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‘Oh captain, my captain’: Breaking down World Cup quarterfinals unconventionally

Over the course of the past 2 years, there have been countless breakdowns and predictions for the 2022 world cup. So, approximately two weeks ago, my sister and I decided to get what the people really want: a ranking of the Fifa World Cup’s Men’s Soccer Captains. We created a google form with pictures of every world captain and asked people to rank them from 1-10. We also gathered everyone’s age (on average, 27), as well as if they wanted to add any comments on the form. While I did collect data on every captain, I will only be creating a bracket for the final eight. 

Now, before I go into the final predictions, I need to set some things straight: there are clear biases in my data. One friend submitted the form ranking every world cup captain a “1” except for Tyler Adams, who he ranked a ten. He then resubmitted the form, with the same rankings, this time with the comment “ADAMS SO NICE, HAD TO TAKE THE SURVEY TWICE.”  

When this was created my sister, who put the form together, did not know how this data would be used. Thus, there are not always the most equally representative photos from one team to another, and this definitely had some effect on our data. Also, our top-ranked captain Simon Kjaer was ranked a whopping 7.97, while the worst-ranked captain, Uruguay’s Diego Godín came in at 2.60. While that is a big gap, the 10th-ranked player to the 22nd-ranked player are only separated by 0.83, meaning that there are some very close matchups in the greater picture.

So, with that in mind, if we were to look at the attractiveness of the Fifa world cup Final eight, here’s who would win! 

Croatia vs. Brazil: Friday, Dec. 9, 10 a.m. EST on FOX

Croatian captain Luka Modric against Brazil’s Thiago Silva is a tough first match. Modric has some key components that give him an edge; specifically his blond flowing hair that he has to pin back for games. Modric is on the smaller side but uses that to his advantage through the brackets. While Modric was ranked in the top half, he ultimately fell in the middle of the pack at 15. However, we have seen underdogs come on top in these tournaments. 

However, Modric is up against a heavy hitter in Thiago Silva. Silva comes in at 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds. He is large, with a strong square jawline compared to Modric’s thinner profile. Also, Silva is a favorite, coming in at fifth in the total pre-tournament rankings. 

Ultimately, Silva wins this matchup with 6.70 to Modric’s 5.30. 

Netherlands vs. Argentina: Friday, Dec. 9, 2 p.m. EST on FOX

The Netherlands is represented by defender Virgil Van Dijk. Standing at 6-foot-5, Van Dijk is on the larger side of this tournament. He is typically seen with his hair pulled into a slick bun with a strong jawline. However, Van Dijk is going up against a tournament favorite, Lionel Messi. Although Messi’s attractiveness might not be his calling card, his memorability (especially with an American audience) definitely pulled some weight. 

But, his name was not enough, and the Netherlands will pull ahead with a slight advantage of 5.04 over the eighth worst Argentina’s 5.00. 

Morocco vs. Portugal: Saturday, Dec. 10, 10 a.m. EST on FOX

Portugal, again, has a big name to help them in this tournament in Christiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is not only known for being one of the best soccer players of all time, he is also an international heartthrob. But, as we have seen in this tournament, a name is not always enough to pull you ahead. 

Ronaldo is going against Romain Saïss. The 32-year-old has quickly become a favorite in the tournament, assisting Morocco in becoming the first African team to win a penalty shootout and make it to the final eight. But, we retrieved this data before Morocco’s victory, and sadly he does not get this edge against Ronaldo. 

Ronaldo ranked seventh heading into the tournament, he takes the win with a 6.39 to Saïss’ 5.14. 

England vs. France: Saturday, Dec. 10, 2 p.m. EST on FOX

Probably one of the most anticipated matchups of the world cup: Harry Kane against Hugo Lloris. Kane has some recognition within American soccer fandom, although not comparable to Messi and Ronaldo. It is also interesting to see how his being British will affect the final results. 

Kane has spiked blonde hair and striking blue eyes, but ultimately he still looks British (if you catch my drift). Lloris has a dark set of hair and a dark beard to cover his face. But, Lloris looks drastically different from photo to photo, and that might have had an effect on his rating had respondents known him beforehand or not. 

The tenth-ranked Englishman at 5.87 wins against the Frenchman at 4.99. 

The Remainder of the Bracket 

Now knowing how each round of eight plays out, we will look toward the rest of the tournament. 

The Netherlands will then face the Brits, followed by a highly contested Brazil vs. Portugal match. 

The Dutch in Van Dijk will not be able to surpass the tenth place Kane, and England will move on to the finals.  On the other side of the bracket, seventh-ranked Portugal represented by Ronaldo will lose to fifth-ranked Silva of Brazil. 

Finally, my bracket predicts Silva taking Brazil all the way, dominating Kane and the rest of the Brits in the final. 

Not the best (but not the worst) metric

While I had a lot of fun collecting and sorting through this data, it is clear that this is not the best way to create a world cup bracket. Out of my top ten six did not make it past the group stage (No. 1 Simon Kjaer of Denmark, 7.97, No. 3 Ehsan Hajsafi of Iran, 7.74, No. 4 Dusan Tadic of Serbia 6.8, No. 6 Enner Valencia of Ecuador, 6.53, No. 8 Eden Hazard of Belgium, 6.26 and No. 9 Atiba Hutchinson of Canada 6.19).  And, No. 2 Tyler Adams (7.74) only took his team to the round of sixteen. 

However, even with all of this, the remaining three of the top 10 are representing their teams as they fight to bring a trophy home to their country.  So … maybe it isn’t the worst way.

Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu.

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Sports

Breaking down the World Cup quarterfinals

We are well past the halfway mark of the World Cup, and the field of 32 has been narrowed down to the final eight. This is the absolute cream of the crop. Some giants have fallen already — I’m looking at you Belgium, Germany and Spain — and some teams have over-performed (shoutout Morocco). With that being said, here’s how I see the World Cup quarterfinals playing out.

Croatia vs. Brazil: Friday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. EST on FOX

This matchup pits Croatia, the 2018 World Cup finalists, against the pre-tournament favorites and five-time champions, Brazil. When you look at it like that, it seems like a fairly even matchup. Digging deeper, maybe not so much.

