The Hoosiers and the Fighting Irish both were victorious on Sunday as Indiana will travel to South Bend on Saturday.
The NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament has been shaping up to be a classic this season as there are three unseeded teams in the Elite Eight, top-seeded Marshall was taken down by No. 16 Stanford and unranked Oregon State throttled six-seeded SMU in a 7-1 beatdown on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the chaos has the lower-right quadrant of the bracket featuring what I am calling the Battle for Indiana with the unranked Hoosiers taking on the No. 2 national seed in Notre Dame.
This week may feel like an eternity between the two clubs until the inevitable showdown on Saturday, so let’s take some time to look into the historic season that the Fighting Irish have put together.
Dramatic Sweet 16 game
To truly understand this season it’s important to start from the most recent and work our way back.
A snowy South Bend had a jam-packed Alumni Stadium as the Irish were hosting Western Michigan in a match that was scoreless through 110 minutes. The final result went in favor of Notre Dame as the Broncos struggled from penalty kicks for a 4-2 final in PK’s.
The drama started well before the shootout as in the 27th minute of play, midfielder KK Baffour of the Irish was sent off with a red card. The sophomore from Ghana had a strong season tallying 11 total points with two goals and a team-high seven assists.
For the remaining 83 minutes of the match, Notre Dame was fielding 10 men.
The pressure was starting to mount throughout the match considering Western Michigan is home to the nation's leading scorer in Charlie Sharp (19). The Broncos dominated the shot chart leading 20-9 in that category with eight being on goal.
In the 20-minute overtime period, the Broncos tallied five total shots while the Fighting Irish did not register an attempt during the extra play.
If it weren’t for the ACC Goalkeeper of the year in Bryan Dowd, this match would likely have been one of the biggest upsets in the tournament. The senior tallied seven total saves throughout the match which is the second highest total on his season.
Dowd’s biggest moment came after the overtime period when the penalty shootout began. Sharp was the first at the spot for the Broncos where Dowd was able to make a tremendous diving save in the low-right corner.
The Irish would not miss any of their chances in the shootout as the second effort from the Broncos hit the post. Notre Dame would go on to win 4-2 in penalties in a match that Western Michigan had all the control of.
Being in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has tremendous benefits for Notre Dame as the NCAA Tournament fielded nine of the 12 schools as well as six total national seeds this season.
A prolific 6-0-2 conference record had the Irish sitting at first place in the Coastal Division as well as the top seed in the ACC Tournament.
With the top four seeds in the ACC earning a first round bye, Notre Dame was set in the conference quarterfinals where Louisville upset Notre Dame in a thrilling 4-3 match.
Despite the loss, the Fighting Irish were still the highest seeded team from the ACC as the second highest was North Carolina who won the ACC Tournament and was granted the third national seed.
Some of the marquee wins of the conference season included a 3-2 victory over Clemson, a 3-1 surge over Virginia, 1-0 victory over Duke and a 6-0 dismantling of Pitt to close the season. Of the teams mentioned, only Pitt is a non-national seed and it still was granted an at-large bid in the tournament.
Clearly Notre Dame is a well rounded team. Dowd is the ACC Goalkeeper of the Year and the depth of the Irish attack separates them from the rest of the pack.
Sixteen players for Notre Dame have scored a goal this season for a total of 41 goals which ranks 13th in the nation.
A two-headed monster led the front for the Irish as juniors Matthew Roou and Eno Nto each tallied 10 goals. Roou also tallied three assists, earning him First Team All-ACC Honors.
Nto had one assist, but the double-digit scoring had him placed on the Second Team All-ACC team. The Derby, England native had a masterclass performance vs. Pitt tallying four (yes, four) goals in the 6-0 beatdown.
Midfielder Bryce Boneau was one of the key contributors with his creativity in the midfield that included a three-assist performance against Pitt, and a standout two goal match in the 4-3 loss to Louisville.
The junior ended with four goals and six assists which placed him on the Third Team All-ACC team.
Forward Daniel Russo (three goals) and defender Kyle Genenbacher (five assists) joined Boneau on the Third Team as well, placing six Irish players on the postseason teams in the ACC.
Six Notre Dame players tallied multiple goals on the season including defender and captain Paddy Burns (two). This one in particular is special as one of Burns two goals on the season included a header off a free-kick in the season opener…against Indiana.
Opener vs. Indiana
This rematch is shaping up to be a classic as one of these programs will start and end their season playing the same team.
Although the 4-4-2 has held true in the back stretch of the season for Indiana, the starting lineup with Hugo Bacharach at center back and Jack Wagoner starting at center mid show some of the testament of time that the Hoosiers have gone through this season.
In the 1-1 draw, Burns opened the scoring off an impressive header from a KK Baffour service where Indiana Goalie JT Harms was aggressive off his line as Burns seemingly had an open net.
Just a few moments later in his collegiate debut, freshman Collins Oduro bagged a rocket that Dowd even got a hand on to equalize the match.
Indiana brought Jansen Miller off the bench in the back stretch to fill in for Bacharach as the Irish put plenty of pressure in the waning moments, however they were unable to pull away.
Clay Murador, Luka Bezerra, Justin Shreffler and Quinten Helmer all logged quality minutes in the match as the Hoosiers were truly finding their form.
Even the Irish went seven-deep into their rotation as flash forward to this past Sunday, Notre Dame utilized only two substitutions in for a match that lasted 110 minutes and more.
South Bend is going to be an electric, cold and rowdy environment on Saturday where Indiana looks to take part-time ownership of the ACC against one of the best teams in the nation.
This is the first time in the history of Notre Dame soccer that it has been a No. 2 national seed and the Irish have currently made the most of it as, through the scares, they find themselves in the Elite Eight.
Irish head coach Chad Riley is looking to make his second College Cup appearance while Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley looks to make his sixth appearance in the College Cup.
All that is left is a week of rest and preparation before the Battle for Indiana commences.