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ND Men’s Soccer

Men’s soccer falls short of NCAA tournament, but take positives from season

| Friday, May 21, 2021

Notre Dame’s season began with an exhibition match against Louisville in a park just outside of Indianapolis. It ended “probably one game away” from being selected to the NCAA tournament, according to head coach Chad Riley. 

The Irish had an up and down year, playing competitive matches in the spring and the fall due to multiple conferences canceling fall sports due to the pandemic. “One of the positives of having those two seasons is you do feel you got what we would think of as two years of growth in this one year,” Riley said. 

The Irish played one of the toughest schedules in the country, including five games against eventual final four teams North Carolina and Pittsburgh.

“Their ability to handle the academic [rigor], the COVID protocols, and then to still play arguably the toughest schedule in the country and perform decently well I think says a lot about the group,” Riley said. “It says a lot about the character of the individuals as well as the team that we were able to persevere through this most unusual year.”

Sofia CrimiVaroli | The Observer
Irish junior forward Tyler Shea dribbles the ball during Notre Dame’s 2-0 loss to Virginia Tech on Senior Night on Apr. 9 at Alumni Stadium.

The Irish started the fall portion of the campaign 3-3 and needed a win in an early November contest against Louisville in order to qualify for the conference tournament, a moment Riley said defined the season. The Irish quickly went up 3-0 in the opening twenty minutes, thanks to a first-half hat trick from junior forward Jack Lynn, and held on for a 4-1 win. 

In the ACC quarterfinals the following week, senior midfielder Aidan McFadden scored a 100th-minute free-kick to give the Irish a 1-0 victory over North Carolina. However, the fall portion of the season came to an end when Notre Dame fell 3-1 to top-seeded Pittsburgh. The Irish could have secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament but were instead forced to attempt to qualify as an at-large team in the spring. 

The Irish started the spring schedule strong, winning three out of their first four contests, but dropped the final four matches of the season and ultimately missed out on the NCAA tournament.

“The captains and the team are looking at it as [we are] really disappointed,” Riley said, “But how do we recommit to those principals and values and work that it takes to be where we want to be, and with that, knowing that there’s so many good performances that we actually feel quite confident going into the year.”

All nine of Notre Dame’s losses were by a goal or fewer, and the NCAA tournament shrunk from 64 teams to just 36. Prior to this year, Notre Dame had made eight consecutive tournaments. 

Lynn was named to the All-ACC first team after the conclusion of the season, while McFadden was named to the second team. “Jack’s continued to build on some great early seasons, and I know he’ll have his best year yet his senior year,” Riley said. 

Lynn led the squad with eight goals, while McFadden finished with four goals and a team-high four assists. “Aidan has his best year in a Notre Dame uniform,” Riley said. “[He] hit a new level of confidence this year.” 

McFadden recently signed with Atlanta United’s reserve team, and the Irish also graduate starting goalkeeper Keagen McLaughlin and the majority of his classmates.

“You sort of take it for granted at Notre Dame, but they were just a really great group of guys,” Riley said. 

Riley replaced legendary head coach Bobby Clarke, who had led the Irish for 33 seasons, in the spring of 2018. “When a new coach comes in it’s disruptive no matter what,” Riley said. “I think they just did such a wonderful job of making sure the core identity of our programs stayed intact as we evolved forward and I thought they did a wonderful job of being great teammates….Above all, we try to have a group of guys that are great teammates to one another and I think this senior class did a great job of living that example.”

The Irish still return a strong core, led by Lynn and returning captains Mohammed Omar and Phillip Quinton, and will be vying for a return to the NCAA tournament, and potentially even more. 

“At Notre Dame, the standard is always winning the championship,” Riley said. “One of the things we need to do with some of these bigger games is turn them from ties or close losses to wins.”

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