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Irish look to build on 8-0 rout of Kalamazoo

Irish senior defender Reese Mayer dribbles the ball during Notre Dame’s 1-0 defeat to North Carolina on Sept. 24. Credit: Ryan Vigilante.

Following a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to North Carolina Saturday night, head coach Chad Riley and the Irish were looking to bounce back against Kalamazoo Tuesday night. On a rainy, crisp night at Alumni Stadium, the Irish took the field looking to find a momentum-building win with a tough patch of the schedule approaching. This was the first time Notre Dame took on Kalamazoo since 1980, when the Hornets defeated the Irish 1-0.

The Irish got off to a blazing start, dominating at every end of the pitch. Despite an aggressive and physical Hornets team, the Irish masterfully played the ball through their lines and began to rack up shots and corner kicks. The first goal of the game came courtesy of freshman forward Wyatt Borso, who scored in the eighth minute off a deflection from a Hornets defender.

Despite some questionable turnovers, the Irish would find the back of the net again eight minutes later through junior defender Paddy Burns, who was assisted by sophomore defender Kyle Genenbacher and standout freshman midfielder KK Bafour. 

Bafour, who has had a fantastic debut season for the Irish, would find the net in the 16th minute, slotting his shot into the corner from outside the box. The technique on his goal showcased just how talented this freshman core is. The next goal would come in the 22nd minute, with sophomore forward Matthew Roou directing home a technical header off a corner taken by Bafour. 

Following a slew of reinforcements in the form of 25th minute substitutions, mainly eager freshmen, the Irish continued to dominate. Sophomore forward Eno Nto, taking a beautiful touch and with a world-class curve, slotted home his first goal of the season in the 32nd minute. The highlight reel strike was assisted by freshman defender Mitch Ferguson. 

Another freshman, forward Nicholas Legendre, would also get his first goal of the season only two minutes later, knocking home a screamer into the top corner of the net. Legendre was covered tightly by a Hornets defender, and his goal was all the more remarkable given the space he had. Junior midfielder Matthew Radivojsa got his name onto the score sheet with his assist to Legendre. Junior forward Daniel Russo would convert a penalty in the 42nd minute, making the score 7-0 going into the half. 

As the two teams came out of the half, the game slowed down a bit with the Irish ramping down their aggressiveness in approaching the net. The timid energy of the Irish, however, was not matched by the Kalamazoo Hornets, who continued to play extremely physical soccer and recorded their first shot in this half. The Irish would finally break the slogging deadlock of the second half with a 70th minute goal from senior defender Aaron Hill, squeezing his shot just past the keeper. Legendre provided the assist, making it a big night for the freshman. 

The rain progressed from a drizzle to a substantial pour as the half drew on, and the game slowly became more sloppy and ugly. The Irish would miss two prime chances in the second half, but continued to get valuable minutes for the whole roster. The game finished 8-0, with the Irish recording a much-needed win following the emotional downturn of Saturday night. 

The Irish dominated this match overall, recording twenty total shots, thirteen on target, compared to Kalamazoo’s one shot on net. They won five corners to the Hornets’ one and dominated nearly 70% of possession. Something must also be said for the Irish players’ ability to remain composed and collected despite an overtly physical and taxing style of play from the Hornets, a style that really did test the referee’s whistle. The Hornets ended up being booked four yellow cards, despite the lopsided possession time.

Riley was unsurprised with the aggressive fouls and unending effort of the Hornets.

“We knew they were going to be physical,” he said. “They are a good team. We knew it would be a well-contested game.” 

That’s despite the fact that Notre Dame, a top division one soccer program, scheduled a division three opponent. The Irish players and their coaching staff said they hope to take this game as momentum and a success to build on into conference play. Riley noted how games like this help create “good habits” for his team and allow them to “play the way they want to play.”

He also noted the “huge” nature of the minutes played tonight throughout the roster and believes that sort of on field experience will create a deeper bench as ACC games ramp up.

Riley believes his team’s offensive performance on the field Tuesday will be a key motivator of future offensive success.

“Finding the back of the net, being as efficient as we were, will help our finishing touch,” he said. “We got some good work on that.” 

The Irish take the field at Alumni Stadium at 6 p.m. Friday night, taking on a struggling Boston College team. They hope that the habits built in the tune-up against Kalamazoo will transfer over as they return to conference play.

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Penalty kick dooms Irish men’s soccer in 1-0 defeat

The Irish entered Saturday night’s conference clash with North Carolina with a healthy dose of momentum. Eight days previously, freshman midfielder KK Baffour had scored at the death to deliver Notre Dame their first ACC victory, 2-1 over Virginia. Then, in a Wednesday non-conference battle, the Irish dominated and found the back of the net four times against Chicago State.

However, on Saturday, familiar issues resurfaced for the Irish. Notre Dame generated only a few offensive chances, and failed to finish any. As a result, they fell 1-0 to the Tar Heels in a frustrating defeat.

