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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame men’s soccer prepares for national quarterfinal clash with Pittsburgh

This Saturday, Notre Dame men’s soccer will face off against Pittsburgh in what’s set to be a thrilling national quarterfinal. The Irish and Panthers have a deep history this season, as the two have squared off twice already in both regular season as well as ACC tournament play. Notre Dame took home both matchups, downing the Panthers 1-0 in double overtime at Alumni Stadium in October, before later going on the road and doubling the earlier scoreline to notch a 2-0 win in the ACC semifinals.

Head coach Chad Riley commented on the challenge of welcoming the top-5 Panthers to the stadium, as the Irish try and take down their conference foe for the third time.

“Pitt’s a good team. The cool part is that the guys are really excited to play them,” Riley said. “They’re a good team, but they’re really excited about the challenge and about playing them here.”

The pair of wins won’t be the only thing sending the Irish into Saturday’s clash in high spirits, however. The team has been red hot since the start of postseason play, having now won six straight matches. The team also hasn’t lost at home in 10 matches, with their last defeat at Alumni Stadium having come far back in non-conference play against Michigan State.

The most vital aspect of the Irish’s run to the quarterfinals has been their stout defense. The Irish were the ACC’s best defensive team over the course of the regular season, but the backline has kicked it up a notch further come time for elimination games. Notre Dame hasn’t conceded a single goal since the start of the ACC tournament, marking an incredible run of 560 minutes in open play without allowing the opposition to score. Perhaps even more impressively, the goalless streak extends to penalty shootouts as well — even in the teams’ conference quarterfinal shootout victory over Louisville, the Cardinals had all three of their spot kicks saved or missed.  

Senior defenseman Philip Quinton spoke of the defensive success and getting to play NCAA tournament games at home:

“Yeah, it’s nice. It’s always nice when you can play the important games at home,” Quinton said. “And obviously the home-field advantage — with the fans and the weather, it’s been a lot of fun. There’s no better way to close it out; just got to keep it rolling.”

On the other side of the pitch, Notre Dame’s balanced attack has proven an asset in postseason play. The Irish have scored 10 times since the ACC tournament began, with the scoring divided among an impressive seven goalscorers. Such a stat is a testament to Notre Dame’s depth up front and at attacking midfield — between senior forward Jack Lynn, sophomore forward Daniel Russo, freshman forward Matthew Roou and graduate transfer midfielder Dawson McCartney (among other options), head coach Chad Riley won’t be at a lack for goal-scoring threats while picking his starting lineup or making in-game substitutes.

In short, Notre Dame is a balanced team that doesn’t rely on any one player, strength or tactic to get wins. From long throw-in scrambles, to long shots, to well-executed counterattacks, the Irish are capable of beating teams in a wide variety of ways. Add in a hard-working midfield that’s able to contribute in all phases of the game, and a rock-solid defense that has yet to break even once this postseason and rarely broke in the regular season, and the Irish have a legitimate championship formula in South Bend.

A team built like the one Chad Riley has built is extremely hard to take down in elimination games, and the program is on the cusp of reaping the rewards. That team structure has the Irish just 90 minutes away from a trip to the College Cup (which would be Notre Dame’s first since the program’s only national championship in 2013).

The Irish will take on Pittsburgh at 5 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Stadium. The match can also be streamed live on the ACC Network.