The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.


Without Albert in the 2023 lineup, where does women’s soccer go from here?

| Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Over the weekend, Notre Dame women’s soccer star Korbin Albert announced via Instagram that she will be forgoing her remaining collegiate eligibility to play professionally with French soccer club PSG.

In the long term, Albert’s departure to a Champions League club represents a major win for the program in pitching itself as a destination for recruits. But, it is difficult to imagine a greater loss for the Irish to endure heading into the 2023 season.

The 2023 lineup already was set to be headlined by some major departures before the loss of Albert. Olivia Wingate provided consistent production at forward. Mackenzie Wood brought a steady hand to the goalkeeper position. Brianna Martinez was a staple starter at wingback. 

But none of those losses came with as much of a wholistic impact on Notre Dame’s play as Albert. The sophomore’s influence was not necessarily limited to one phase of the game. She was arguably the team’s best creator and finisher and was a consistent contributor to the Irish press.

To make matters worse, the Irish do not have a clear pre-existing replacement for Albert on the roster. While it is a foregone conclusion that the Irish will not be able to match the raw talent of a player heading to play for PSG at just 19 years old, perhaps the bigger issue is that they do not have an obvious “next man up” at her specific position either.

While some of the other lineup switches seem cut and dry. Junior Ashley Naylor should take over for Wood at goalkeeper. One of sophomore Katie Coyle or junior Ellie Ospeck figure to fill Martinez’s spot at wingback. But Albert’s consistent presence on the pitch meant nobody but the Irish coaching staff truly knows who her existing backup would be.

So where do the Irish go from here? The good news is that Notre Dame does have multiple potential paths. The most obvious option would almost certainly be the transfer portal. Love it or hate it, the portal has become the undisputed top location for teams to find short-term roster supplements.

Three of the four teams that participated in this year’s College Cup added at least one transfer before the season that would go on to contribute to the squad’s postseason run. Michigan State exploded from Big Ten bottom-dwellers to national top ten challengers in two years in large part thanks to being perhaps the single most active Power Five team in the portal. The Irish themselves got a boost from transfer participants in their resurgent 2022 campaign. That included the aforementioned Wood and jack-of-all-trades graduate student midfielder Ashley Zugay.

There’s no one correct way to work the Portal. Penn State returned to the top of the Big Ten with the help of Penelope Hocking, a known All-American talent who was seeking a new challenge after four highly successful years at USC. Florida State received major contributions in their ACC title run from Onyi Echegini. The highly underrated midfielder was proven in the SEC but had never gotten a huge spotlight at Mississippi State.

Two of Michigan State’s most influential pickups in their aforementioned Portal rebuild were Lauren DeBeau and Ruby Diodati. Both were mid-major standouts who made seamless transitions to Power Five play. Texas advanced in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 in part thanks to a boost from adding Jilly Shimkin, a former top recruit who wanted a fresh start after falling out of the starting lineup at Penn State.

Point is, game-changing players enter the transfer portal for all sorts of reasons. It is unknown precisely what Notre Dame’s options might be should they go diving into the portal. But it would seem imprudent by all accounts for the Irish to not check what prospects could be available.

One of the things that makes head coach Nate Norman and company’s potential search easier is Notre Dame’s other option to replace Albert: moving a player already in the Irish lineup into her spot. While Notre Dame never showed a true backup to Albert over the course of 2022, they do have several players already in the lineup who have the tools to play her role.

Senior Maddie Mercado played the position alongside Albert in 2021 before moving to forward to replace the departed Sammi Fisher. The Irish could shift her back to the midfield and instead search for a replacement forward. Freshman Laney Matriano held down defensive midfield while showing the technical and passing ability needed for a more attacking role. Notre Dame could slide her to forward and look for a new defensive midfielder instead.

The bench is also an interesting unknown to keep an eye on over the course of the Irish’s spring scrimmages. The Irish relied heavily on the pairing of Albert and senior forward Kiki Van Zanten last season. Maybe the Irish have a player who could take Albert’s spot that simply never got the chance to shine.

Sophomore midfielder Sophia Fisher played in every Irish game as an attacking midfielder off the bench. However, she was never able to get a full run with the first team. This spring could provide a major chance for her to stake a claim in the now vacated No. 10 spot. Freshman midfielder Berkley Mensik earned a pair of starts during the season. But she never found a consistent role in the rotation as she bounced between stints at wingback and forward. Could her dribbling ability and quickness find a home at attacking midfield? 

Perhaps the most interesting option of all would be another transfer — one that was brought in last year. Graduate student forward/defender Kristina Lynch figured to be a major part of Notre Dame’s 2022 campaign, and for good reason. The former national player of the year at Penn High School returned home to Michiana as a graduate transfer with plenty of experience, winning two titles with Florida State. But she never saw the field for the Irish due to a lingering injury sustained over the summer. Ostensibly, Lynch could be eligible for a sixth year as a result of her injury. Could the Granger native who played all over the field with the Seminoles opt in for one last ride at attacking midfield?

Regardless of how Notre Dame fixes the new Mac Hermann Finalist-sized hole in their lineup, spring scrimmages should make for fascinating viewing. Between the losses of Albert and Wingate, Notre Dame has to replace over half their total goal-scoring output from 2022. And finding the right attacking combination to successfully build off the program’s best season in years might be Norman’s toughest job yet as Irish coach.

The Irish built their 2022 run upon two building blocks from a solid-but-unspectacular 2021 campaign: solid defense and brilliance on the part of Albert. The former should remain a staple for 2023. After all, the Irish are slated to bring back all three preferred starters at center back. The latter, be it through the existing improvements or a home run Portal add, will need to come from elsewhere.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About J.J. Post

J.J. Post is a senior in Fisher Hall. Hailing from Mountainside, New Jersey, he's currently working his way towards being the nation's foremost expert on college soccer. Whether via the button below or his overly active Twitter (@JayJayPost), feel free to reach out and talk about Notre Dame soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, baseball or softball. Or any other Notre Dame sport you can think of. Odds are he watches it as well.

Contact J.J.