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.