ND Men’s Soccer
Lynn, Riley celebrate season as tournament run ends in semifinals
Jamison Cook | Saturday, December 11, 2021
The Notre Dame men’s soccer team’s magical 2021 season came to a close on Friday in Cary, NC, as the Fighting Irish fell to the Clemson Tigers in the semifinals of the College Cup. The Tigers edged the Irish in a shootout after 110 minutes of back-and-forth soccer. But if anyone had said that Notre Dame would still be playing in mid-December before the season began, most fans would have been shocked.
Nearly all of the preseason polls in the ACC picked the Irish to finish last in the Coastal Division, and they received the fewest votes along with Syracuse. The Notre Dame team projected to finish at the bottom of the entire conference opened the season accordingly, starting 1-3-1 in their first five games while giving up nine goals. The fifth game of the year – when the Irish hosted Michigan State – saw Notre Dame blow a 3-1 halftime lead, allowing three Spartan goals in the second half en route to a 4-3 loss. The outlook was bleak for the Irish, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It looked as if they would land exactly where the rest of the ACC — and the country — thought they would.
But following the loss to Michigan State, something clicked for head coach Chad Riley and his team. The Irish started playing championship-level soccer. They ended the regular season on an 8-2-1 tear, including an 8-0-1 record at Alumni Stadium. They posted a 4-2-2 regular season ACC record, knocking off conference champion favorites Pitt along the way.
Senior forward Jack Lynn really made his mark on the season throughout this stretch of victories for the Irish. Lynn took charge, leading the team in goals and points on his way to being named a Second Team All-American. He was also surrounded by multiple younger players at the forward position, and Lynn has been an extremely important mentor for them this season.
“I think the biggest thing that I have told (Matthew) Roou, (Daniel) Russo, (Michael) Rossi and the rest of them is just have confidence in their abilities,” Lynn said. “When you play striker, a lot of the time it can be easy to get in your head when you miss chances and things aren’t going your way, but it really only takes one good play or one goal to snap out of it. I just keep telling them that, I have to think about it myself too a lot of the time. I think they are great players, they have tremendous futures, and I can’t wait to see what happens with this team after I leave.”
There were still a lot of doubt surrounding the Irish as they headed into the ACC Tournament. But they stayed hot, with nail-biting wins over NC State and Louisville by scores of 1-0 and 3-0 in a penalty shootout, respectively. They then beat ACC-favorite Pitt for the second time by a score of 2-0 in the semifinals before defeating Duke 2-0 to claim the first ACC Championship in program history.
The conference championship earned Notre Dame the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, which came with a first-round bye. The Irish used the home-field advantage at Alumni Stadium to fuel two dominant shutout performances against Villanova and Wake Forest in the second and third rounds. They then played No. 5 Pitt for the third time, and they once again came out on top, riding the momentum of a second-half Paddy Burns equalizer in regulation to win 4-2 in the penalty shootout.
The team then traveled to Cary, NC to compete in the College Cup as one of the last four teams standing in the country. The Irish would play another familiar foe in Clemson. After early goals from both teams, the two played to a stalemate through the second half and both overtimes. And while Notre Dame had seen great success in previous shootouts, they came up just short this time, falling to the Tigers 5-3.
“What a great team, what a great result, what a great season, all those things,” Coach Riley said following the season-ending loss. “I know they’re just such competitors and they wanted to compete in one more game. They did tonight, they left everything they had on the field, they competed, they played with composure. They did everything that we try to strive to do, but we didn’t get to advance. And with that, credit to Clemson. We knew every game we played here was going to be a tough game and they played a great game. We wish them luck in the final.”
In light of the preseason expectations for the Irish, this season can be considered nothing short of a success. Coach Riley acknowledged the magnitude of what his team has been able to do in spite of the constant doubt they faced from the beginning of the season.
“I think anytime you’re competing here in soccer in a tournament, I think Coach Noonan said it a couple days ago: there’s 204 teams not playing right now, so I’d sure as heck say that’s a pretty successful season.”