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Sports

Irish prepare for difficult test against No. 5 Wake Forest

| Friday, March 19, 2021

The Notre Dame men’s soccer team will look to continue their strong start to the spring season Saturday night when they host No. 5 Wake Forest for their first home conference game of 2021. 

The Fighting Irish (8-5, 4-3 ACC) have won three of their first four games of the spring, and much of their success can be attributed to the play of senior forward Aiden McFadden. Drafted in the third round of the 2021 Major League Soccer SuperDraft by Atlanta United, McFadden has three goals and four assists on the season, and he has scored the game-winning goal for the Irish in their past two matchups against Calvin and Duke.

McFadden is not the only attacking threat for the Irish. Junior forward Jack Lynn is the leading scorer for the team with eight goals and that total is also tied for the second-best mark in the country. Lynn nearly scored another during Tuesday’s game against Calvin, but his shot in the 60th minute ricocheted off the post.

Even more impressive for Notre Dame has been the play of their defense. The defense has kept three clean sheets through four games this spring, and the only goal allowed came in overtime against Virginia on March 7. Opposing forwards have had a difficult time getting past senior goalkeeper Keagan McLaughlin, as he has five shutout wins on the season. 

The Irish will have to maintain their tenacious defensive play over the coming weeks, as three of their final four regular-season opponents are currently ranked in the United Soccer Coaches top 25 poll, beginning with Wake Forest on Saturday.

The No. 5 Demon Deacons (9-2-1, 7-2-1 ACC) have followed up their strong play from the fall with wins over Davidson and Boston College, and a tie against North Carolina State to start the spring. Although Notre Dame has had solid defensive performances this spring, they will be tested against a Wake Forest offense that has scored 22 goals this season, the fifth-most in the country.

However, the Demon Deacons will need new attacking players to emerge after two of their top playmakers left to play in MLS. Sophomore forward Calvin Harris, who had four goals and two assists in the fall, was selected second overall by FC Cincinnati in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, while senior forward Machop Chol had three goals and two assists before signing a Homegrown contract with Atlanta United in January.

As a result of Harris’s and Chol’s departures, the team’s attacking responsibilities have fallen to junior forward Kyle Holcomb. Holcomb was a spark for the offense in the fall, leading the team with five goals while adding an assist. However, he has yet to contribute to any goals for Wake Forest this spring.

The matchup between the Irish and the Demon Deacons will have important implications for the NCAA tournament in May. Clemson claimed the ACC’s automatic bid by winning the ACC Championship in November, therefore Notre Dame and Wake Forest will need to earn one of the 12 at-large bids to compete in the tournament.

Kickoff on Saturday is slated for 7 p.m. EDT at Alumni Stadium, and the game will air on ACC Network Extra.

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