Oct 1, 2014, 12:21 AM EDT
Nearly 120 minutes of knocking on the door and it finally, finally opened.
Persistence was top-ranked Notre Dame’s calling card on a brisk Tuesday night at Alumni Stadium, as the Irish defeated Virginia Commonwealth on a golden goal in double overtime by senior captain Nick Besler.
Besler’s first tally of the season could not have come at a better time for Notre Dame. The Irish largely dominated play, only to be turned away time and time again by VCU goalkeeper Garrett Cyprus.
In the 16th minute, senior forward Vince Cicciarelli redirected an errant corner into the box, where sophomore defender Brandon Aubrey got a head on the ball and sent it towards the goal. Cyprus deftly blocked the attempt.
Minutes later, senior defender Max Lachowecki made an aggressive run down the left side of the pitch, cut into the box, and fired a shot that dribbled just wide of the post.
The second half featured many more excellent opportunities for NotreDame to break the scoreless tie.
In the 73rd minute, junior midfielder Patrick Hodan played a beautiful ball to a streaking Jeffrey Farina, but the freshman striker was unable to fully control the ball and was swarmed by Rams defenders before he could get off a shot.
Notre Dame regained possession quickly, though, and junior midfielder Connor Klekota sent a beautiful, arching pass over the VCU defense to classmate Evan Panken, whose header flew just wide of the far post.
A couple of Hodan chances in the match’s final minutes of regulation were thwarted by Cypress, and the game went to overtime.
In the first extra period, VCU was called for a hand ball in the box, and Notre Dame was awarded a penalty kick. Hodan sent a low liner to Cypress’ right, but the VCU netminder guessed Hodan’s placement perfectly and came through with a spectacular deflection.
Cypress flashed his skill once again minutes later. Senior defender Luke Mishu sent a cross into the box that found Farina, whose header ricocheted off the post directly to the waiting feet of senior Leon Brown. Cypress got a hand on Brown’s subsequent attempt, though, barely pushing it over the crossbar.
Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark never lost confidence that his team would continue to fight despite these near misses.
“That’s soccer,” Clark said. “I think they’re used to it. We have a very positive team. We had some excellent chances and we should’ve taken care of it. But their goalkeeper was fantastic tonight, he made several great saves. You’ve just got to keep plugging away, keep your confidence, keep working.”
This myriad of failed chances set the stage for Besler, whose goal began with a Hodan corner. Hodan’s cross was headed by Farina towards the goal (notice a theme?), then redirected by Besler, who was stationed a few feet from the end line. The captain’s goal lifted Notre Dame’s record to 5-1-2.
The Irish’s superior ability to win the ball in the air on set pieces was the source of many of the club’s 23 shots and 8 shots on goal. Clark said dominating this aspect of games will continue to be a focus moving forward.
“We’ve got some guys who can really head the ball,” Clark said. “There’s no question about that. We work on all set pieces a lot and will keep doing so. Set pieces win big games.”
Notre Dame will rest all it can over the next two days, as the Irish have a quick turnaround with Boston College coming to town on Friday. The teams will kick off at 7:30 PM in a game that will be streamed live on Watch ESPN.
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