Notre Dame outplayed the Terrapins men’s soccer team during the first half of last night’s contest.
The No. 5 Terps were flat to open the game, struggling to establish possession and committing costly turnovers in their defensive half. The sloppy play resulted in numerous opportunities for the No. 2 Fighting Irish, who dominated the ball during the first 45 minutes.
That forced coach Sasho Cirovski to make a key change to his formation. The 21st-year coach added an extra midfielder, moving forward Patrick Mullins from up top to the left side and allowing the Terps to push their midfielders wide and attack a weakness in the Fighting Irish defense.
The result was immediate. The team returned from the halftime break with a renewed urgency on offense, resulting in an equalizer from Mullins in the 72nd minute to help the Terps escape with a 1-1 draw in South Bend, Ind.
“We were able to get better pressure on their backs and were also able to find more outlets playing forward,” said Cirovski, who plans on keeping the hybrid 4-3-3 formation he used tonight in his arsenal for the remainder of the season. “It’s something that we’ve been practicing with, and tonight we had to use it.”
A dominant Notre Dame team almost took a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. Midfielder Patrick Hodan ripped a left-footed strike headed for the top corner, but goalkeeper Zack Steffen — who made five saves — deflected it wide with his left hand after a full-extension dive.
The Terps earned their first quality opportunity of the game in the 33rd minute. Midfielder Tsubasa Endoh made a 40-yard run with the ball down the center of the field after a Notre Dame turnover and fed forward Schillo Tshuma down the left sideline. Tshuma played the ball to Mullins in the middle, who chipped it into the box looking for midfielder Mikias Eticha, but the ball deflected into the hands of goalkeeper Patrick Wall, who made two saves in 110 minutes of action.
The Fighting Irish tested Steffen again with just more than 10 minutes remaining in the first half. Forward Vince Cicciarelli slipped through the defense, but the freshman made a charging save, knocking the ball out of bounds.
With 6:57 remaining in the half, Notre Dame almost struck again. Hodan found forward Harrison Shipp on a through ball, but Steffen made another big save on a close-range shot from the ACC’s leading scorer.
“[Steffen]’s getting better every game, that’s the bottom line,” Cirovski said. “He’s starting to gain more confidence, and that’s one of the reasons we put him in the fire early in the year. We knew that he was going to get better with experience, and he’s showing it right now.”
The Terps showed signs of life in the final five minutes of the half, as forward Jake Pace entered for Tshuma, but the teams finished the first 45 minutes in a scoreless tie.
Notre Dame scored the game’s opening goal in the 59th minute. Defender Grant Van De Casteele found space in the middle of the field and played a long through ball to Cicciarelli, who beat Steffen low to give the Fighting Irish a 1-0 lead.
Six minutes later, Mullins almost equalized. The forward got his head to a curling ball to the near post from defender Mikey Ambrose, but the ball pinged off the post.
Mullins got another chance with 18:12 remaining, but this time he didn’t miss. A long through ball from Eticha clipped off the heel of Van De Casteele, giving Mullins space at the top of the box. The forward ripped with his left foot and finished in the bottom-left corner.
“I thought we were creating chances, so the goal coming was just a matter of time,” Mullins said. “I just got the chance, and I made no mistake about it.”
Both teams had chances at the go-ahead goal over the final 15 minutes, but neither converted and they went to extra time tied 1-1.
Shipp almost ended the game with 1:38 remaining in the first leg of overtime. The forward beat four Terps defenders around the box, cut toward the middle and lofted a left-footed finesse shot toward the far post that went inches wide.
Mullins had two opportunities in the final two minutes of the second overtime period but couldn’t put the shots on frame.
Nonetheless, Cirovski was happy with his team’s performance, largely because of the versatility and determination it displayed after a rough first half against one of the best teams in the country.
“We knew this game would be a tough game, and it was,” Cirovski said. “I’m pleased that we found a way to get a result and showed some perseverance and some resiliency.”