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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Irish host Huskies to open September

Irish senior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd looks ahead during Notre Dame's 1-1 draw with Indiana at Alumni Stadium on Aug. 24, 2023.
Irish senior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd looks ahead during Notre Dame's 1-1 draw with Indiana at Alumni Stadium on Aug. 24.

After an opening weekend full of positives, Notre Dame men’s soccer returns to action Friday. The Northern Illinois Huskies, fresh off a disappointing loss at home, travel to South Bend for their first road match of 2023. In five previous meetings, the Irish have two wins to NIU’s one. The programs most recently met in August 2021, when Notre Dame scored twice and blanked the Huskies at Alumni Stadium.

Both teams were at their best during that 2021 season. Under then-MAC Coach of the Year Ryan Swan, Northern Illinois tied a program record with 15 wins, including one in the NCAA Tournament. On the other side, Notre Dame pushed deep into the postseason, reaching the College Cup. However, both squads took a step back in 2022, combining for a 13-15-6 record.

Amid conference shift, Huskies seek production and resurgence

The big story of the offseason in DeKalb told of a conference change. After 26 years in the Mid-American Conference, NIU men’s soccer transitioned to the Missouri Valley Conference in which they were picked to finish eighth this season. Fellow MAC free agents, Western Michigan and Bowling Green joined the Huskies in the MVC.

Like Notre Dame, Northern Illinois looks to goal-scoring to take a large step toward improvement from last season. The Huskies’ top 2022 scorer, junior forward Taisei Arima, put just three balls in the back of the net. And that low peak followed the 16-goal 2021 of Nick Markavich, who is now thriving in the USL Championship. Still, of the 20 goals NIU scored last year, players who scored 15 of them returned. The Huskies also brought in 12 newcomers, four of whom arrived through the transfer portal. Transplants such as junior forward Kevin Kelly, who leads the Huskies with six shots, have made early impacts.

This past weekend, NIU split its matches with Western Illinois and Memphis. Before defeating the Leathernecks 1-0 in the opener, the Huskies had to overcome a strange circumstance. With the heat index exceeding 100, the teams were forced to play indoors at Rockford. Thanks to senior defender Dylan Banker’s first collegiate goal, NIU pulled out the victory. But then, the Huskies fell flat in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Memphis. Sophomore midfielder Angel Rodriguez, who also assisted in last Thursday’s lone goal, scored to break up the Tigers’ clean sheet.

Irish look to build on encouraging first weekend

Halfway through its opening non-conference stretch, Notre Dame has looked sharp. In the blazing heat of game one, the Irish hung with second-ranked Indiana, playing to a 1-1 draw. Though the Hoosiers produced 17 shots, Notre Dame earned seven corners and found the opening goal. 

Chad Riley’s side then took care of business Sunday, thumping IUPUI 5-0. Junior forward Matthew Roou, a four-goal-scorer in 2022, potted his first collegiate hat trick. Notre Dame’s back line was sturdy as well, relaxing senior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd after a four-save effort Thursday. Now, as their schedule thins out to three games in two weeks, the Irish hope to keep their foot on the gas. Considering Notre Dame opens ACC play with Clemson, the conference’s preseason favorite, opportunities to build depth and rapport in the non-conference are paramount. 

Friday’s match will kick off at 7 p.m. and stream live on ACC Network Extra.

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