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ND Men’s Soccer

ACC Tournament Preview: Men’s Soccer

| Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Notre Dame men’s soccer opened up ACC tournament play Wednesday with a 1-0 win at home over North Carolina State. The gauntlet they would face in order to run the table is daunting, but there’s very little this Irish team hasn’t already seen in conference play.

The No. 1 seed is Pittsburgh, against whom Notre Dame made waves in the conference with an upset 1-0 win in double overtime in South Bend in October. The Panthers are a squad that have steadily risen from the bottom of the ACC standings to a serious national championship contender over the last several years. This year was another step in that direction, as they captured their second straight top overall seed (meaning they collected the highest amount of total points over the course of the season) for the conference tournament. They are, however, still looking for their first ACC Tournament title under head coach Jay Vidovich, as the Panthers fell last year in the final to Clemson 2-1.

Speaking of Clemson, the Tigers are the No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament and another main competitor for the crown. Much like Pittsburgh, they also suffered an upset defeat to Notre Dame, though their loss came on home turf in South Carolina. While some of Clemson’s most vital players from their ACC Tournament winning team last season, such as midfield dynamo Phillip Mayaka and 2020 Tournament MVP Kimarni Smith, have since departed in the MLS Superdraft, the Tigers are still primed for another run this year. Head Coach Mike Noonan prefers a high-octane pressing style that looks to force errors out of the opposition and push the tempo of the match. Unsurprisingly, few can keep up with the fast-paced Tigers.

Three more teams who all could piece together a run also stand out as possible threats for the trophy: Duke, Louisville, and Wake Forest (we’ll get to Notre Dame later on). Duke’s resume is both a blessing and a curse. While they’ve only lost an impressive two ACC games (tied for the fewest with Notre Dame and Pittsburgh), those two losses both came to the powerhouses mentioned above. Louisville led the race for the No.1 seed until the final day of the season, when they were promptly destroyed 5-1 in a tour de force by Clemson. Wake Forest is an enigma. In the No. 6 spot, their record is filled with impressive wins (taking down both Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech by 3-1 score lines) and baffling losses (falling to eventual No. 9 seed Boston College 3-2 and dropping a 1-0 out of conference battle with Liberty at home). Bobby Muuss’ squad has as much talent as just about any team in the conference, and they could be primed for a dark horse run.

So where do the Irish fit into all this? Notre Dame has one of the most interesting resumes of all. They’re the only team in the conference to have beaten both Clemson and Pittsburgh. They were one loss to North Carolina (the overall No. 7 seed) on the final day of the season away from having the No. 1 seed, but because of that loss ended up with the No. 5 seed. And that North Carolina loss wasn’t their only blip against a team below them in the standings. The Irish also lost to No. 8 seed Virginia Tech and tied Boston College. In short, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team is the complete opposite of the women’s soccer team. While the women’s team have established themselves as a side that without fail beats any team below them in the standings but persistently struggles against the conferences’ elite, the men’s squad have developed a habit of playing both up to nationally ranked competition as well as down to teams they should be beating.

So, really, they could do just about anything this tournament, but they are off to a good start already. On Wednesday night the Irish took down the No. 12 seed North Carolina State Wolfpack 1-0 under the lights at Alumni Stadium. It took a Dawson McCartney penalty kick to separate the two teams, as the graduate student midfielder fired home Notre Dame’s best chance of the day after senior striker Tyler Shea was taken down inside the box. The foul was generated after a clever run by Shea, who flicked the ball past his man about 15 yards out from goal, forcing the Wolfpack defender into getting in his way and tripping him down. With the lead safely in hand, the Irish defense that finished the regular season as the best in the conference finished out the match strong. There was a late scare when a corner kick in the final seconds by North Carolina State possibly was headed onto the hand of Notre Dame senior midfielder Mohamed Omar, but despite appeals from virtually every Wolfpack player on the field the referee declined to give a penalty kick, and the Irish safely cleared the ball away. With the win, Notre Dame earned a trip to Louisville on Sunday to face the No. 4 seed Cardinals in the tournament quarterfinals.

This story was updated from Thursday, Nov. 4 following Notre Dame’s win over North Carolina State

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