Brazil are phenomenal and have looked every bit the favorites to win this tournament. So much so that their scintillating first half in a 4-1 victory over South Korea had a fellow Observer Sports writer texting me, “That honestly might be the best half of footy I’ve ever watched.” They are young, fast, exciting and endlessly creative. Neymar Jr. sits deeper than he has in the past, playing the creative No. 10 role behind the electric attacking trio of Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and Raphinha. They score a lot, play beautiful football and defend well (only two goals allowed in four games).

On the other side, Croatia have gotten older since 2018 and lost some key players, even if their talisman in the middle, Ballon d’Or winner and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić, remains. Regardless, at 37 years old, Modrić’s age is starting to show, and he was even subbed off in extra time during his team’s win over Japan in the Round of 16.

I am also concerned about Croatia’s lack of goals. In four games they’ve scored just five times, with four of those coming in a 4-1 win over a weak Canadian side. They played two goalless draws in the group stage and needed a heroic penalty shootout from goalkeeper Dominik Livaković to beat Japan in the first knockout game.

Prediction: Brazil 2 – 0 Croatia

Netherlands vs. Argentina: Friday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. EST on FOX

This game is fascinating. Netherlands have played better than I expected coming in, and Argentina bounced back from a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia to reach the quarterfinals.

The Oranje have been led by 23-year-old forward Cody Gakpo, who scored three goals in the group stage and brought some thrust to an otherwise unimpressive Dutch performance in the group stages. Regardless, Netherlands remain unbeaten at the World Cup and seemed to find another gear against the United States in the previous round. In particular, left back Denzel Dumfries had a game for the ages against the United States, tallying two assists and a goal in the 3-1 victory.

However, likely their most important player ahead of the Argentina match is captain and central defender Virgil van Dijk. The Liverpool man will be under increased scrutiny because of the player he’s tasked with stopping: Lionel Messi.

The diminutive Argentinian is, in my humble opinion, the finest footballer in the history of the sport, and this is his World Cup swan song. It’s also the first World Cup since the passing of the legendary Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to their second — and last — World Cup triumph in 1986. This all gives Argentina some serious “team of destiny” vibes, but still, the games need to be played and won on the field.

Nothing showed this more than their group stage opener. La Albiceleste entered the tournament on a 36-game unbeaten run, having not lost a game since 2019. They were clear favorites to run the table and win the tournament. Instead, they conceded twice in five minutes and lost to Saudi Arabia, who snapped their unbeaten streak.

Despite this, they bounced back with some strong showings against Mexico and Poland to top their group and progress to the knockout stages. The game with Australia was maybe a little closer than expected and they missed some crucial chances, but with Messi looking like he’s back at the peak of his powers, Argentina is not to be underestimated.

Prediction: Argentina 3 – 1 Netherlands

Morocco vs. Portugal: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. EST on FOX

This game has very interesting storylines on both sides. Morocco were not supposed to be here, but after topping a group with fellow quarterfinalists Croatia and world No. 2 Belgium, then beating European power Spain in the knockouts, they certainly look the part.

Then you have Portugal; the Iberian side looked solid in the group and then looked incredible in their round of 16 game against Switzerland after benching Cristiano Ronaldo, the player widely considered the greatest in their nation’s history.

On the Moroccan side, you have two exceptional players leading the team: right back Achraf Hakimi and winger Hakim Ziyech. Hakimi was a great storyline in the last round, as the 24-year-old Madrid-born defender scored the winning Panenka penalty to eliminate Spain. Hakimi is also part of a stingy Moroccan defense that has only allowed one goal in four games and just held Spain scoreless for 120 minutes and penalties. They will need more of that to overcome Portugal’s offensive prowess and become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semifinal.

Portugal are similar to the Netherlands in that they topped their group somewhat unimpressively. Their opening 3-2 win against Ghana benefited from a suspect penalty decision, and then they lost to South Korea in the final game. They took care of any doubts, though, as they blew Switzerland out of the water, beating them 6-1 in their opening knockout round game. The most remarkable thing about that victory was the hat trick from Gonçalo Ramos, the man tapped by manager Fernando Santos to replace the benched Ronaldo. It’s hard to know if Santos will bench Ronaldo again, but Ramos’ hat trick — and the dominant 6-1 result —certainly suggests that he should.

Prediction: Portugal 3 – 1 Morocco

England vs. France: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. EST on FOX

In my opinion, this is the most exciting of the four quarterfinals. It’s a World Cup final-caliber matchup, and I believe the winner should be considered a favorite entering the semifinals. Both teams cruised through their groups and then comfortably handled business in the first knockout round, where France dominated Poland 3-1 and England won 3-0 over African champions Senegal. These are two absolutely stacked and in-form teams going up against each other.

France are the reigning world champions and they have the tournament and possibly the world’s best player: 23-year-old forward Kylian Mbappé. The PSG star has scored five times and assisted two more goals in the first four games of the World Cup. France have suffered injuries to several key players (N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema and Presnel Kimpembe) and somehow look just as dominant as anyone could’ve expected. They seem poised to become the first nation to repeat at the World Cup since Brazil did so in 1958 and 1962.

On the other side is England. Much of their strength comes from their depth; eight different players have scored for the Three Lions and that only includes 1 goal from their captain and striker, Harry Kane, who won the Golden Boot with six goals at the previous World Cup in Russia.

The star of England’s side so far has been midfielder Jude Bellingham, whose brilliance doesn’t show up on the stat sheet like Mbappé’s. Regardless, the 19-year-old wonder kid has been the undroppable lynchpin in England’s midfield, even when playing alongside Champions League and Premier League winners who are many years his senior.

Bellingham has excelled in the attacking third just as much as the defensive one, and his composure on the ball is astonishing for such a young player. England’s chances rely as much on him controlling the middle of the field as they do on their ability to contain –— or at least, somewhat limit — Mbappé’s impact for France.

Prediction: France 3 – 2 England AET (after extra time)

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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From the Archives: Notre Dame soccer stars and the World Cup

Though the U.S. men’s national team bowed out of the 2022 World Cup over the weekend, football fever remains strong around the globe as the “world’s greatest sporting event” continues. It wasn’t the case this year, but Fighting Irish fans often have an extra reason to pay attention to the World Cup, as Notre Dame soccer stars have historically been well-represented on both men’s and women’s national teams.

