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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

Irish seek top ACC seed in regular season finale against Pitt

The Notre Dame men's soccer team sings the Alma Mater after a 3-2 defeat of Clemson at Alumni Stadium on Sep. 9.

After clinching the ACC Coastal Division title at Wake Forest last week, the fifth-ranked Notre Dame men’s soccer ends its regular season this Friday at home. The No. 20 Pittsburgh Panthers (6-4-4, 2-2-3 ACC) will visit, seeking their first road victory of the season. With a top-two seed in the conference tournament locked up, the Irish (10-1-4, 5-0-2 ACC) eye their first unbeaten run through ACC play. Notre Dame can also secure its first 11-win regular season since 2015.

Picturing the postseason

For the ACC tournament, Notre Dame already has practically everything it needs with a top-two seed. Each of the top two receive a weeklong bye and home-field advantage through the semifinals, so the number one seed doesn’t carry much of an edge. Still, the Irish can claim the top spot with a win or draw on Friday. Should they lose, Wake Forest can win at Louisville to tie Notre Dame’s 17 points atop the standings. However, the Irish currently have an advantage of four over the Demon Deacons in the goal differential tiebreaker.

Pitt, on the other hand, has more conference implications to play for. Holding nine points in the ACC standings, the Panthers could finish anywhere from 5th to 10th overall. However, based on matchups around the conference and Pitt’s ownership of the goal differential tiebreaker against North Carolina, the Panthers will most likely finish seventh and face Louisville next Wednesday.

In terms of the national tournament, the Irish appear destined to earn a number one seed. Defeating Pittsburgh would only bolster Notre Dame’s case as the Rating Percentage Index’s top-ranked team. Currently rated 20th, Pitt hopes to snatch a first-round bye via a top-four seed by stacking wins late.

Struggling outside the Steel City

While Notre Dame has drawn with three top-11 teams away from home, Pitt hasn’t come up with similar results on the road. The Panthers are 0-3-1 outside Ambrose Urbanic Field this season. Like the Irish, Pitt has visited three ranked opponents in Georgetown, Syracuse and Virginia. But unlike Notre Dame, the Panthers lost all three by a combined score of 9-4. In its other away match, Pitt drew with Boston College, the only ACC team without a conference win.

Still, Pitt will present yet another major challenge in South Bend. Under eighth-year head coach Jay Vidovich, the Panthers typically find their best form late in the season. Pitt has made each of the last four NCAA tournaments, reaching the College Cup in 2020 and 2022. In 2021, only Elite Eight penalty kicks with Notre Dame barred the Panthers from another trip to Cary.  

Goalkeeping matchup

Once again, Notre Dame will take the pitch with a sizable experience advantage between the posts. Irish senior keeper Bryan Dowd, who should make his 56th career start Friday, ranks fifth in the country with an .860 save percentage this season. 

Opposite him, Pitt’s Cabral Carter has started every Panther match this season. However, he entered the season without a minute of in-game collegiate seasoning. Cabral still owns a respectable .729 save percentage and will face Notre Dame with added confidence. The sophomore enters with back-to-back clean sheets and six total for the season.

Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will meet on the Alumni Stadium stage at 7 p.m. Friday. ACC Network Extra will broadcast the match.