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Game story: Notre Dame tops St. Patrick in dramatic fashion, keeps Irish Cup

By Bobby Narang, 09/14/23, 4:00PM CDT


McNamara's 80th-minute goal keeps travelling trophy in Dons' hands for 4th-straight year

CHICAGO – The battle for the Irish Cup is no ordinary soccer match.

The annual Notre Dame-St. Patrick game is must-see for any sports fan with a love and appreciation of good, old-fashioned rivalries. Although fall-like weather conditions led to a brisk night that required warmer clothing for most fans, the match between two of the East Suburban Catholic Conference tri-champions from a season ago was red hot and a great early conference clash. Both teams were hyped to take the win and the possession of the travelling trophy for the following year.

The Wednesday night match drew an unusually large crowd. Hundreds of St. Patrick students filled one section of the bleachers to give the Shamrocks a decided decibel advantage. A three-person DJ/scoreboard crew added to the party-like atmosphere. Both teams also brought a larger number of cheerleaders, a rare occurrence for a soccer game in general, must less one in September game.

Count Notre Dame coach Mike Smith among those, who understands the magnitude of the rivalry.

“In my opinion, this is the best rivalry in the state,” Smith said. “You can see the bleachers, and all the people that come out to see this game. We tell the guys every year that this game is one of the beautiful reasons you play high school sports, just to enjoy games like this.”

And Smith had more reasons to love the rivalry after 80 minutes of passionate soccer that left both teams physically and mentally drained. The Dons scored in the last minute to notch a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Shamrocks at Read-Dunning Field.

Notre Dame (7-1-1, 2-0-0) avoided playing a second-straight conference overtime game. They created a stunning turnaround with a goal by Jack McNamara off a corner kick from Joey Sorce with 58.6 seconds remaining in regulation. On Sept. 6, the Dons defeated Benet 3-2 in double overtime via a game-winning goal from Ryan Shanahan.

McNamara’s goal stunned the faithful of St. Patrick, who were still celebrating Rafael Rios’ goal from a scrum with 2:10 left that tied the match. Instead of a chance at overtime to end the Shamrocks losing streak to Notre Dame, the skein stretched out another game.

The visitors held the lead after Sorce scored on a corner kick in the 16th minute.

The junior, who also had a big game last year against the Shamrocks, led the way with a goal and an assist.

“This feels great,” Sorce said. “I love holding the trophy. It looks great in our school. I love it.”

Smith said his players never backed down, despite a heavy push of shots and aggression by the Shamrocks in the final 18 minutes of the second half.

“I think in the first half we were kind of feeling each other out, so it was great to get one off a set piece. That was one of our goals coming in -- to be effective off set pieces,” Smith said. “Obviously, when you put one in from the corner, you will take that all day.

“In the second half, you give them credit for fighting, fighting and fighting. I thought our guys were playing some good, gritty defense. They found a goal, but I love that our guys didn’t hang their heads. They quickly got the ball, went to the half line and found a winner just a minute later. This is a great group, an awesome group of players.

“For my seniors, this is 4-for-4. We’ve won this Cup four years in a row, which typically never happens. It’s been home at Notre Dame. We’re really proud of that.”

St. Patrick first-year coach Jonathan Clark called it another frustrating loss for his program and noted that two goals off set pieces added to his misery.

“This is a big rivalry game,” Clark said. “We worked hard and trained hard. So to give up two goals that were exactly the same way, it hurts the boys and hurts us as coaches. But we played our game. We had been training in a new formation getting ready for the physicality of Notre Dame. We played exactly how we wanted to play. In the second half, we made our adjustments.

“We didn’t get any shots on goal really in the first half. We needed to push, especially in that attacking third. We made our adjustments, and we had five or six good shots on goal. But to lose on (set pieces) … when they are two of the same goals, it’s literally the worst way to lose.”

McNamara, a junior midfielder for Notre Dame, made a dramatic entry into the lore of the rivalry. He swooped into a crowd of players to knock in his game-winner.

“Right when they got the corner, they just equalized and had momentum on their side,” McNamara said. “Joey put in a great ball, and I just got at the end of it. Our defense played a great game. I’m really proud of our team.”

It was an unforgettable way for McNamara to get his first varsity goal. He was all smiles after the game despite showing the effects of a bloody nose suffered earlier in the match. 

“I was defending a corner kick and went for a 50/50 and (got this injury),” McNamara said. “Still, this is the best moment I’ve ever had in soccer. My first goal couldn’t come at a better time. It’s just great.”

St. Patrick (3-5-0, 1-1-0), which sought its third-straight win of the season, dealt with a wide range of emotions in the game. They stretched from the heights of tying the game late to the depths of allowing the winning goal in a matter of 112 seconds.

Shamrocks senior defender Daniel Carrera, a four-year varsity player, called the fourth-consecutive loss to the Dons tough to digest.