For the third time this season, the Irish gave up a goal via penalty kick. A foul in the box gave UNC the prime scoring chance and Milo Garvanian buried his team-leading third goal of the season. 

It was really the only scoring chance the Tar Heels produced. Irish junior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd was only required to make one relatively easy save after the goal. The Irish backline produced a cohesive effort that limited North Carolina to very few chances. After giving up five goals in their first two games, the Irish have surrendered just four in the past five contests. 

“First halves of conference games are always going to be cagey, and we were really unfortunate with the penalty there. I’m really proud of how the guys responded, because that’s a really frustrating thing when you’re playing well,” Irish head coach Chad Riley noted. “That’s arguably our best performance of the year against a really quality opponent.”

Notre Dame earned double the amount of corner kicks (4-2) and outshot North Carolina 10-6. However, only two shots found their way on frame, both in the way of quality scoring chances. First, junior halfback Paddy Burns delivered a rocket of a left-footed volley. The slicing shot seemed destined for the lower left corner, but North Carolina keeper Andrew Cordes made a reflex save with his right hand. Burns generated another chance off of a corner kick. Baffour delivered a near post cross, and Burns flicked it towards the far post corner. The flick evaded Cordes, but a North Carolina defender saved the Tar Heels with a leaping goal-line clearance.

“I think they’re a tough team. Nine shots in the second half. North Carolina is always going to be a good defensive team, and I’m really proud of the way we played,” Riley said. “I think the second half, we were great. I thought it was one of our best performances. An inch here or there and we tie the game — and we maybe win it.” 

Beyond those two chances from Burns, quality opportunities were few and far between. The Irish offered continuous pressure and out-possessed the Tar Heels in the game by a 57-43% margin. They kept the ball in the visitor’s half of the field for most of the half. But they just couldn’t break through.

“We have a fit, deep squad. Our energy continues to grow. I felt like we were inches away from getting a couple,” Riley said. 

The Irish pushed hard late, getting one more excellent chance. After an Irish shot ricocheted off the crossbar, junior forward Daniel Russo faced a wide-open net. However, with heavy pressure from a defender on his heels, Russo airmailed the rebound effort. Soon there after, North Carolina secured the clean sheet victory.

Notre Dame plays Division III Kalamazoo on Tuesday, and they’ll return to conference play next Friday at Alumni Stadium. They kick off versus Boston College at 6 p.m. 

Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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Irish build momentum, dominate Cougars

On Wednesday night at Alumni Stadium, the Notre Dame men’s soccer squad took the field against the Chicago State Cougars, seeking to notch another win after a 2-1 victory over Virginia. The match provided the opportunity for a tune-up match with more ACC play on the horizon. 

The Irish got off to a blazing start — establishing control of possession and feeding off the excitement and energy of the crowd. It wouldn’t take long for their efforts to be reflected in the score sheet. In the 3rd minute, junior halfback Paddy Burns notched his first shot home off an assist from sophomore forward Matthew Roou. The Irish did not let the Cougars up from this point, meticulously and methodically controlling the ball and moving up and down the pitch.

With the halfbacks playing at offensively aggressive positions, the Irish continued to swing balls into the penalty box and test the back line of CSU. Freshman midfielder KK Baffour was instrumental in the first half, winning numerous battles against taller Cougar players and dutifully controlling position in the center of the field. Burns would continue to make his presence known in this half as well, firing off two of the nine Irish shots in the first 45 minutes. 

Notre Dame’s persistence and tactical mastery culminated in a second goal in the 30th minute scored by graduate student midfielder Ben Giacobello, whose one-timer off a deflection sent a roar through the crowd. The goal was converted off a crucial Irish corner kick, with the Irish earning seven others throughout the match.

The rest of the first half was characterized by the spectacular play of sophomore forward Eno Nto, whose pace and craftiness in off-ball movement caused fits for Cougar defenders. Nto’s discipline on the ball and shifty movement would win the Irish a free kick very close to the box that went unconverted in the 34th minute. Nto would then be denied a place on the score sheet in the 37th minute when, despite his strong run, he was ruled offside.

The first half concluded with a well-place corner from junior midfielder Matthew Radivojsa, but again the Irish couldn’t convert, keeping their halftime advantage at 2-0.

The second half kicked off with the same Irish dominance. Despite a collision involving graduate student defender Mo Williams in the 48th minute, it went swimmingly for the Irish. The 51st minute brought a prime scoring opportunity for senior defender Reese Mayer, with his header just missing the mark.

The Irish again controlled possession, led by the work rate of Baffour. Chicago State was forced to blindly clear the ball, and their back line showed obvious signs of distress. The second half pace slowed significantly, relative to the frantic pace of the first half. A third Irish goal was disallowed and the teams more or less mounted no significant attack for a large portion of the half. One performance that didn’t show up in the box score was that of freshman forward Wyatt Borso, who won 50/50 balls and maneuvered around Chicago State defenders with regularity.