This week, From the Archives looked back at some of Notre Dame’s past World Cup participants. Starting with MLS and USMNT standout Matt Besler, we then highlight the extraordinary success of Notre Dame women’s soccer in the 1990s, which led to many Fighting Irish soccer players entering the international stage. While we lament this year’s disappointing finish for the American men, perhaps a return to the historical success of the women’s national team — in which Notre Dame alums have played a central role — will bring hope for the Women’s World Cup coming next summer.

Matt Besler: From a game-winning penalty kick to a World Cup appearance 

Nov. 3, 2005 | Kevin Brennan | Dec. 4, 2008 | Matt Gamber | Nov. 1, 2012 | Joseph Monardo | Sept. 24, 2014 | Alex Carson | Researched by Lilyann Gardner 

There is no doubt that soccer star Matt Besler left a mark on Notre Dame’s men’s soccer program. The defender from Overland Park, Kansas, was a standout player and student from 2005 to 2008 and racked up several awards during his time at the University. 

“Besler, who made 73 starts and 90 appearances as a defender in his Notre Dame career, was a two-time team captain, three-time member of the All-Big East team and an All-American his senior season,” wrote Joseph Monardo (‘14). 

Besler’s storied career got off to a fast start. His first goal for the Fighting Irish occurred during his freshman year and was the fifth and final shot of an intense penalty shoot-out against Syracuse to advance to the second round of the Big East Tournament. 

“It’s definitely exciting. I probably couldn’t have asked for a better first goal of my college career,” Besler (‘09) said. 

Matt Besler (right) playing in a 2-1 win over Georgetown during his senior season. Observer archives, Dec. 4, 2008.

Besler and the Irish appeared in the NCAA Sweet 16 three years in a row before losing in a season-ending match against Northwestern his senior year. Despite this disappointing end, Besler managed to lead the team to the Big East regular season title for the second straight year. 

The leadership and success Besler found in college resulted in his eighth overall selection in the 2009 MLS draft by the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City). Just two years into his professional career, Besler was recognized as a 2011 MLS All-Star.

Shortly after, Besler joined the U.S. men’s national team and represented his country from 2013 to 2017, making an appearance in the 2014 World Cup. 

“Defender Matt Besler started every match for the United States at this year’s World Cup and just recently signed a Designated Player contract to remain reigning champion Sporting Kansas City’s captain for the long haul,” Alex Carson (‘17) reported in a 2014 Observer article. 

Besler played twelve years with Sporting Kansas City before finishing his professional career with FC Austin in 2021. Besler now serves as an ambassador for the Blue KC Sporting Samaritan program and remains an inspiration to Notre Dame players and fans around the country. 

Irish women’s soccer in the 1990s: Future World Cup stars shine 

Sept. 18, 1995 | Joe Villinski | Nov. 20, 1995 | Joe Villinski | Dec. 4, 1995 | Dave Tyler | Sept. 1, 1997 | Allison Krilla | Researched by Cade Czarnecki

The 1990s was a seminal decade for women’s soccer at Notre Dame. After becoming a varsity sport in 1988, few could have predicted its rapid rise to prominence.

In 1994, the young Irish team would make its first big splash of the decade. Three freshmen — Holly Manthei, Kate Markgraf (née Sobrero), and Julie Maund (‘98) — all found their way into the starting lineup and led the team all the way to the national title game, although the game resulted in a blowout loss to North Carolina.

Kate Markgraf (née Sobrero) dribbles down the field during a Notre Dame soccer game. Observer archives, Aug. 25, 1998.

The spark from 1994 carried over into the following season, and once again it was a freshman at the forefront of the effort. Taking advantage of the opportunity to replace injured All-American midfielder Cindy Daws (‘97), future Irish legend Shannon Boxx (‘99), a freshman, scored seven goals during the season.

Boxx’s efforts in 1995 were epitomized by her performance against Wisconsin. Head coach Chris Petrucelli said he knew the day felt different going in: “At the beginning of the game I looked over and they [Wisconsin] were very excited about playing. The difference was we were a lot more excited. We were very prepared to play today.” Boxx was easily the most jubilant player on the field after tallying a hat trick in Notre Dame’s shutout win.

Shannon Boxx (center) and teammates celebrate Notre Dame’s victory over the University of Portland in the 1995 national championship. Observer archives, Dec. 4, 1995.

The 1995 season was capped off in dramatic fashion as Notre Dame trounced the University of Portland in a third overtime period to secure the Fighting Irish’s first national championship in women’s soccer. Cindy Daws put it best: “I’ve heard some people say we won ugly. It doesn’t matter though because we’re national champions.”

Notre Dame would make it back to the national title game in 1996 and 1999, finishing as a runner-up on both occasions. While the soccer program as a whole achieved outstanding success in the 1990s, the star power on Notre Dame’s roster during this decade would also translate into individual glory on the international stage moving into the 2000s.

 Notre Dame women in the World Cup

Strong of Heart: Profiles of Notre Dame Athletics | Aug. 25, 1998 | Joe Cavato | Sept. 6, 1999 | Brian Kessler | Aug. 22, 2012 | Matthew Robison | Sept. 8, 2015 | Renee Griffin | Researched by Thomas Dobbs

Following her graduation from Notre Dame, Kate Markgraf (‘98) prepared for an extraordinary opportunity to compete for a World Cup. After appearing in 97 games and scoring seven goals while donning blue and gold, Markgraf accustomed herself to an unfamiliar role on the national team: the bench.

However, Markgraf quickly cemented herself as a strong contributor to the national team, helping the United States claim the 1999 World Cup after a 5-4 shootout victory against China. Markgraf would ultimately appear in 12 matches across appearances in three World Cups. She ended her soccer career in 2010 after 201 international appearances, becoming only the 10th woman in FIFA history to eclipse the 200 game mark.

Monica Gonzalez (right) plays for Notre Dame shortly after returning from the 1999 World Cup, where she represented Mexico. Observer archives, Sept. 6, 1999.

Markgraf, however, was farm from the only Notre Dame woman to compete on the international stage. Only a college junior at the time, Monica Gonzalez (‘01) competed at the 1999 World Cup for the Mexican national team. Gonzalez, too, achieved a distinguished international career, competing in 83 games and scoring 10 goals for Mexico.

