BOYDS, Md. – Notre Dame entered last weekend’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament ranked No. 1 in the country according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s weekly poll.
No. 12 Virginia had inflicted the only blemish on the Fighting Irish’s record during the regular season with a 2-0 win in Indiana on Oct. 26. George Gelnovatch’s Cavaliers administered further pain via a penalty shootout in Friday’s ACC semi-final between the teams.
Andrew O’Malley had given Notre Dame a 3-1 lead with nine minutes remaining before a couple of quick goals from Virginia’s Marcus Salandy-Defour and Nicko Corriveau forced overtime. Irish head coach Bobby Clark remained upbeat about his side’s chances going into the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s national championship this weekend.
“When you look at the big picture, it might be a blessing in disguise,” Clark told reporters after Friday’s game.
Notre Dame’s advancement to the ACC tournament final in Maryland seemed assured eight minutes into the second half when the conference’s Player of the Year Harry Shipp stepped up to take a penalty kick with the Irish leading 2-0. The Chicago Fire Academy product steered his effort against the base of the right post.
Virginia’s Todd Wharton narrowed the deficit minutes later with a spot kick at the other end.
That sparked a gutsy fightback by the Cavaliers after an opening hour that saw Clark’s side justify its top billing. His defenders circulated the ball quickly and comfortably with right-back Luke Mishu providing attacking width as the left-footed Patrick Hodan drifted in off the flank. Vince Cicciarelli offered a trustworthy outlet for long balls when Notre Dame could not play through Virginia’s first line of pressure, and Shipp scurried around the strapping center-forward to pick up his lay-offs and flick-ons.
The Irish clinically converted two chances in a first period with few openings. Shipp expertly clipped his shot over the advancing goalkeeper Calle Brown on 21 minutes after being sent clear by Connor Klekota. Hodan danced around Brown in the closing seconds of the half before tucking the ball into an empty net to complete an incisive attacking move.
Nick Besler, the brother of the United States national team and Sporting Kansas City defender Matt, returned to Clark’s line-up after missing eight games with a broken metatarsal. The junior midfielder’s substitution on 52 minutes coincided with a dip in Notre Dame’s play.
“He plays very simple and moves the ball side to side,” said Shipp of his teammate after the game. “When he was in there, it felt a little calmer.”
Besler’s absence, allied with Virginia’s late cavalry charge, saw the Irish trying to force passes through congested central areas rather than using the width that had rewarded them during the first hour.
Virginia’s front duo of Darius Madison and Salandy-Defour increasingly unsettled Notre Dame’s back line with their speed as the second half wore on. O’Malley’s 8-yard strike on the rebound after Brown fumbled Hodan’s free kick appeared to settle the outcome.
Salandy-Defour hauled his side back into the contest on 85 minutes. The sophomore stepped inside his marker before cracking a low drive past Patrick Wall from the edge of the 18-yard box. Corriveau thumped a dramatic equalizer into Wall’s near top corner two minutes later after Irish left-back Max Lachowecki inadvertently deflected the ball into the freshman’s path when trying to cut out Salandy-Defour’s through pass.
Notre Dame settled once more and began to regain the upper hand in overtime after Besler’s reintroduction. Shipp cracked the ball off the post from an offside position after Brown spilled another shot. The senior from Lake Forest, Illinois flashed a cross along the 6-yard line in the final seconds that evaded his teammates as Virginia held on for penalty kicks.
“I was proud of how we got our game back together,” Clark said afterward. “We had a few chances to win but it wasn’t to be.”
Brown made up for his earlier fumbles by denying Klekota and Hodan as the Cavaliers advanced by 4-3 in the shootout. Notre Dame’s consolation was two additional days to focus on this weekend’s NCAA tournament instead of an ACC final in the school’s first season since leaving the Big East Conference.
“We were the No. 1 seed last year when we lost to Indiana and we didn’t play particularly well,” said Clark, referring to his side’s exit in last year’s round of 16 to the eventual national champions.
“This year we’ll get a little bit more rest.”
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