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ND Men’s Soccer

Notre Dame men’s soccer prepares for College Cup showdown with Clemson

| Thursday, December 9, 2021

This Friday, Notre Dame men’s soccer will play in their second-ever College Cup when they travel to Cary, North Carolina, to take on the Clemson Tigers.

The last time the Irish made the College Cup in 2013, the program captured their first and only national title. If this years’ squad wants to repeat that feat, however, they’ll have a tough road ahead of them. It starts with their semifinal matchup against a familiar ACC foe.

Clemson and Notre Dame have already met this year, with the Irish capturing a 2-0 victory in what proved to be a statement game for the squad. Having previously hung tough with nationally contending teams like Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia Tech, the Irish’s win on the road in Clemson was their first outright win over a ranked opponent. 

Of course, all prior history goes out the window once the College Cup kicks off. Clemson plays an aggressive, high-octane, pressing style that will look to force Notre Dame into poor decisions and sloppy turnovers. When asked about the details of preparing for a team of Clemson’s style, head coach Chad Riley referred to the Elite Eight. There, Notre Dame had the fortune of playing a game in the quarterfinal where their opponent, Pittsburgh, implemented many of the same tactical concepts they’ll face Friday.

“I think in some ways our game against Pitt will help us in that preparation,” said Riley.  “I think their identities are similar so I think that will help us a little bit. Though I think games at the end of the year will start and end in a different way so I think that’s an important piece [for the team to keep in mind] as well.”

Just like in the game against Pittsburgh, the Irish will likely have to rely on their stellar defense to secure a victory. Notre Dame’s backline had a streak of over 600 minutes without conceding a goal through the Sweet 16. That was broken in the first half against the Panthers, but the Irish defense clamped up again in the second half. They held Pitt to six total shots and no other definitive chances on net.

Another strong defensive showing will be key against the Tigers, who have an explosive offense with plenty of weapons. If Notre Dame can lock down the Tiger attack, and force the game to be played on their terms. If Clemson is constantly backpedaling against a barrage of Irish set-piece plays and counterattacks, then the Irish stand a good chance of advancing.

Coach Riley acknowledged the possibility of a national championship in his media availability on Tuesday. It would be his first with the program, but he brushed off any talk about preparation for Washington or Georgetown before the task directly in front of the team is complete.

“We’ve watched Georgetown preparing for other games, so we feel like we know them a little bit,” said Riley. “But really, the focus right now is only on Clemson.”

The Irish will look to advance to their second ever national title on Friday in their second-ever College Cup appearance. Their semi-final matchup with Clemson will kick off at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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