Just when it appeared the Notre Dame men’s soccer team might enter Atlantic Coast Conference play on the wrong end of the result with No. 1 North Carolina, senior forward Leon Brown deposited the equalizer in the 79th minute and the two teams ended deadlocked, 1-1, following two overtime periods Sunday afternoon at Alumni Stadium.
ACC could have stood for “another close chance” for the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish as they produced several good scoring opportunities in the second half, yet were unable to convert until Brown put home his third goal of the last two games. Harrison Shipp assisted on the score, which was the first goal allowed by North Carolina in three games this season. It also was redemption for Brown, who just missed high of the frame from six yards out in the 67th minute.
“Missing the first (attempt) was tough, but I just had to stay focused and then I had another chance and finished it,” Brown said. “It was a good way to get back into the game. We felt like we should have won because we had a lot of chances in the second half and overtime.”
Notre Dame (1-0-2, 0-0-1) continued the early-season trend of owning the stat sheet by outshooting the Tar Heels 21-12, including 8-4 in shots on goal. The Irish also had a 6-3 advantage in corner kicks.
“It was a great game, but it was disappointing that we didn’t win,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said. “North Carolina is a very good team. There were chances for us to score and it was the same situation as last week against UCLA (a 0-0 tie). You have to win these games.”
North Carolina (2-0-1, 0-0-1) grabbed the lead in the 18th minute when Tyler Engel chipped the ball over Irish goalkeeper Patrick Wall and into the top right of the goal. The Tar Heels outshot the Irish 4-3 in the first half and they also had the only corner kick of the period.
The Fighting Irish upped the offensive pressure in a major way in the second half and that resulted in Notre Dame claiming a 13-5 shot advantage for the stanza. The Irish appeared to even the match in the 51st minute when central defender Grant Van De Casteele deposited the ball off a corner kick from Shipp, but the score was nullified due to an Irish foul in the box.
Another opportunity occurred in the 65th minute when there was a flurry in front of the goal and sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan put a shot on frame, but North Carolina defender Jordan McCrary cleared it away. Hodan had a shot hit the crossbar in the 87th minute and less than a minute later midfielder Nick Besler sent a header just wide.
Both teams had close calls in overtime. North Carolina’s Josh Rice hit the left post in the 94th minute and Notre Dame forward Vince Cicciarelli appeared to have the golden goal in his sights in the 106th minute but his shot that he tried to chip over Tar Heel goalkeeper Brendan Moore was saved. Cicciarelli had a game-high five shots, including three on goal. Moore had seven saves on the day and Wall had three for the Irish.
“We have a tough group and they won’t give in easily and lie down (after going down 1-0),” Clark said. “We still have to be a little more clinical in the final third (of the field) because that’s three games now that we’ve clearly outshot every team and have made good chances, but we aren’t putting the numbers on the board.”
Six yellow cards were issued in the second half and overtime. The Tar Heels collected four, while the Irish were booked twice.
Today’s match was the first ACC contest for any sport at Notre Dame. It also was the first-ever meeting between the Fighting Irish and Tar Heels in men’s soccer. Notre Dame is 1-3-3 against top-ranked teams under Clark.
The Irish return to action Friday with an ACC showdown at No. 17 Syracuse. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. (ET) at the SU Soccer Stadium.