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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Keys to the match: Oregon State

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Indiana midfielder Hugo Bacharach rises for a header during the game between Notre Dame and Indiana at Alumni Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. Credit: Meghan Lange | The Observer


On Friday night Notre Dame men’s soccer will take the pitch in Louisville, making the program’s second College Cup appearance in three years. Standing in between the Irish and the national championship game is Oregon State, in just the third-ever meeting between the two programs. Here are the three keys Notre Dame needs to capitalize on to take down the Beavers and advance to the cup final for the first time since 2013.

1. Score early and take control

Notre Dame hasn’t lost a match in which they’ve scored first this year, holding an 11-0-2 record in such games. The Irish aren’t a solely defensive team by any means. But they know how to close up shop. In total, Notre Dame has only conceded five goals this season after they open the scoring in a match.

The Irish don’t need a repeat of their win over Duke, where an early goal by graduate student midfielder Ethan O’Brien goal stood after 80 minutes of subsequent Blue Devil pressure. But the chance to set the tone early would no doubt be welcomed by head coach Chad Riley. Notre Dame is bolstered by its collective experience. There have been games this year where the Irish have rolled out a starting lineup containing as many as ten upperclassmen. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the teamsheet on Friday contain up to seven players who saw the field in Notre Dame’s last College Cup outing in 2021. Such composed veteran influences will be well-served if the Irish can take the lead early on and set the tone.

2. Make the most of set-piece opportunities

If you’ve watched a Notre Dame men’s soccer game this year you’ve all but certainly seen the little chyron graphic noting that 16 of the team’s 42 goals have come off set pieces. What’s particularly notable about that stat is that the Irish have enjoyed variation in their set piece excellence. Six of those goals have come either directly or indirectly from free kicks. Another five were created by corner kicks. Add on three penalty kicks and two goals generated by long throw-ins, and Notre Dame has emerged as perhaps the nation’s most prolific team on dead-ball opportunities.

It’s not the aerial prowess of any one player that makes the Irish so good on set pieces. The team’s tallest player usually on the pitch, 6 foot 4 sophomore defender Mitch Ferguson, hasn’t scored a goal this year. But Ferguson’s ability to flick the ball forward after rising for an initial header, and the team’s ability as a collective to generate chaos in the penalty box on set piece deliveries, has rapidly risen from a fun quirk to a potent weapon.

3. Contain Logan Farrington

It would be a major surprise if much of Oregon State’s attack on Friday didn’t run through Farrington. The senior has been one of the best attackers in college soccer this fall. He’s fourth in the NCAA in total points and his 15 goals are the most of any player still in the tournament. Not only does he lead the Beavers in goals, but he also ranks second on the team in assists with 7.

Farrington has size at 6 foot 2. But he's more than comfortable with the ball at his feet in close quarters. He can threaten the opposing team’s net from just about any angle or distance. And he is also able to set up chances for his teammates. He’s the prototype for a complete center forward.

So how will the Irish backline handle him? Ferguson has the physical presence to do battle with Farrington. Junior defender Josh Ramsey’s finesse in one-on-one defensive situations will be useful as well. How Notre Dame’s preferred centerback partnership teams up in their bid to deny Farrington operating space could be a storyline that helps decide the match’s result.

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