Perhaps no international match more prominently featured Notre Dame soccer legends than the 2012 Olympics semifinal matchup between Canada and the United States. Representing Canada were former Notre Dame standouts Melissa Tancredi (‘05) and Candace Chapman (‘06), while Shannon Boxx (‘99) represented the Stars and Stripes.

Then-Notre Dame women’s soccer coach Randy Waldrum commented on the matchup, stating that “[the game] was great for women’s soccer and … great for Notre Dame to have that kind of representation.”

Shannon Boxx (center) celebrates after a teammate’s goal in the 2011 World Cup. Observer archives, Aug. 22, 2012.

Boxx has become perhaps the most decorated Notre Dame soccer player of all time, winning a gold medal in three straight Olympic Games from 2004-2012. Boxx also helped the U.S. win the 2015 World Cup, the American’s first victory since the 1999 victory featuring Markgraf. In January 2022, Boxx was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Reflecting on her storied career, Boxx shared that sacrifices of others “pushed [her] to want to be successful” and that Notre Dame offered her the “first time [she] represented something bigger than just a little club team or myself.”

While Boxx, Markgraf, and Gonzalez have all retired, perhaps the Notre Dame women’s trip this fall to the NCAA quarterfinals, their first since the 2012 season, is a sign that the next generation of Irish talent is once again primed to play on the international stage.

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Schatz: The 6,500 souls that built the 2022 Fifa World Cup

The World Cup is back, and most soccer fans all over the world are excited for its return. For the first time in FIFA history, an Arab nation is hosting it. However, with this feat comes a very dark turn. Qatar won the bid over several other countries such as the U.S., Japan and South Korea. 

Before I discuss what occurred in the years leading up to the World Cup, I would like to start with the atrocities Qatar has consistently committed. In their 2022 freedom house report, the country was deemed “not free” with a score of 25 out of 100. For comparison, the U.S. has a score of 83 and Tunisia 64. 

How did Qatar get such a low score? Well, despite having some of the wealthiest citizens in the world, Qatar has a large number of migrant workers and refuses to protect the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people. Qatar, like many other Gulf countries, lives under the guardianship system. In this system, women are treated as property to their male guardian. Women thus need permission from their male guardian (whether it be husband, brother, father or other male family member) for certain activities. LGBTQ+ members are constantly harassed, and Qatar legally prohibits sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage. 

So with these examples, and countless others, Qatar should not have even been eligible for the bid. Even though FIFA’s then-chairman Sepp Blatter supported the original bid, he has since admitted it was a mistake. 

Even with the global spotlight on Qatar, they have yet to make changes. As I stated previously, a majority of Qatari workers are migrants and noncitizens. According to multiple reports, over the course of the ten years since Qatar received their bid, over 6,500 Southeast Asian migrants from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have died building the stadiums and hotels that guests will stay in. This is not including the thousands of migrants that work in Qatar from other parts of the world. 

The death toll is not the only issue with the migrant workers in Qatar. These workers are noncitizens, which means they are not granted the same rights as Qatari citizens. These workers would work 18-hour days, were subject to extreme heat and dangerous conditions and were sometimes imprisoned for what appeared to be no reason. 

With the stadiums and hotels lying on the bones of those who built them, you can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more protests on the event. Sure, many newspapers have reported on the atrocities, and there has been plenty of buzz on the human rights abuses. But soccer teams and countries that are protesting the World Cup are doing it in a very superficial way. Cities in France join London in stating that they will not be hosting public screening of the events. Yet, both countries sent their team as representatives. And many have pointed out the hypocritical response from France as Paris Saint-Germain F.C. is owned by a Qatari company. Australia posted a video against human rights in Qatar, and Denmark has released a statement that they will be wearing more subtle jerseys to protest. However, and I know this is a shock to every individual reading this, all of these countries will still be attending the world cup and bringing hundreds of fans, and thousands of dollars, into Qatar.

Qatari organizers have tried to mitigate the issues by stating that “everyone is welcome.” But many do not feel that this sentiment is real. With statements of welcome from Qatar come very damaging ones. Like a Qatari ambassador saying that homosexuality was “damage in the mind” and that members of that community should respect their culture and accept their rules. 

As the first game on Sunday roles around, millions of fans across the world will be tuning in to support their team. There will be thousands of fans there who will spend their money to continue to contribute to Qatar’s government that is flooded with corruption and human rights offenses. I am not blaming the fans. In fact, I will probably be turning on multiple games over the course of the series. Rather, I hope that it will make people think just a little more than they did previously on the graves that the World Cup is built on. 

Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu.

The views of this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Sports

Gregg Berhalter’s leadership provides subdued outlook for U.S.

The first thing you need to understand, if you are an American inexperienced with world soccer, is that Greg Berhalter is not a “bad guy.” He’s not the Bobby Petrino or Urban Meyer of American soccer. I personally have had the opportunity to engage in a number of brief conversations with the man and can confirm he is a genuine, humble and approachable person who truly cares about U.S. soccer.

Another thing you need to know is that Gregg Berhalter likely obtained his current position due to nepotism. His brother was an executive in the U.S. Soccer Federation and reportedly fought hard to elevate him, then the head coach of the MLS Columbus Crew toting a 39% win percentage, to the nation’s most prestigious soccer position. 

Throughout the post-2018 disaster era of the USMNT, whether it be friendlies, World Cup qualifying, recruitment, roster selection or, most recently, preparation for the World Cup, Berhalter’s reign has had its ups and downs. There were the bright moments, such as recruiting dual nationals Yunus Musah, Pepi Ricardo or Malik Tillman, emphatically defeating Mexico dos a cero in Cincinnati or expanding the USMNT player pool into Europe. Then, there were the lows, like an embarrassing loss to far inferior Canada in qualifiers, notching zero goals in recent September friendlies or the alienation of veteran players.

Many always believed Berhalter’s most mind-numbing lapse in leadership was his commitment to a stringent system in international play. Again, to my potentially inexperienced readers, international soccer is thrown together in a matter of weeks. There is no time to establish a system similar to that of FC Barcelona or Manchester City in, at most, a combined month together over the course of a year. Yet GGG (Berhalter’s nickname) has emphasized “verticality” as if it was his Bible. The system of “verticality,” which puts a priority on building from the back, slow methodical play and a bevy of runs in behind, has done nothing but stunt the growth of this team. It has neutered star attackers such as Christian Pulisic or Giovanni Reyna and alienated talented players that deserve to suit up, such as Jordan Pefok or John Brooks, simply because they do not “fit the system.”

