Entering Tuesday’s matchup against the Michigan State Spartans, the Notre Dame men’s soccer team hoped to continue the four-game win streak they had built over the past two weeks. In addition to this, the Irish were ranked No. 10 in the United Soccer Coaches rankings before the match, their highest position all season.
A gaffe within the first minute of the match led to a good opportunity for the Spartans. But a diving save from senior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd kept the score level early on. Recovering from this mistake, the Irish were able to maintain their composure throughout the opening 30 minutes of the match. Notre Dame controlled possession, placing strong pressure on their opponents after losing the ball. As a result, Michigan State was unable to break into the final third while the Irish managed five shots during the same period.
Good opportunities arose from sophomore midfielder KK Baffour and junior forward Eno Nto troubling the Michigan State goalkeeper. However, the first goal of the match came from the Spartans. After the Irish lost possession on the left wing, Jack Guggemos was able to push the ball forward in transition and assisted Sean Kerrigan for a counterattack goal. Before this game, Notre Dame had not trailed at any point all season, showing the elite level the team has performed at in their opening five games.
The rest of the first half was mostly quiet for both teams. A great defensive effort from freshman defender Sean McDowd prevented Michigan State from marking another. His clutch clearance prevented an own goal late in the period.
Entering the second half down 1-0, the Irish had to stay disciplined in order to remain undefeated for the year. The Spartans continued to show their tenacity from late in the first half. Another transition opportunity from forward Jake Spadafora ended at the hands of Dowd. While Michigan State was able to create opportunities in transition, Notre Dame focused on maintaining the majority of the possession.
However, when they were on defense, Notre Dame was effective at stopping the runs made by the Spartans. After a yellow card on McDowd led to a free kick outside the box, the Irish were able to safely deflect the cross away from the box. Following this deflection, senior forward Daniel Russo stung the opposing goalkeeper’s gloves with a good counterattack opportunity. But he could not find the back of the net. The Irish had another great chance after Baffour’s direct free kick outside the box was aimed far post. Yet once again, Michigan State keeper Zac Kelly was just able to get to it for the save.
Down a goal with 15 minutes in the match, the Irish remained resilient while looking for an equalizer. Some through-balls created good opportunities for the team. But nothing materialized as the team was unable to get another shot on goal. Notre Dame ultimately lost 1-0 in a close, well-fought match, marking the team’s first defeat for the season.
“It will be interesting to watch the film because on another night with a little more quality, I think we put a few chances away,” said Notre Dame head coach Chad Riley. “They executed their game plan, [the Spartans are] a team that plays compact, [so] if they get the first goal it becomes even more difficult to break down.”
Following this result, the Irish head on the road for the first time this season. Notre Dame travels to North Carolina in an ACC Coastal Division matchup this Friday at 7:00 p.m. on the ACC network. The team then plays Akron on Tuesday.
“The road is always going to be a little bit different, but it can also be exciting depending on where you’re going. You also get more rest, so the road can be tougher, but I think it creates a good opportunity as well,” said Riley.
Sign up for our Observer Sports newsletter! Have an Irish sports question? Ask it for our Observer Sports mailbag!