The Irish entered Saturday night’s conference clash with North Carolina with a healthy dose of momentum. Eight days previously, freshman midfielder KK Baffour had scored at the death to deliver Notre Dame their first ACC victory, 2-1 over Virginia. Then, in a Wednesday non-conference battle, the Irish dominated and found the back of the net four times against Chicago State.
However, on Saturday, familiar issues resurfaced for the Irish. Notre Dame generated only a few offensive chances, and failed to finish any. As a result, they fell 1-0 to the Tar Heels in a frustrating defeat.
For the third time this season, the Irish gave up a goal via penalty kick. A foul in the box gave UNC the prime scoring chance and Milo Garvanian buried his team-leading third goal of the season.
It was really the only scoring chance the Tar Heels produced. Irish junior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd was only required to make one relatively easy save after the goal. The Irish backline produced a cohesive effort that limited North Carolina to very few chances. After giving up five goals in their first two games, the Irish have surrendered just four in the past five contests.
"First halves of conference games are always going to be cagey, and we were really unfortunate with the penalty there. I’m really proud of how the guys responded, because that’s a really frustrating thing when you’re playing well,” Irish head coach Chad Riley noted. “That’s arguably our best performance of the year against a really quality opponent.”
Notre Dame earned double the amount of corner kicks (4-2) and outshot North Carolina 10-6. However, only two shots found their way on frame, both in the way of quality scoring chances. First, junior halfback Paddy Burns delivered a rocket of a left-footed volley. The slicing shot seemed destined for the lower left corner, but North Carolina keeper Andrew Cordes made a reflex save with his right hand. Burns generated another chance off of a corner kick. Baffour delivered a near post cross, and Burns flicked it towards the far post corner. The flick evaded Cordes, but a North Carolina defender saved the Tar Heels with a leaping goal-line clearance.
“I think they’re a tough team. Nine shots in the second half. North Carolina is always going to be a good defensive team, and I’m really proud of the way we played,” Riley said. “I think the second half, we were great. I thought it was one of our best performances. An inch here or there and we tie the game — and we maybe win it.”
Beyond those two chances from Burns, quality opportunities were few and far between. The Irish offered continuous pressure and out-possessed the Tar Heels in the game by a 57-43% margin. They kept the ball in the visitor’s half of the field for most of the half. But they just couldn’t break through.
“We have a fit, deep squad. Our energy continues to grow. I felt like we were inches away from getting a couple,” Riley said.
The Irish pushed hard late, getting one more excellent chance. After an Irish shot ricocheted off the crossbar, junior forward Daniel Russo faced a wide-open net. However, with heavy pressure from a defender on his heels, Russo airmailed the rebound effort. Soon there after, North Carolina secured the clean sheet victory.
Notre Dame plays Division III Kalamazoo on Tuesday, and they’ll return to conference play next Friday at Alumni Stadium. They kick off versus Boston College at 6 p.m.
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