Irish with a diving save to deny a header by junior Knights forward Sam Twigg, who recorded 15 goals and 15 assists in 2019.
The Irish were on the front foot after the break, but Calvin had the first big opportunity of the second half when Twigg was fouled just outside the area. Knights junior midfielder Mason Smith tried to surprise Dowd on the ensuing free kick by seeking out the far corner, but TopDrawerSoccer’s third-ranked keeper in the class of 2020 made another impressive diving stop.
Just after the hour mark, the Irish almost had a second goal through junior forward Jack Lynn. The St. Louis, Missouri, native leads the Irish with eight goals in 2020-2021, but his glancing header off a delicate cross from freshman left back Paddy Burns only rattled the crossbar.
Wunder also denied the Irish with just under 20 minutes to go. A great move by junior midfielder Ben Giacobello on the byline allowed him to cut the ball back for freshman midfielder Matthew Radivojsa, whose strike from just outside the area would have found the top corner if not for a fingertip save by Wunder to his right.
Tuesday’s matchup was the final non-conference game in Notre Dame’s spring campaign. Imminent showdowns against Wake Forest and North Carolina this and next Saturday, respectively, loom large as the Irish aim to earn an at-large bid to April’s NCAA Tournament, which was postponed during the fall.
Riley admitted a second goal would have allowed his side to rotate a bit more and said the biggest negative of the unusual 2020-2021 season has been the lack of a typical “developmental” spring campaign.
“I’m just so proud of the group through this entire pandemic,” he said. “They’ve just been focused on competing and training. And a lot of them without the reward of playing in any games.”
Kickoff Saturday at Alumni Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will be available to stream on ACC Network Extra.