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Sunday, April 14, 2024
The Observer

Irish reach third College Cup with shootout deja vu

It was impossible to escape the deja vu for Notre Dame men’s soccer on Saturday night.

After 110 minutes without a conclusive winner, the Irish fate entered the clapping hands of Bryan Dowd, the senior goalkeeper eagerly bouncing from left to right on the goal line.

Members of the Notre Dame men’s soccer team rush to celebrate with senior Daniel Russo after he scored the game winning goal in the overtime shootout.

There were flashbacks to the team’s match against Western Michigan one round prior. The ten-men Irish clawed and scratched their way to a penalty shootout win over the Broncos just to reach this stage. Perhaps the team’s veteran conjured memories of Notre Dame’s quarterfinal victory against Pittsburgh almost two years to the day prior. Under the shadow of Frank Eck Stadium, Dowd made back-to-back stops to lift the Irish to their second-ever College Cup.

It was the same story on Saturday. Indiana’s first penalty taker, Joey Maher pushed his effort past Dowd’s outstretched arm and off the left goalpost. Alumni Stadium erupted as the ball caromed back out. The ball was in Notre Dame’s court. And just like last week, just like December 2021, every Notre Dame shooter put the ball in the back of the net. One Irish player after another converted until the Irish secured a 5-4 shootout win to send them back to college soccer’s pinnacle.

If you were to ask senior forward Daniel Russo, the shootout plan was always as simple as that.

“I’m pretty sure I said out loud, ‘Dowd’s going to save at least one, and we’re going to make all five, so it doesn’t matter.’ That’s the faith we have in each other. I know Bryan Dowd’s going to step up big when it matters,” Russo said.

Notre Dame’s now seven-game winless streak against Indiana being extended — officially, a match ending in a penalty shootout is considered a draw — certainly didn’t matter for Russo, Dowd and company. It was far from a dominant display from the home side. Indiana outshot the Irish 25-11 and took 10 of the game’s 11 corner kicks. But when it mattered most, Notre Dame kept their cool.

“I think you’re as confident as you can be going into PKs,” said Irish head coach Chad Riley said after the game. “It’s obviously razor-thin margins, but I know there’s a lot of belief, a lot of confidence in those moments, that does make you feel good.”

Contrary to the Hoosiers’ dominance on the stat sheet, it was the Irish who opened the scoring in the first half. Russo found the net for his fourth goal of the season on a free kick. His effort sailed over the Indiana wall and into the back of the net, sending the capacity crowd at Alumni Stadium into raptures.

But the Hoosiers didn’t lay down after Russo put the Irish in front. Indiana created plenty of chances, eventually finding paydirt when a Patrick McDonald strike from range hit home in the 63rd minute.

With the score knotted at one, an already tense match reached a boiling point. Twelve of the game’s 22 fouls came after McDonald’s equalizer. Both teams created chances. The Hoosiers came especially close thanks to an 88th-minute strike off the crossbar from Sam Sarver. But in the end, penalties were required to separate the sides.

Each of of Notre Dame’s takers from Sunday took the ball again against the Hoosiers. Sophomore defender Mitch Ferguson, playing in his first game since Oct. 17, slid into the rotation and converted as well. But nobody’s shot mattered more than Russo’s, who went to the same side as his first-half free kick. He made no mistake.

Shrugging his shoulders and outstretching his arms, Russo didn’t even crack a smirk. His team and the student section put him in the eye of a field storm. He did, however, allow a smile as he addressed the gathered students after the game.

“Two more games,” yelled Russo, with a little more hoarseness in his voice than his postgame media availability betrayed. “But when we get there, we ain’t f*cking losing!”


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