Nov. 25, 2014
It’s hard to say which had more distance, the go-ahead goal by Jon Gallagher in the 69th minute of Sunday’s NCAA Championship men’s soccer opener for the University of Notre Dame’s defending national champions, or the celebratory knee slide that Gallagher took on the rain-soaked Alumni Stadium turf.
“My friends were telling me before the game if I scored a goal I had to do a knee slide,” Gallagher said of turning the Alumni Stadium baseline into a wave-rider moment. “It was spur of the moment. I got a blood rush and said, ‘I have to celebrate this one.’ I’ve never done (a knee slide) before. I had to give it a go.”
Coach Bobby Clark’s No. 1-seeded Notre Dame club (12-4-4) survived the Buckeyes and monsoon-like conditions to advance to the round of 16 against No. 16 seed Virginia (11-6-2). Notre Dame beat Virginia 3-0 in the ACC Tournament and tied the Cavaliers 1-1 in a regular-season meeting.
Gallagher and Farina both came off the bench to make sure the Irish didn’t slip in their NCAA opener. The freshman phenoms gave the Irish the firepower they needed to overcome adverse weather conditions and a tough Ohio State crew.
Irish goalie Patrick Wall, who helped the Irish hoist the championship trophy last season, made several spectacular leaping saves – five in all – to keep the Irish in survive-and-advance mode.
Blending depth and experience with all the other traits the Irish possess–like talent, strong coaching, mental toughness and cohesive play–will be critical for a repeat run to the national title.
Gallagher, a 5-foot-9-inch striker, wasn’t slowed down by the spongy surface. The blur from Dundalk, Ireland, used his lightning speed to stun the Buckeyes.
“Depth is always important,” Clark said of his club being able to go to the bench and bring in impact players. “We’ve had people injured this year. Our captain, Andrew O’Malley, is out. We lost Max Lachowecki for a while, we lost Vince Cicciarelli for a while and just got him back.
“In a contact sport like soccer, people are always going to get injuries. That’s why we work so hard with all the boys. It’s so important that the boys who didn’t play in the game keep themselves fit and know how we’re trying to play, so when there is an injury and they come in they can slip right in.”
Gallagher said the upperclassmen and starters play a key role in making sure players coming off the bench can transition seamlessly into the attack.
“The team always makes sure everybody is included,” Gallagher said. “You get that feeling that you’re a freshman, but at the same time, everybody believes in you. The fact that the coaches are calling you on, telling you to get your stuff on, get out there and do what you do best, you know they have confidence in you. You have to believe what you’ve been doing all of your life.
“We have so many guys who are capable of coming off the bench and making an impact. Oliver Harris came in and worked his legs off. It helps having a deep bench and having so many guys who are so competitive. Everybody in the training sessions is battling.”
Clark also loved the efforts of Harris off the bench.
“Oliver Harris came in and he has hardly played at all this year, but he’s what I would call a mudder,” Clark said. “He can play in the mud. We might have brought in Robby Gallegos, but Robby’s a California boy, he connects his passes. Robby is a terrific player, but we thought that today, since Ollie is from Michigan, he’s pretty used to playing in that type of game. I thought he came in and did a terrific job.”
Experience came into play in a big way, particularly with Wall smacking away Buckeye bullets at point-blank range.
“Experience is very important,” Wall said. “We have guys who went all the way last year. They won five games (in the NCAA tournament). They know you have to take it one game at a time. If we win three games, we’re in the Final Four. If we get to the Final Four, we’ll see what happens.
“Having experience gives you confidence. We’ve done it before. Last year, we didn’t lose a game in the tournament, and this year we plan to do the same.”
According to Wall, confidence is a huge ally in terms of dealing with the target a champion wears and when the weather turns brutal.
“We have the confidence to fight through adversity,” Wall said. “Sometimes you have to win games ugly, and today was an ugly game for anyone who watched it. As long as you can get the results in ugly games, then you have a very good chance of winning the whole thing.”
Clark said experience can put a player in a comfort zone during critical situations in tournament play.
“Experience is always important, in any job, at any time,” he said. “You’ve been there, you’ve done it, you know what it’s like. You know what to do in the last 10 minutes.”
Although it took longer than Clark wanted, experience helped the Irish turn the tide with regard to figuring out how to play during a torrential downpour that lasted the entire game. When the Irish started their warm-ups Sunday, the field was in decent shape thanks to efforts by the grounds crew. But the steady sheets of rain that pelted the field quickly formed puddles that had passes slowing down and stopping well before their mark.
“Obviously, you couldn’t play a passing game,” Clark said. “The way we like to play we couldn’t play, so you have to adapt. I was kind of disappointed we took too long to adapt. It took us until we came in at halftime, and we said, `Look, we have to change this a little bit.’
“It’s maybe not the way we want to play all the time. But I always say to the boys, `The game is going to give you things,'” Clark said. “How you play the game, a lot is going to be determined by how the opposition plays. You have to recognize how the opposition is going to play. If we’re doing our jobs as coaches, we should teach them to recognize that. I was disappointed we didn’t recognize what Ohio State was doing. Maybe you have to write it out in capitals, saying, `This is how we’d like to play.'”
Experience and depth helped Notre Dame survive Sunday’s strong challenge from Ohio State, and rugged weather conditions, and experience and depth will continue to play key roles in the Irish quest for more championship rings.
— Curt Rallo, special correspondent