Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame men’s soccer dropped their first ACC game of the season, falling 1-0 on the road to Syracuse.
It was the Orange who controlled the game off the bat, and the home side capitalized early. Giona Leibold fired home the opener, and what would prove to be the game winner, 22 minutes into the match.
The Syracuse dominance would continue throughout the first half, as the Orange racked up 14 shots in the first 45 minutes. Junior keper Bryan Dowd held firm, however, and the Irish were able to enter the break trailing by just one.
In the second half, Notre Dame improved considerably. Syracuse still got their chances in the form of eight shots, but the Irish showed some fight back and got a few looks on goal of their own.
The best of those looks came with just a minute to go, when a Notre Dame corner kick generated a big chance on goal in a scramble in the six yard box. But the Orange stood strong, clearing the ball off the line and saving the victory.
After the game, head coach Chad Riley lamented the result but saw some silver lining in an improved second half performance:
“Credit to Syracuse, they were excellent today,” Riley said. “We were not at our best in the first half but managed to be down by one. I loved the team’s response in the second half and while we weren’t at our best they had to clear one off the line in the last minute. We will grow from it and be ready for [Virginia].”
Friday’s clash with the Cavaliers in Charlottesville could prove an important barometer of where the Irish stand with reference to the rest of the ACC. Virginia has had a turbulent start to the season, getting blown out by No. 9 Maryland but also earning an impressive 4-2 win against in-state and in-conference rivals Virginia Tech.
Last year’s game against Virginia proved to be an important turning point in the Irish season. Notre Dame entered the game with a solid but uninspiring 4-4-1 record, showing flashes of promise but little consistency. After the Irish dispatched the Cavaliers 1-0 at Alumni Stadium, the team would rip off a five game unbeaten run that stretched nearly the entire month of October.
That five game unbeaten run would be part of a longer final stretch of the season in which the Irish won eleven of thirteen games, capturing a first-ever ACC championship and advancing to a second-ever College Cup in the process.
Notre Dame enters this year’s clash with Virginia in a similar spot. A 3-2 win over Michigan State showed the Irish have the potential to once again contend in the ACC. But Saturday’s loss to Syracuse and a season opening defeat to Seattle have shown the team still needs to develop in key areas.
Coach Chad Riley and company will hope a matchup against the Cavaliers will once again be the catalyst of consistency the team needs heading into the back half of the season. Notre Dame will take on UVA 7 p.m. Friday night in Charlottesville, Virginia. The match will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.