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.