Yet Berhalter’s masterclass of troughs came this past week, when the Federation announced the 26-man roster that would be attending the World Cup in Qatar. As someone who has meticulously scouted this pool of players, lets just say, I was far more than a bit underwhelmed. Now, the roster is no failure — there were some lock picks that elevate it, as well as a few pleasant surprise selections that will be vital in the Cup matches. Yet overall this roster provides little prospects for the United States exceeding expectations in Qatar. 

In the defense, GGG selected Cameron Carter-Vickers of Celtics, Sergino Dest of AC Milan, Aaron Long of NY Red Bulls, Shaquell Moore of Nashville SC, Tim Ream, captain of Fulham, Antonee Robinson of Fulham, Joseph Scally of Borussia Monchengladbach, DeAndre Yedlin of Inter Miami and Walker Zimmerman of Nashville SC. It is important to note that Chris Richards of Crystal Palace sustained an injury and thus was unfit to play. This slew of selections screams “MLS quota.” There is absolutely no reason this many players from a far inferior domestic league should be representing our country in 2022. We have far better options available. I am pleasantly surprised to see Tim Ream, who has been in fantastic form for Fulham, on the roster. Dest and Robinson have played fantastic for the national team, and Carter-Vickers and Scally deserved nods based off immense club performances. Zimmerman has been a beast for the USMNT, and was the sole MLS player I believed deserved a spot. 

But then… it gets bad. Long has a great comeback story after injuring himself at the start of qualifying. That’s all well and good, but he should be nowhere within 500 miles of this roster. His form has been questionable in the retirement league of the MLS, he has played mediocre at best for the national team and has major injury concerns. Perhaps there’s hope President Biden could sign an executive order to kick him off the roster.

Shaq Moore and DeAndre Yedlin exist. There’s not much to say about them. They’re not very good for their already underwhelming clubs, nor the national team. Their principal accomplishment is that they can run and sometimes kick. Hooray! One could make the argument Yedlin is here for past WC experience, but if that’s the case, where is John Brooks, who scored in a World Cup? Reggie Cannon, Mark McKenzie or John Brooks would have been far more talented options. But Gregg had to show the USSF is “in league” with the dead weight and talentless MLS, leading to a back line that lacks critical depth.

The midfielders are a far more elite group, mostly because there was little way GGG could screw it up. Brendan Aaronson and Tyler Adams of Leeds United, Luca de la Torre of Celta Vigo, Weston McKennie of Juventus, Yunus Musah of Valencia, Kellyn Acosta of LAFC and (deep sigh) Cristian Roldan of Seattle Sounders (screams in agony). It is likely the captain will be in this midfield group, whether its Adams or McKennie. All of the European selections here are top-notch. Each has been in top form for their clubs, particularly the Leeds United boys, and contributed immensely to the heart of the USMNT. 

The MLS players are highly questionable at best. Kellyn Acosta has a high motor. Congrats, you can run a lot. That may come in handy against inferior pawn teams such as Jamaica or Cuba, but will be utterly useless against a side of immense talent like England. Cristian Roldan should be triple the distance of Aaron Long from this side. He has been fine for Sounders, but utterly invisible on the national team. He may even be a net negative. GGG apparently believed one spot needed to go to a “glue guy,” and the selection was Roldan. The idea that Berhalter would overlook the talents of a Malik Tillman or James Sands simply for a “glue guy” to record some funny videos in the locker room is befuddling. Actually, more like downright negligent. Roldan has no business warming the USMNT bench, much less seeing minutes.

The forwards provided perhaps the most shocking exclusions of the roster. Christian Pulisic of Chelsea, the undisputed star of the team, was joined by Tim Weah of Lille, Gio Reyna of Borussia Dortmund, Josh Sargent of Norwich City, Haji Wright of Antalyaspor, Jesus Ferreira of FC Dallas, and … Jordan … Morris … of Seattle Sounders. The first four names mentioned were locks and should be critical contributors and shining stars of this side. 

The bottom three warrant not just discussion, but anger. Jesus Ferreira is not the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo because he scored some sexy free kicks in MLS. In fact, recently his form has been utterly disgusting, as he sends easy goals 30 yards into the air as if he was kicking a field goal. GGG’s favoritism is more than apparent there; it’s blinding. Haji Wright has been blazingly effective in the Turkish Super Lig, yet was underwhelming at the national level. His skill set is utilized better by Jordan Pefok, who at one point was the top scorer for his Bundesliga team. Pefok was not selected due to “form concerns,” yet Ferreira was given an almost guaranteed spot, despite a form that could be rivaled by certain writers at The Observer. 

Jordan Morris has no merit to be on this team. It is 2022 and Jordan Morris is still receiving call-ups, despite proving time and time and time again he is an underwhelming winger who cannot effectively create attack chances. He is undoubtedly the worst pick here. 

Pepi Ricardo, who struggled in the Bundesliga but now is tearing it up in the Eredivisie, was not selected. Pepi saved the USMNT a number of times in contested qualifying matches and was, at a point, the second-leading scorer behind Pulisic. He proudly chose to represent the USMNT over Mexico, and was a fierce proponent of the American vision of football throughout 2021 and 2022. Yet, he will remain at home, a heartbreaking decision for fans and Pepi alike. These are the sorts of decisions that may threaten Berhalter’s job come January. At least he did a good job picking goalkeepers in a historically weak USMNT keeper pool.

So, what can American hopefuls, both diehards and casuals, expect when the U.S. plays its first match next Monday? That will ultimately come down to Berhalter. He needs to ditch the ideas of “verticality” and loosen up his coaching style. Let talented players like Christian Pulisic (who truly is Chelsea’s best attacker), Gio Reyna (Golden Boy nominee) and Timothy Weah take players on and beat them. Let the trio of Musah, McKennie and Adams operate with more independence as opposed to following a script. Let Dest shoot from deep outside. In other words, let the youngest team in the tournament play like the youngest team in the tournament. Do not restrict them to playing like your mediocre Columbus Crew sides of old or a middling Premier League side. There is a fire here in this side that can come out at any time. GGG needs to stop trying to work to tame that flame and instead let youthful exuberance be what propels this unbelievable group of teenagers forward. 

