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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Irish come alive late, secure draw at North Carolina

In its first ACC road match this season, No. 10 Notre Dame men’s soccer drew with North Carolina, 1-1. Despite falling behind in the 34th minute, the Irish equalized on senior forward Daniel Russo’s 84th-minute finish. Senior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd stopped four Tar Heel shots, all within the game’s opening 32 minutes. With the result, Notre Dame now wields a 4-1-2 record, including a win and a draw in conference play.

The Irish may have been fortunate to concede just one goal by halftime. Just over 40 minutes in, North Carolina held a 10-0 advantage in the shot column. In the fifth minute, a high cross cleared a host of Irish defenders, landing for David Bercedo at the back post. He lifted a shot from just outside the goal area, but Dowd reached up to make the night’s first save.

Dowd would come up big again on a low, 25-yard rocket from Quenzi Huerman. Diving to his left, the keeper deflected the strike just before it reached the post, causing one of UNC’s seven first-half corners. In the 26th minute, Huerman tested Dowd one more time. After Dowd punched out a dangerous lateral ball, the graduate transfer whipped a 15-yard volley, forcing a sprawling denial. 

Eight minutes later, the Heels broke through. Given space on the left wing, Ahmad Al Qaq charged into the 18 and rolled a perfect cross just below the penalty spot. There, Martin Vician sent a right-footed redirection through the sweeping legs of Dowd. The Harvard transfer’s second goal of the season doubled as his first at Dorrance Field.

As the first half whittled away, Notre Dame finally generated a top-flight opportunity. A cleared corner kick careened to junior defender Kyle Genenbacher outside the box. His rising, backspinning delivery cleared all traffic, including the keeper, but turned just wide of the far post.

The far more even second half saw each team register nine shots. Midway through the final 45, UNC caught the woodwork as Sam Williams charged a loose ball and hammered a long-range shot against the bottom of the crossbar. 

But Williams’ near goal occurred during a 12-minute stretch that featured six Notre Dame shots. Riding newfound momentum from their push, the Irish leveled the score with under seven minutes remaining. Senior defender Paddy Burns swung a cross to the penalty spot, where it pin-balled around and drew the attention of two Tar Heel defenders. As a result, Russo was left unmarked, and he made no mistake when the ball fell to him. Russo’s composed, right-footed tap bounced inside the right post for his second goal of the season.

While the clock ticked inside the final five minutes, both teams found chances to pull ahead. First, a straight-on UNC free kick from 25 yards out died against the Irish wall. Then, Burns stepped into an edge-of-the-18 shot on the other end, missing the right post by a few feet. Finally, the Tar Heels neutralized a close look from sophomore midfielder KK Baffour, and the ensuing Irish corner came up empty.

Notre Dame will finish its road trip with a brief return to non-conference play Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Irish will face No. 3 Akron, their second top-three opponent of the opening month.

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