Finally, in the 74th minute, the Irish rediscovered the back of the net. Daniel Russo, a junior forward, would net a goal off a free kick set, with assists from Nto and Matthew Radivojsa. Only a minute later, Burns would leave his mark on the game with a screamer of a goal from outside the box off of one touch. The goal was assisted by junior forward Daniel Russo. Burns’ electrifying goal provided the boost the Irish needed to close out the match. The final score of 4-0 shines for a team that was only averaging 1.4 goals per game prior to this game. The Irish seemed to find many answers about their identity out on the Alumni pitch. 

Despite several different contributions, the story of this game will of course be that of Burns, whose highlight-reel second goal is an early contender for the goal of the season for this team. To add to the majesty of his performance, Burns’ parents were in the Alumni stands for the first time in his Notre Dame career, all the way from Northern Ireland.

However, Burns does not want himself to be the only story of Wednesday’s success. Burns credited the side’s freshmen contributors, calling them “unbelievable.” The junior defender added: “[The] maturity of their performances and how they act off the pitch as well…has been really impressive.”

Head coach Chad Riley echoed his halfback’s sentiments. “Our program wants to be a place where young players come and develop, but they have to earn it,” Riley noted. “All those who played tonight earned their minutes.” The freshmen, with another set of strong performances tonight, should continue to see those minutes tick up.

With the Irish now sporting a two-game winning streak, and a crucial game against UNC on the horizon for Saturday, Riley’s squad hopes to continue to ride their newfound momentum to success after a sluggish start to the season. Coach Riley wants to push his team to approach each game as an opportunity for improvement. “You need to know you got better, and every time you win your belief grows a little bit more,” Riley said. “It’s the idea of how do we grow from this game going forward to the next one.”

Burns seems committed to his coach’s goals for consistent evolution. “You want to have a team of winners…the more wins we can put in a row, the more momentum we will build, and the more formidable we will become,” he said.

Burns also said he is ready for the next challenge against the Tar Heels. “It is tough to win ACC games, and for us, it’s about winning the battle in front of your face. We will not look past UNC,” he said.

Coach Riley and the Irish, now again above .500 at 3-2-1, are back in action this Saturday at 7 PM against North Carolina at Alumni Stadium.

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Baffour finds back of net with seconds remaining to secure Irish 2-1 victory

After nearly missing out on a tie opportunity in the final minute of a 1-0 loss against Syracuse last weekend, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team bounced back against the University of Virginia in a 2-1 victory Friday night. This win was mostly by virtue of a final second goal off the foot of first-year midfielder KK Baffour.

The Irish remained deadlocked in a scoring standstill with the 4-2 Cavalier team over the opening 45 minutes of play at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia. Despite the mutual shutout throughout the first half, Virginia controlled 58 percent of possession and let fly seven shots on goal compared to just four from the Irish.

The Cavaliers maintained their stranglehold over possession just past the outset of the second half. In minute 68, the Irish produced the match’s first point on a corner kick which trickled into the goal after it was deflected off a Cavalier bystander.

It looked as if the Irish were going to escape with a one-nil victory before Cavalier striker Kome Ubogue poked home the equalizing goal off an in-swinging corner kick in the minute 89.

With less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, Virginia won yet another corner. But sophomore forward Matthew Roou was able to clear the loose ball to Kaffour, who bounded downfield and punched in the game winner with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock.

Head coach Chad Riley was thrilled at his players’ performance coming off a tough loss to an undefeated Syracuse team.

“It’s an unbelievable message to the team,” Riley said. “You have to keep pushing to the very end and to their credit, [this team] does that.”

“Competing from the first to the last whistle [is] a quality we have,” Riley said. “That’s what we always talk about.”

Coach Riley was very complementarity of the toughness of the UVA soccer program and their fans.

“Virginia is one of the greats in the history of college soccer,” he said. “It was a great environment to test our group, and I felt they stood up to it really well.”

The Cavaliers were hot coming off two victories in which they had put up nine total goals to their opponent’s two.

“Virginia is a very good team. We knew that coming in and playing at home. They are one of the best attacking set piece teams that we’ve played against, and they’ve got really good delivery and a lot of guys that are quite big,” Riley said.

“I was really proud of the way that the group handled [UVA] for the most part. Obviously they got one on us, but the group did a great job making sure that that was the only one,” he said.

The Irish went into the match “just thinking about playing against a good team away from home and seeing if you can get a win,” Riley said. It’s a bonus that UVA will a have a “very high RPI at the end of the year.”

Such hard-fought victories will pay out when it comes time for ACC tournament and College Cup seeding.

The Irish will no doubt be riding high as they come upon a slew of home games against Chicago State, UNC and Boston College.

“It’s all about kind of just growing from game to game,” Riley said.

The Irish’s matchup against Chicago State is a 7 p.m. EST kickoff at Alumni Stadium on Wednesday, Sept. 22.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.

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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.”