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Irish men’s soccer look for first ACC win in road match at Virginia

On paper, Notre Dame men’s soccer (1-2-1, 0-1-0 ACC) matchup against the Virginia Cavaliers isn’t an ideal matchup. The Irish are still looking to find their stride this season. They have scored more than one goal in three of their four matches. And while Virginia was picked last in their division in the ACC Preseason Poll, the Cavaliers are off to a solid 4-2 start. Plus, the Irish can tell you how much preseason rankings matter as much as anyone. After all, they overcame the same projection a year ago to make the College Cup.

But Friday’s contest offers the Irish a chance to rise to the increasing level of the Cavaliers. Sometimes, good teams just need the right opponent to push them. A Virginia team with a roster not expected to produce a strong season but playing some strong soccer right now could be the right matchup. And if nothing else, the Cavaliers provide the Irish a second chance to get their first conference win of the season, after the Irish fell in Syracuse 1-0 on Saturday.

After dropping their season opener to Xavier 1-0, the Cavaliers have emerged as a dominant offensive team. Virginia has scored at least three goals in four of its five matches since that game. The lone exception was a difficult matchup against No. 6 Maryland, which ended in a 6-1 defeat. But other than that, the Cavaliers have run the table. In fact, Virginia scored five goals in its last game against La Salle (5-0), the same amount the Irish have in four games this season. Obviously, quality of opponent matters. But Virginia certainly looks like a team that could give the Irish defense and junior goaltender Bryan Dowd a handful.

Leo Afonso has lead the way for Virginia with four goals on a whopping 30 shots (14 on goal) so far. His four tallies are tied for 15th in the country as well as for fourth among players in the ACC. Striker Philip Horton, a breakout candidate for the Cavaliers, scored two goals and added an assist. Virginia also rosters an ACC Preseason Watchlist honoree in senior defender Andreas Ueland. Virginia has four players with at least two goals. And, ten Cavaliers have found the back of the net at least once in this still young season.

Notre Dame does come into this meeting with some recent history on their side. The Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Irish in regulation since the 2019-20 season, with Notre Dame winning the last two meetings the teams have played. It is worth noting that both of those games were at Alumni Stadium, however. The only other meeting since was a 1-0 overtime win by Virginia in 2021. That game would end as a 0-0 tie today under college soccer’s new rules.

The Irish take on the Cavaliers at 7 p.m EST in Charlottesville this Friday, Sept. 16. The game can be streamed on ACCNX via WatchESPN.

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ND men’s soccer drops season’s first ACC match

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.

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Late strike saves Irish in draw vs. DePaul

After their game against Indiana was canceled last week due to poor weather conditions, the 22nd-ranked Irish tied DePaul in Alumni Stadium Tuesday night. 

Defense dominated the first half, with no goals scored. Notre Dame’s sophomore defenseman Paddy Burns, junior midfielder Mathew Radivojsa and freshman midfielder KK Baffour had one shot each. Cade Hagan and Jack Richards had one each for DePaul. 

Defense and goalie play has been a strength for DePaul so far this season as they were undefeated going into this game. Gandhi Cruz, DePaul’s keeper, had not allowed a goal in their first three games. Notre Dame and in particular sophomore striker Eno Nto, pushed the tempo in the first half but were unsuccessful in finishing in the box. They were also whistled for five offsides violations.

In the opening minutes of the second half, DePaul junior Jacob Huth scored after Bryan Dowd blocked his first shot. Unfortunately for the Irish, Dowd tripped on what appeared to be loose grass that was kicked up during the initial shot. 

The Irish continued to pressure Cruz into the second half, with Sebastian Green and Paddy Burns each missing the net by a matter of inches. Sophomore Bryce Boneau was fouled in the penalty box and Paddy Burns took the penalty kick for the Irish. While he faked Cruz into picking the wrong direction, the ball hit the side post and bounced off the goal. 

Finally, in the 82nd minute, all of the Irish’s hard work paid off. Matthew Roou scored with an assist from KK Baffour, ending the Blue Demon’s Cruz’s streak. The DePaul bench received a yellow card on the play for trying to get the referee to whistle the play dead. That announcement was lost on the Notre Dame fans, who were still celebrating Roou’s goal. 

After a yellow card on Balfour, a DePaul assistant coach received a red card and was escorted off the field with 48 seconds remaining. The game ended without further incidents. Notre Dame head coach Chad Riley was pleased with the different situations his team has been in so far this season and how they’ve learned from each one. 

“You have your identity, but that’s the reason you play a tough schedule. You know that DePaul’s going to be good, they’re a Big East team. Before we start conference play, they’re going to expose parts of your game. Then, you just learn by doing. Michigan State, I thought, was a little tough because we had some injuries, whereas I thought the guys adapted well.” 

On Saturday, Notre Dame will travel to New York to take on the 3-0-1 Syracuse. The Orange are ranked No. 24 overall after demolishing UConn 5-0 on Monday and knocking off No. 21 Penn State last week. As Notre Dame moves forward into conference games, the team is looking forward to showing off what they’ve been working on. 

“I think conference games always just give a bit of a different energy so that a good changeup, but then there are your traditional rivalries that you play every year. We try to create a schedule that the guys are excited to play every night.”