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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Irish men's soccer falls to Clemson in College Cup final

Notre Dame's Daniel Russo and Josh Ramsey chase down Clemson's star forward Ousmane Sylla. The Tigers' No. 10 scored as Clemson beat the Irish 2-1 to win the national title.

LOUISVILLE, KY. — The worst part of Notre Dame’s 2-1 national championship defeat to Clemson on Monday was their performance. It’s not that Notre Dame didn’t play well. After the game, head coach Chad Riley said it was probably the team’s best showing of the tournament.

But it just wasn’t enough.

The Irish pushed hard. They took 15 shots to Clemson’s 9. They took more corners and free kicks. But when it mattered most, it was the Tigers who capitalized.

Brandon Parrish’s first-half thunderbolt gave Clemson an early lead. Notre Dame responded well. But the Irish couldn’t find an equalizing goal. They came out for the second half with the same energy, generating four shots in the first 15 minutes after the break.

Yet it was the Tigers who found the second goal of the match. Clemson had been threatening in transition all day, and eventually star forward Ousmane Sylla found enough space to bury the Irish. Notre Dame’s continued efforts were eventually rewarded with a late penalty kick goal from senior defender Paddy Burns. But the Irish were unable to conjure up a miracle second goal in the final 60 seconds of the match. 

Notre Dame hit the crossbar. They had a shot cleared off the line. And they had more than a few dangerous free-kick opportunities. Still, by the time the final whistle blew, they had only found the back of the net once.

“The hardest thing in soccer is to play well and lose,” said Riley after the game. “I think that’s the hardest thing to stomach. You can always look back at film and there’s things you can do better. But [when] you hit the bar, had a couple saves, saves off the line … it just felt like you did enough.”

Losing a national championship is always hard. But the defeat was particularly tough on the Irish’s seniors. It’s entirely fair to say that this year’s graduating class of seniors — Burns, goalkeeper Bryan Dowd and forward Daniel Russo, among others — have reinvigorated the Irish program. 

The Notre Dame men’s soccer class of 2024 leaves Alumni Stadium having captured the program’s first ACC tournament championship and its second Coastal Division title. They’re responsible for two of the program’s three College Cup berths and its first College Cup victory in a decade.

They came up just short of the ultimate prize on Monday night. Nobody can say the Irish didn’t leave it all out on the field. Sometimes, effort doesn’t always equal results, and Notre Dame left Louisville rueing the chances they came inches away from converting. 

Burns, a captain, was emotional as he reflected on playing his final game for the Irish.

“This jersey and this University have given us so much, it’s given us everything,” Burns said. “We badly wanted to repay the University with a national championship and fell just short. Just incredibly grateful to have worn Notre Dame across my chest the past four years.”

Few players have a Notre Dame story like Burns, who applied to the school from Northern Ireland through the regular student admissions process and emailed the coaching staff upon his acceptance asking for a chance to play. Almost immediately, Burns emerged as one of the team’s most consistent and passionate players.

Burns has never been shy about expressing his love for Notre Dame. His appreciation for the opportunity he received to play at the only school he applied to as a student. He stressed his gratitude for the University and the team after the game.

“Certainly I’ll be letting the players know how grateful I am to have led such a committed and dedicated group,” said Burns. “Brothers for life, friends for life and I’m so proud to be their captain.”

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