As the men’s soccer team reaches its halfway point in the season, the Irish are in a familiar spot with regard to their place among the nation’s best teams. Entering the season ranked 10th in the preseason United Soccer Coaches poll, Notre Dame won the first six matches of their 2017 campaign.
The Irish opened the season on Aug. 25, by hosting the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament, in honor of the former head coach who led the Irish from 1990 through 1999. Notre Dame defeated both of the California squads that it opposed in the tournament, topping San Diego 2-0 and narrowly squeezing out a 2-1 win in double overtime two days later against Cal Poly.
Senior Jeff Farina scored three of the team’s four goals in the tournament, including both in the win against Cal Poly. Farina’s second goal of that match came in the first minute of the second overtime period, finishing off a pass from senior center back Matt Habrowski and clinching the Most Outstanding Offensive Player award for the tournament.
“He’s been fantastic, he was fantastic all preseason,” head coach Bobby Clark told UND.com after the tournament. “When we lost him last year [at Louisville] was when we lost our first game, and then we struggled just to put things together. It’s great having the big man back, and it’s hard to take him off the field for any length of time.”
Notre Dame then went on the road to face off against two teams that had received votes in the national polls, Connecticut and Boston College. Having moved up a spot to ninth, the Irish collected their second shutout in three games in a 1-0 defeat of the Huskies on Sept. 2. Six days later, after climbing to No. 6 in the polls, senior forward Jon Gallagher tallied three goals to lift the Irish to their first ACC win of the season and a 4-0 mark to begin the year.
For all of Gallagher’s accolades that he has accumulated over the years in South Bend, the hat trick was the first of Gallagher’s career. Two of the three goals were via free kicks, and all three came in the second half (50’, 74’, 82’).
The win moved Notre Dame all the way up to No. 2 in the nation, and the Irish did not disappoint. A 3-0 win against the NC State Wolfpack continued the offensive momentum after the win over Boston College, and in their first game as the top-ranked team in the country, the Irish won 2-1 against Bowling Green to move to 6-0.
Then the tables turned quickly for Notre Dame.
Traveling to Blacksburg for their second ACC road game of the season, Notre Dame found trouble against Virginia Tech. The Hokies grabbed an early lead in the seventh minute, but the Irish controlled the run of play for the rest of the first half. Gallagher drew the game even in the 50th minute, but the Hokies found an opportunity against the flow of action in the 71st minute to give the home team a 2-1 lead. Notre Dame had quality looks at tying the game late, but ultimately Virginia Tech held on to hand the Irish their first loss of the season.
Notre Dame’s road woes continued as Indiana, which also participated in the Mike Berticelli Memorial Tournament, got its revenge a month later in Bloomington. The Hoosiers, now ranked No. 1 after Notre Dame’s defeat in Blacksburg, did on Sept. 26 what no team had done yet to the Irish: hold them without a goal. Indiana’s offense wasn’t much better, but a second-half goal was all they needed to upend Notre Dame.
“The old story is that winning is a habit and losing is a habit,” Clark said. “Breaking that habit [of losing] is always the hardest thing, so it’s how do we break that habit, and our game against Virginia gives us that opportunity.”
Looking to recover from two tough losses, the 7th-ranked Irish hosted the No. 10 Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia picked up a goal late in the first half to take a 1-0 halftime lead, but junior forward Thomas Ueland fired a laser into the top right corner of the net to level the match at one goal apiece in the 52nd minute. The score would hold through the end of regulation, and while the Irish outshot the Cavaliers 13-9 and had numerous scoring chances late, the two conference foes battled to a 1-1 draw after two overtime periods.
Looking ahead to the back half of the schedule, Notre Dame will have four more ACC contests before postseason play: road games at Clemson (Oct. 6) and North Carolina (Oct. 27), as well as home matches at Alumni Stadium against Pittsburgh (Oct. 13) and Duke (Oct. 20). The Irish will also host Michigan (Oct. 10), travel to Akron (Oct. 17) and finish the nonconference slate at Michigan State (Oct. 24).