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Irish hope to bring the rain at Purdue

Inclement weather may very well be the only thing that can slow down Notre Dame women’s soccer at this point. Sunday’s match at Indiana was postponed, forcing the Irish to wait an additional four days before resuming their special start to the 2022 season.

Nate Norman’s team is 5-0 with a +14 goal differential, its best margin through the first five games of a season in 14 years. The next challenge is a short trip to West Lafayette for a Thursday night battle with 3-3 Purdue.

Notre Dame swept the Boilermakers in two meetings last season, prevailing 1-0 in the regular season and eliminating Purdue from the NCAA tournament with a 2-1 victory in penalty kicks. The Boilermakers lost their second-winningest season in program history (15-4-3) at the hands of the Irish, so Drew Roff and his group are certainly ready for another shot at them.

To open the season, Notre Dame has won all five of its games by at least two goals, outshooting opponents 118-17 with a 65-7 on-goal clip. The back end has been reliable throughout the first few weeks for the Irish, allowing just one goal total. The offense, however, has come alive the last two games, bombarding both Illinois and No. 22 Wisconsin for four goals each.

Graduate forward Olivia Wingate has played the starring role in the Irish attack, netting three of her team-leading five goals in last Thursday’s 4-1 thumping of Wisconsin. Very few teams have the defensive talent to shut her down, so Purdue may have to focus on limiting her supporting cast, namely senior midfielder Maddie Mercado. The San Diego native has found the back of the net four times already, and closely trails Wingate’s 17 shots on goal with 15 of her own. Notre Dame’s prime attackers may have an unusually tougher bout with Roff’s defense, though, as Purdue has allowed three or more goals just once since the head coach began his fifth season in 2019.

Purdue, on the flip side, has stumbled out of the gate this year after a historic 2021 season. After defeating then-ranked USC 3-0 to begin the campaign, the Boilermakers lost back-to-back matches to Vanderbilt and Kentcuky before closing out August with a 2-1 win over Miami (Ohio). Purdue then embarked on a two-game Sunflower State road trip that included a 1-0 loss to Kansas last Thursday and a gritty conquest of Kansas State on Sunday. The Boilermakers struck twice in the first 25 minutes of play, but were reduced to ten players for the game’s final 47 minutes due to a red card.

Even so, Purdue followed the lead of sophomore goalkeeper Sara Kile and survived by a score of 2-1. Kile made a career-high 11 saves and has been leaned upon time and time again this season. Despite playing less than 12 minutes as a freshman, Kile has stopped 33 shots and let in just five goals in five games played, as Purdue has been battered 97-57 in the shots attempted department.

In front of her, sophomore forward Gracie Dunaway has paced the offense with a Big Ten-best four goals on the year. The Boilermakers have won all three games in which she scored, so Notre Dame’s cohesive defensive unit will undoubtedly need to keep close tabs on her. Junior midfielder Emily Matthews has often been involved in setting up her tallies, quickly racking up three assists on the young season.

In order to pull an upset and hand the Irish their first loss of 2022, Purdue may have to replicate its brilliant start at Kansas State. The Boilermakers cannot expect to contain Notre Dame’s potent offense for the full 90 minutes, seeing that the Irish have potted ten second-half goals in the first five games, including four late markers against Wisconsin. Thursday will be Purdue’s final tune-up before Big Ten conference play begins, while Notre Dame will have one more home contest with Ohio on Sunday prior to opening its ACC schedule.

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