Nov. 16, 2003
The University of Notre Dame men’s soccer team established one motto for the 2003 season – “Making History” – and has brilliantly followed up on that goal. The fifth-ranked Irish claimed their second BIG EAST Championship (and first since 1996) with a 2-0 victory over #4 St. John’s on Sunday, putting the team in great position for a top four seed in the NCAA Championship.
Senior defender Kevin Richards provided the game-winning goal, moving up the right side and driving a shot to the opposite post at 77:59. An insurance goal came with 18 seconds remaining when Chad Riley outraced SJU’s Guy Hertz to put away an empty net goal.
Junior Chris Sawyer was named the defensive player of the tournament, posting three shut outs in Notre Dame’s drive to the title. Senior Justin Detter was named the offensive player of the tourney, scoring two game-winning goals in three contests.
“It was a very good, tough game,” Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark said afterwards.
“We did a very good job of staying in there and challenging them after the first goal.”
The win marks the first conference title of the Bobby Clark Era (three years) at Notre Dame.
The BIG EAST title is just one of several firsts the team has achieved this season to back up its ‘Making History’ motto. Notre Dame has earned its highest-ever in-season ranking, highest-ever preseason ranking and established itself as one of the top teams in the country in 2003. The NCAA Championship tournament selection show is set for Monday, Nov. 17, at 4 p.m., and the Irish have put themselves in very solid position for a first-round bye and the ability to host at Alumni Field for as long as they can stay in the tournament.
The Notre Dame – St. John’s match up on Sunday was fitting, as the two top teams in the league tangled in the championship game. The victory gives the Irish a measure of revenge after losing to the Red Storm 3-0 earlier this season at home.
The first 20 minutes of the contest were played very even, with neither team mounting much of an offensive attack. Riley, Tony Megna and Richards battled the strong Red Storm midfield on the right side of the field for much of the opening quarter of the game. The first dangerous scoring chance was put together by St. John’s when Angel Rodriguez broke through and drove a shot to the opposite post. Sawyer was in good position, however, and thwarted the attempt with a diving save to his left.
Sawyer eventually posted his 13th shut out of the season.
“The reason we have been able to shut people out is that we have the best back four in the nation,” Sawyer said.
“All the credit needs to go to them. I see maybe one or shot shots a game and luckily I was able to make a play on that first one.”
Notre Dame threatened with 5:24 left in the half on a set piece. A SJU foul gave the Irish a free kick just outside the 18-yard box on the right side. Kevin Goldthwaite sent in a solid cross with Detter in position to get a head on it, but SJU GK Bill Gaudette shot out from his line to grab it at the last second.
With the score knotted at 0-0 for halftime, the Irish came out a bit flat to start the second period. St. John’s compiled a good scoring chance at 50:00, after two headers stayed in the Irish box and Matia Damiani got his foot on a solid shot. Once again, however, Sawyer was there in perfect position for the save.
After struggling throught the first 10 minutes of the second half, Notre Dame regrouped and started to put pressure on the Red Storm end of the field. Richard’s goal game in the 78th minute. Devon Prescod settled down a kick in the middle of the SJU zone and sent it out to a streaking Richards down the right sidelines.
“In the first half I had not tried to dribble past their left back,” Richard said.
“I thought when I got a chance to go one-on-one I was either going to go inside or down the line. He was showing me down the line so I cut back to the inside and got through.”
Richard smoked a shot to the opposite post past Gaudette for his first goal since 2000 – his freshman season. Ironically, the man who assisted on the goal, Prescod, was kidding the right back from Bermuda about his scoring ability on the way to the game.
“Devon was telling me on the bus to the game that I had not scored in awhile,” Richards said.
“He said this was the day to do it.”
Notre Dame did not sit back after getting the go-ahead score with 13 minutes remaining. The Irish reinserted Megna into the front line and the combination of Detter, Greg Martin and Megna frustrated the Red Storm by keeping the ball in the SJU zone for a great majority of the final minutes of the game.
Looking to stop the clock and settle the team down, SJU coach Dave Mazur started to swap his goalkeepers in and out. With 0:44 left, the Red Storm managed to earn a corner kick and Guy Hertz came in as the SJU keeper, but moved into the Notre Dame box in an attempt to help score the game-tieing goal.
The corner kick ended up in front of the goal, but it was cleared toward midfield by Irish defender Jack Stewart. Midfielder Luke Boughen gave it another shove down the field and suddenly Riley found himself racing Hertz to the ball just across midfield. Out running the SJU keeper and deftly avoiding a takedown attempt, Riley cruised into the goal with no opposition, securing the BIG EAST title for the Irish.
Notre Dame gets its seventh-consecutive win and 13th shut out of the season with the victory and arguably the biggest win since Bobby Clark took over the program.