This article may have been bleak. I know. But, readers, you must understand this is the most talented team the USA has ever sent to a World Cup, and it’s not close. If utilized correctly, these players have the potential to make some noise in this tournament. They will be likely favorites against Iran and Wales and, despite the pompous celebrations of the English media, reports are Gareth Soutgate and the Three Lions are uneasy about their match versus the Americans. This is the group of boys we will be sending — there are no more changes to make, barring injury or emergency. Let’s show them the support they need as they undertake the most iconic tournament in the world. And Gregg, try not to screw things up. 

Contact Adam Akan at aakan@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Notre Dame collapses against Clemson, likely ending their season

Notre Dame fell 3-1 to the defending national champion Clemson Tigers in the first round of the ACC tournament. The game was a rematch of the two squads’ College Cup semifinal matchup last year, won by the Tigers in penalty kicks. Ranked 48th in RPI, this loss almost certainly spells the end of Notre Dame’s season. Forty-eight teams make the NCAA Tournament, and that will include several auto-bid teams ranked below the Irish.

It was a bright start for the Irish as freshman forward Wyatt Borso broke through and had a 1-on-1 against Clemson goalkeeper Joseph Andema in the seventh minute but the freshman got down and made a good save to keep it scoreless. Notre Dame controlled much of the game early and had the best chances in the first ten minutes. However, in the 11th minute, it all changed.

Own goals dig Irish early hole

After collecting a ball from an Irish attack, Andema scanned the field and sent it long looking for one of his forwards. Instead, he found the head of Irish junior defender Paddy Burns who tried to pass it back to his classmate and goalkeeper Bryan Dowd. A miscommunication between the two led to Dowd coming off his line and seeing the pass from Burns go right by him and into the goal to give Clemson a 1-0 lead.

The own goal saw the momentum shift completely in Clemson’s favor as the Tigers asserted control over proceedings. In the 40th minute, they doubled their lead through another own goal. This time a cross from senior midfielder Alvaro Gomez fell perfectly into the six-yard box where sophomore defender Kyle Genenbacher misplayed it and bundled it into the goal to give Clemson a 2-0 lead.

It was a contentious start to the second half with three yellow cards in the opening eight minutes, but it was in the 54th minute that the game really got away from Notre Dame. Sophomore midfielder Bryce Boneau got his second yellow card of the game for a challenge from behind on Clemson’s Ousmane Sylla. His first booking came in the 31st minute when he interfered with a Clemson attempt to take a free kick quickly and go on a counterattack. The red card left Notre Dame with ten men for the final 35 minutes of the game and essentially ended any hope for a comeback. Simply put, it was two ill-advised plays from a young player costing Notre Dame big in a must-win game.

Clemson sees out the result

Clemson padded the lead with a goal from Mohamed Seye in the 59th minute to make it 3-0. The game settled in from there as Notre Dame kept going forward trying to find some offense. In the 81st minute, it came via junior midfielder Matthew Radivojsa who scored his first goal of the year to get the Irish on the board. Radivojsa got another good chance a few minutes later, but Andema made an excellent save to preserve the two-goal cushion. It was too little, too late for the Irish.

The loss eliminates Notre Dame from the ACC tournament and, realistically, also from NCAA tournament contention. After an inconsistent regular season, the Irish needed some marquee ACC postseason wins to have hope of an at-large bid in the tournament. This loss negates that and the Irish season will end at the hands of the Clemson Tigers for the second year in a row.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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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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Creating tiers of ACC women’s soccer

Through seven games of non-conference play, it would be difficult to call Notre Dame women’s soccer’s season anything but a roaring success. The team has notched a perfect 7-0-0 record, with every win coming by a multiple goal margin. The defense has allowed just three goals across 630 minutes of play. And with ACC play on the horizon, the Irish have risen to 6th in the Coaches Poll — their highest ranking in years.

But ACC play should provide the Irish with some of their hardest tests yet. As always, the ACC is tremendously deep, with a host of teams in contention for both the conference crown and the NCAA tournament. Here’s a look at where the best teams stand in the country’s strongest soccer conference.

TIER ONE: Title favorites, College Cup contenders

The teams: UNC, Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame

This group is led by North Carolina, who have looked near-unstoppable at times. Their handling of a pair of quality teams in Tennessee and Texas in the first weeks of the season were reminiscent of prior Tar Heel teams that would hardly look threatened until the College Cup. UNC came back down to earth with a loss to UCLA, but rebounded as well as one could have asked with a 3-0 dispatching of local rival, and fellow College Cup contender, Duke.

Virginia hasn’t played as intensive of a non-conference slate as UNC, but the Cavaliers passed their biggest test with a 1-0 win on the road against Georgetown. A home draw against Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) ended what had been a perfect run to start the season, but a trip to Chapel Hill this weekend could allow Virginia to respond with a major statement.

Duke has been the most inconsistent of any of the top tier. A furious comeback against Tennessee and an impressive road thumping of TCU give the Blue Devils a pair of ranked wins. But, in their most recent outing, they were outclassed in front of a home crowd against North Carolina. Led by one of the country’s best strikers in Michelle Cooper, the Blue Devils have the pieces. But, they’ll need to regain momentum after a big rivalry loss.

Rounding out the top tier is, perhaps, the most surprising addition: Notre Dame. There was a lot of hope for an experienced Irish team that has eight upperclassmen starters. But, I don’t think anyone expected Notre Dame to open the season a perfect 7-0-0 with dominant wins over ranked St. Louis and Wisconsin teams, and a total goal difference of +18 through seven games. If the Irish maintain their pace in conference play, they’ll be on a very short list of national title contenders.

TIER TWO: Title dark horses, NCAA tournament threats

The teams: Florida State, Clemson and Wake Forest

Florida State has been perhaps the most fascinating team in the ACC over the offseason and regular season. The 2021 national champions entered the season largely unknown, playing with a new coach and a largely changed roster, nobody was sure where the Seminoles floor and ceiling would be. Through six games, the question of floor has been answered. Florida State dispatched four of their weaker non-conference games with relative ease. But, the ceiling of the Seminoles is harder to determine. In their two games against ranked teams, Florida State has produced a solid but uninspiring two draws. Oct. 6 will likely be the first day anyone can make a serious guess as to the Seminoles’ odds of a College Cup comeback as this is when they start an absolutely brutal four game stretch against Virginia, Notre Dame, Duke and North Carolina.

