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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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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.”