Notre Dame couldn’t have come much closer to making the program’s second appearance in the national title game.
After equalizing through Jack Lynn early in the first half of the semifinal vs. Clemson and remaining level in regulation, the Irish dominated the two overtime periods. Notre Dame couldn’t put one of several good chances away, though, eventually losing 5-3 on penalty kicks.
It was a cruel end to a remarkable bounce-back season. After missing an NCAA Tournament condensed due to COVID-19 last spring, the Irish earned the No. 4 overall seed this fall after going 14-5-5. It was the most wins in a single season since 2013 when Notre Dame won 17 en route to its only men’s soccer national championship.
In his fourth season at the helm, head coach Chad Riley had Notre Dame knocking on the door again.
“To be the type of program that we strive to be, you need to be in those environments a lot,” he said. “If you want to get to the Final Fours regularly, you have to get to the quarterfinals. You want to win national championships. You’ve got to be getting to those quarterfinals and Final Fours and getting that experience. ”
Notre Dame proved it could handle tournament play this season. Before the NCAA Tournament, the Irish won four straight games without conceding a single goal en route to the first ACC title in school history.
They had to do it the hard way in the final, basically playing Duke in the Blue Devils’ backyard in Cary, North Carolina. Irish goalkeeper Bryan Dowd only had to make one save as the Irish scored in both halves to secure a 2-0 victory and a first conference tournament title since 2012.
“It was really special to be with this group of guys,” Riley said. “To win a trophy that Notre Dame men’s soccer had never won before really was cool. In all sports, but especially in soccer, it’s such a competitive thing that a lot of pride goes into the fact that we got that trophy. ”
Riley also lauded Irish fans who returned in the fall after capacity was limited during the 2020-21 season. When Notre Dame advanced to its second College Cup in program history, over 1,300 spectators packed Alumni Stadium. There, the Irish came back to beat Pitt on penalty kicks.
“I know it made the season extra special for our team,” he said of the support. “Fall is a really busy time at Notre Dame, so it was amazing to get the support that we did.”
The Irish faithful were treated to a prolific attack that averaged over two goals per game. Senior forward Jack Lynn led the line with ten goals, good for the fourth in the ACC. Grad student midfielder Dawson McCartney, who transferred from Dartmouth last season, was close behind with seven goals, two of which came in the ACC title game. He also had five assists, tying sophomore left back Paddy Burns and junior midfielder Ethan O’Brien for the team-high.
Lynn was selected with the 18th pick of the MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City SC. McCartney, the ACC Tournament MVP, was taken 43rd overall by the Portland Timbers.
Defenders Mohamed Omar and Philip Quinton also joined Lynn in the first round after leading a backline that allowed just 0.79 goals per game. Omar went 23rd to the Colorado Rapids, while Quinton was taken two picks later by the Columbus Crew.
Riley said it “stinks in the moment” to see his senior leaders go, but their worth to the program continues as they demonstrate to recruits that they can chase their dreams of playing professionally from South Bend.
“I think it’s awesome to see that development because the landscape has changed, not just for Notre Dame, but just in general,” he said. “So it’s cool for our team and for college soccer to still be helping (players) get to that next level.”
Despite the large senior core, the Irish still return plenty of talent, including Dowd and Burns, who scored the second-half equalizer in the NCAA quarterfinal. Forward Matthew Roou was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team after recording seven goals and three assists. His fellow freshman Eno Nto was fourth on the team scoring charts with five goals in 19 games.
The No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, per TopDrawerSoccer, will join a group Riley says is hungry to return to the College Cup.
“They left a great legacy,” he said of his departing seniors. “And now it’s, ‘How does the next group build on it?’ And you don’t know until you start competing in the fall. ”