Clemson is another strange read in trying to sort out the rest of the pack behind the obvious standouts from the first half of the season. Much like Florida State, the Tigers have handled their weaker non-conference games without issue. However, they hold an unimpressive 0-1-2 record against likely tournament teams. A visit from Notre Dame on Thursday should say a lot about the Tigers’ chances of putting together a dark horse ACC title charge.

Rounding out the second tier is a seemingly always underrated Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have been far from flashy this season, winning just three of their eight games by more than one goal, but they’ve also been effective. They’re yet to lose, and have a credible draw against a very good Auburn team in their one test against ranked opposition. The Deacons surprised a lot of teams last year in an underdog run to the ACC semi-finals. So far this year they’ve shown a lot of promise that they could make a similar run. 

TIER THREE: Possible NCAA tournament teams, but unlikely ACC contenders

The teams: North Carolina State, Pitt and Virginia Tech

North Carolina State has been another tough team to get a bead on over the first half of the season. They’re 1-1-2 in the month of September (as opposed to 3-0-1 in August), with a confusing pair of ties with both nationally ranked South Carolina as well as lowly unranked Nebraska. They don’t have a statement win on their resume yet, and will have as much of an incentive as anyone to bring their best in conference play to get into the tournament field.

Pitt looked like a potential tier 2 team for much of non-conference play, though a loss to VCU brought the Panthers back down to Earth. But with senior forward partnership Amanda West and Leah Pais combining for 28 points in just eight games, it would be unwise to count out Pitt as a serious threat in the ACC.

Finishing this final tier is Virginia Tech. After surviving a brutal opening day scare against William and Mary, the Hokies have straightened out and worked their way to a solid 6-1-1 record. Much like the other teams in this tier, however, their lack of a statement win means they have work to do in ACC play.

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A legacy of Irish women’s national championships

1987 – Women’s Fencing National Championship

Notre Dame’s first women’s varsity team national championship came via one of the school’s premier programs. Notre Dame fencing has accumulated 12 national championships to date. In 1987, the program had won three, all as just a men’s team. The women’s program joined the party, winning their first team title, led by All-American Molly Sullivan.

The women’s team, due to a smaller field, only competed in foil. But Sullivan garnered a third-place overall finish, and her teammates Janice Hynes and Anne Barreda added the necessary supplemental performances to claim the team title. Making the first-ever women’s team title in Irish history sweeter, it was also claimed on home soil. The Irish won the 1987 championships in South Bend, something they didn’t accomplish again until 2022. While the ‘87 title remains the women’s team’s only championship, the Irish women haven’t stopped winning bouts. Fencing championships became co-ed in 1990, and the Irish have claimed eight titles, including back-to-back championships heading into the 2022-23 season. 

1995 – Women’s Soccer

Eight years after the fencing team broke the ice, Notre Dame women’s soccer joined the championship club. After coming up short the previous year, losing 5-0 to UNC in the national championship, Notre Dame entered the year with a singular goal in mind. Their defense keyed the title run, as they didn’t allow a goal in their first eight games, en route to 16 shutouts on the season. 

In the NCAA Tournament, the Irish shut out all six opponents. In the semifinals, they ousted North Carolina, ending the Tar Heels’ nine-year championship streak. To punctuate the run, the Irish took on an undefeated Portland squad and battled out a triple overtime game, finally delivering the game-winning goal. Junior Cindy Daws won the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, and sophomore Kate Markgraf (then Sobrero) earned the most outstanding defensive player. 

2001 – Women’s Basketball

Muffet McGraw was knocking on the door, making the Final Four in 1997. Then she qualified for the next three NCAA Tournaments, failing to reach that national stage again. But in the 2000-01 season, McGraw led a team ready to go the distance. The Irish lost just twice before the NCAA Tournament, although one loss came in the Big East Championship to UConn. 

The Irish mowed through their first four NCAA tournament games to get back to the Final Four. There, UConn was waiting, but Notre Dame didn’t trip up this time. They won 90-75, advancing to a national championship versus in-state rival Purdue. The Irish trailed by double digits, but behind Niele Ivey and Ruth Riley, the Irish weren’t to be denied. Down 66-64, national player of the year Riley scored the game’s final four points. She shined alongside Ivey, who notched 12 points and six steals in the finale. 

2004 – Women’s Soccer

Nine years after their first title, the women’s soccer program added another. This time, it was the likes of stars Katie Thorlakson and Erika Bohn lifting the Irish in an impressive effort. Again, defensive success propelled the Irish, as they started their NCAA Tournament run with three consecutive shutouts. They faced off versus their 1995 national championship opponent, Portland, in the Elite Eight and won 3-1. In a thrilling Final Four, the Irish first disrupted the Cinderella squad, Santa Clara, in the semifinals. Then, they triumphed over UCLA in penalty kicks to claim the national championship. Thorlakson and Bohn won most outstanding defensive and offensive players of the tournament. Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman also earned spots on the all-tournament team. 

2010 – Women’s Soccer

In 2010, the women’s soccer squad earned their third national title. That’s the most of any women’s program at Notre Dame and the third-most of any program overall, behind fencing and football. In terms of the program’s championships, this one was arguably the most unlikely. The Irish entered as a four-seed in their own region, but they hit a spurt of pure dominance in the NCAA Tournament. 

After a pair of dominant victories to open the postseason, the Irish slaughtered top-seeded UNC 4-1. Then they outscored their final three opponents 4-0, concluding a surprisingly dominant title run with a trio of shutouts. They edged an unbeaten Stanford squad in the finale, 1-0. Six different players made the all-tournament team for the Irish, led by Melissa Henderson and Jessica Schuveiller. The Irish women’s soccer team made it back to the Sweet 16 last season, but they’re still seeking a return to the College Cup.  

2018 – Women’s Basketball

Seventeen years after she claimed her first, Muffet McGraw earned her second national title as a coach. The Notre Dame legend had come so close, losing in the title game four times earlier in the decade, and in the Final Four once more. This time, she pushed her squad over the edge. The Irish were a top seed but faced stiff resistance, eventually reaching the Final Four, where the real heroics started.

