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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame men’s soccer downs Pittsburgh, advances to second ever College Cup

Last night Notre Dame men’s soccer downed Pittsburgh on penalty kicks in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, advancing to the programs’ second-ever College Cup. The teams tied at the end of regulation but the Irish ultimately won on penalty kicks, 4-2.

The win marked yet another milestone for an Irish team that has continually defied odds this season. In the preseason coaches’ poll, Notre Dame was selected to finish last in the ACC. But today, a little over three months later, the Irish stand as champions of the ACC and are two wins away from taking home a national title.

The quarter-final showdown with the Panthers was a tense one. Pittsburgh took the lead early on the road despite being in front of a crowded and vocal Alumni Stadium. Just before halftime, fullback Jasper Loeffelsend fired a ball across the box from about 20 yards out. Then, attacking midfielder Guilherme Feitosa redirected it into the back of the net. The goal ended an Irish shutout streak that had lasted over 600 minutes to that point. The streak dated back to the first game of the ACC tournament. Then, the Irish beat the NC State Wolfpack, 1-0. 

But in the second half, Notre Dame came out firing and responded. After a free-kick was earned just outside the Panther third, junior midfielder Ethan O’Brien stepped up and delivered a fantastic ball. The service found the head of sophomore fullback Paddy Burns, whose twisting header beat Pitt goalkeeper Nico Campuzano.

Though both teams would have their chances to end the game in open play, the match eventually would come down to penalty kicks. A fate similar to Notre Dame’s conference quarterfinal against Louisville. After both overtimes, the Irish won off penalties, scoring three and allowing none. Just as in the Cardinal match, the Irish shooters did their job.

Saturday, they converted on all four of their chances. First, senior forward Jack Lynn opened it up for the Irish, then Burns converted behind him. Followed by graduate student forward Dawson McCartney and to close it out, senior defender Phillip Quinton netted his. Ultimately, though, it came down to sophomore goalkeeper Brian Dowd, who played hero in the net. After letting the first two through, Dowd saved the next two. He appeared to be in pain after his first save, walking out of the net like he had the wind knocked out of him. But he shook off the pain on the next kick to make a big second save to win the game for the Irish.

Anya Ruffino
Irish sophomore goalkeeper Brian Dowd takes a free kick during Notre Dame’s home win (1-1, 4-2 on PKs) over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

“It’s December in South Bend, so I think I just landed funny on a patch of freezing cold ground,” said Dowd after the match. “But, honestly, after that, I wasn’t thinking about the pain at all. I just really wanted to stop every shot, so there wasn’t really much going through my mind.”

The Irish will now head to Cary, North Carolina, for a Friday night showdown with another ACC foe. Notre Dame will face the Clemson Tigers as their semi-final opponent. Notre Dame has some prior history with the Tigers this season as well. The Irish grabbed their first major conference road victory of the season in Clemson back in early October, winning 2-0. But regardless of the opponent, the team’s mentality is the same as it has been all tournament. The Irish will continue their quest for the second-ever national title in program history.

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone respects Notre Dame, even throughout the season as we picked up big, big results,” said Paddy Burns. “College [soccer] news sources never give us respect, so we’ve had a chip on our shoulder and that chip is going absolutely nowhere until we win a national championship.”