The Irish faced down longtime rival UConn in the semifinals and trailed by seven at the half. Jackie Young scored 32 points, however, and Arike Ogunbowale added 27, as the Irish forced overtime. There, Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beating jumper shocked the world and sent the Irish to the championship. This time, the Irish trailed by 13 at half, but they erased the deficit in a dominant third quarter. An even fourth quarter led to a wild overtime. There, Ogunbowale simply did it again, draining a buzzer-beating three and sending the Irish into a state of euphoria.

Aidan Thomas


Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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Women’s soccer continues to prove themselves an elite program

When one thinks of Notre Dame’s powerhouse athletic programs, plenty of options come to mind. The football team is an iconic staple of the University’s brand and the fencing team is in the midst of building a modern dynasty. But, there’s one team with a history of success you probably haven’t heard enough about: women’s soccer.

Since the NCAA began holding a women’s soccer national championship tournament in 1982, just four teams have captured three or more titles. Tied for second on that short list of total title winners is Notre Dame, which has seen consistent success spanning the history of the collegiate women’s game. The 1980s were the last complete decade in which the Irish didn’t capture at least one national championship. 

The program’s first came in 1995, when the Irish started their run against North Carolina. At the time, North Carolina had won all but one title. 

“There were only 24 people who thought we could win this game,” said head coach Chris Petrucelli, “and they were all in this locker room.”

The Irish would go on to win a historic 1-0 game. 

“We didn’t come here to beat North Carolina. We came here to win a national championship,” Petrucelli continued. 

And that they did. After the win over the Tar Heels (which ensured an end to a streak of nine consecutive national titles brought home to Chapel Hill), Notre Dame defeated Portland in the final, with three overtimes being required to separate the teams. After a grueling 125 minutes of open play, star midfielder Cindy Mosley (then Daws) fired home a direct free kick to bring a first-ever women’s soccer national championship back to South Bend. 

After an eight-year drought that saw the Irish make four College Cup appearances without a title, Notre Dame captured a second title in 2004. Anchored by a trio of future Canadian internationals in Candace Chapman, Melissa Tancredi and Katie Thorlakson, as well as goalie Erika Bohn, the Irish dispatched a UCLA team in the midst of what would become a streak of seven years of consecutive College Cup appearances. 

Tied 1-1 late into the second half, UCLA drew a penalty kick and had the chance to score a dagger of a late winner. But Bohn rose to the occasion and saved the penalty (the first she had faced all season) to hold a draw that would eventually lead to a shootout. In that shootout, Bohn’s heroics would continue, with the junior saving two more penalties to secure a 4-3 victory. 

Notre Dame’s final national title came in 2010, when the Irish charged into the College Cup as a national 4 seed, upsetting regional 1 seed North Carolina in the process. The string of upsets didn’t stop for the Irish, as Notre Dame dispatched third-seeded Ohio State in the semi-finals before beating the previously undefeated Stanford in the finals. Star forward Melissa Henderson assisted super sub Adriana Leon for the deciding goal in a 1-0 victory. The 2010 title moved Notre Dame women’s soccer to third place in the national title leaderboard among all Notre Dame programs.

The success for the Irish has filtered down to an individual level as well. This year, program alum Shannon Boxx was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, adding one final accolade to a stacked resume. Boxx made over 100 appearances for the Fighting Irish, helping the team to their 1995 national crown. She would then go on to a 17-year professional career in which she established herself as a stalwart at defensive midfield for the United States Women’s National Team. 

In her time with the USWNT, Boxx would capture three Olympic Gold medals and would help the squad win the 2015 World Cup in her final year of soccer before retirement. Amassing 195 total national team caps, Boxx retired as one of the most decorated and consistent players in team history. 

Notre Dame women’s soccer’s relationship with the USWNT doesn’t end with Boxx. Kate Markgraf (then Sobrero) was another member of the 1995 national title squad that would go on to play a major role for her country. In just twelve years of play, Markgraf accumulated over 201 caps, one of just 26 players in international soccer history to play over 200 games for their country.

Markgraf also plays a major role in the play of the modern USWNT, despite being retired since 2010. Hired in 2019 to serve as General Manager of the squad, the 1997 graduate played a large role in replacing longtime USWNT coach Jill Ellis after she stepped down following the 2019 World Cup.

The impact of Irish alumnae on the international women’s soccer game isn’t just limited to the United States either. Melissa Tancredi, All-American defender and captain of the 2004 national championship side, would go on to carve out a major role with the Canadian national team throughout the 2000s and 2010s. 

Playing thirteen years, Tancredi notched 125 caps, and in the process, developed a knack for scoring when it mattered most. As a defender, she scored four goals in the 2012 London Olympics games and two goals in the 2016 Rio Olympics, as Canada captured Bronze in both tournaments.

Her teammate on the 2004 championship side, Candace Chapman, is another Notre Dame alumni to hold a place in Canadian national team history. One year Tancredi’s junior, Chapman also surpassed 100 caps for the Canadian WNT and played alongside her former Irish teammate in defense during Canada’s 2012 Olympic Bronze medal run.

Standing on the shoulders of the program’s historic legacy, the current Notre Dame women’s soccer team looks like perhaps the most likely squad in years to bring a fourth national championship home to South Bend. The Irish have flown through the first weeks of the season, racking up a 5-0 record and the potential for the program’s first perfect non-conference slate since 2008.

An experience-filled core (eight consistent starters hold either senior or graduate student status) has given the team a consistency and remarkable defensive solidity that stands out as impressive, even by Notre Dame’s high standards. The squad has allowed just seven shots on target in 450 minutes of open play. 

In front of that rock-sold defensive unit, the spark has been provided by sophomore Korbin Albert. A dynamic attacking midfielder, with both a keen eye for goal and an impressive passing range to match, Albert has flashed the potential to be Notre Dame’s highest-ever NWSL SuperDraft pick. Her creative talent has supplied a forward duo of senior Maddie Mercado and graduate student Olivia Wingate, whose 9 combined goals have helped the Irish outscore opponents 15-1 through five matches.

With ACC play on the horizon, Notre Dame’s toughest tests still loom in the form of contests against perennial College Cup contenders Florida State, Duke and Virginia. But thanks to the team’s electric start to the season, there is serious buzz surrounding the Irish. For the first time in years, this could be the year the Irish return to their position among the nation’s top teams and compete to add another national title to their stacked historical trophy case.