“We stuck to our game plan of being patient and the outcome would come, but we got lazy and made a mistake on the back post,” Carrera said. “It happens. You can play the whole game perfectly sometimes, but the outcome doesn’t always go your way.

“It was just an overwhelming feeling when we tied the game. We felt the game was going to be ours if we played overtime. We overthought it and made little mistakes. This is a good game to open our eyes. We started the season a little shaky and were playing more as a group instead of as a team. Today showed we can put everything on the line and play together as a unit.”

The game started a bit slow with both teams overwhelmed by the enormity of the crowd, which was estimated at 500, and the rivalry. 

Sorce took it upon himself to break the ice. His curving corner kick, aided by a slight wind, nestled inside the far post, for a 1-0 lead and his fourth goal of the season.

“I saw their goalie back off the line, so I just hit it,” he said. “I just whipped it in. It set the tone for the game really quick.”

The Dons nearly scored another goal from consecutive corner kicks midway through the opening half, but just came up short on both attempts. 

Forward Ryan Shanahan had his header in the box saved by St. Patrick junior goalie Gianlucca Estrada, who recorded both of his saves in the first half.

In the second half, the hosts turned up the heat by playing aggressively. The intense action led to several players suffering cramps or injuries.

“The cramps tell me that they were leaving everything on the field,” Clark said of his team. “It tells me they were working as hard as they possibly could and were pushing themselves to the limit.”

Notre Dame goalie and captain Cian Haugh has been a staple in the program during his four years. Smith said this is the senior’s first year as a varsity starter. Haugh put his imprint on the rivalry with an amazing performance, displaying quick hands, agile feet and the ability to save balls in the air without being afraid of hitting the turf.

Haugh made seven saves, but his two stops in the final 14:30 helped secure the victory. The Dons’ backline held Rios, a supremely talented player who is a human highlight reel with the ball, to one goal. And shutting out his teammate Jorge Parra was also special Haugh said.

“I have a great group of guys around me,” Haugh said. “That (St. Patrick) goal just slipped out of my hands. It had some spin on it. It fell out of my hands, but Jack picked us right up. We’re not a team that puts our heads down. If we get scored on, we bounce right back. It happened against Benet last week and today against St. Patrick.

“We knew (Rios and Parra) were their guys. Although we didn’t have as much possession or as much attack, we knew we could shut anyone down. Benet had a Division I kid going to Loyola, and we shut him down. We have a great defensive unit, even though (Bryan) Vazquez is out, but we’re filling in really well for him.”

Rios blasted numerous shots toward Haugh including one after an athletic one-on-one move to get free before firing a shot from 25 yards that just missed far right post. The amazing move led one fan to declare, “My heart stopped.”

With five-plus minutes left, Rios darted into the box – seemingly out of nowhere – while the rest of the players appeared to stand still. He got his head on the ball from six yards away but the quick hands of Haugh saved it.

A minute later, Rios drilled a shot from 35 yards that sailed wide left.

Rios’ attacking play late in the game energized the crowd. A big section of the bleachers started stomping their feet and yelling with just under four minutes remaining.

Smith said Haugh played with tremendous poise in Wednesday’s game.

“Our goalie, he’s extraordinary and been very solid,” Smith said. “He’s been a captain three years, a captain freshman year, a captain sophomore year on JV. He’s a great goalie, and he’s bided his time. He’s been great and made some big saves. He controlled the game and did a great job.

“This win is a testament to these guys. They’ve been working hard all summer. We were a man down against Benet and scored with four minutes left. This one we scored with a minute and a half. You fight until the end of the game. We showed we are resilient.”

Notre Dame sophomore Adrian Pasic said the rivalry was intense, but he believed in his teammates throughout the game.

“After they scored that goal, I knew something was going to happen in the next two minutes,” Pasic said. “We got that corner, I said to myself, somebody is going to score. I look and I see (Jack) jumping over two people, and it was electric. 

“This is my first time playing varsity in this electric stadium. It’s probably one of the best soccer experiences that I’ve ever had. It’s special. I have goosebumps, just a fun experience. I can’t wait until next year.”

Notre Dame reveled in its dramatic victory. Some players stared at the St. Patrick fans and a few even waved at them. The Dons were in no hurry to leave after the win. They milled about on the turf field for nearly 20 minutes and eventually decided to take team pictures with the trophy. You can never have enough photos holding the Irish Cup.

St. Patrick senior defender Sergio Barron, another Shamrocks four-year varsity member, suffered through the defeat in two ways. He showed his heart and determination by playing a few minutes on a torn left ACL. He left the game after suffering a slight, different injury. Barron said he will not play the rest of the season.

“It wasn’t really the outcome we wanted, but we can bounce back and come back stronger,” Barron said. “Sadly, this is my last game, but I have trust in my teammates. I tore my ACL recently. It had been injured for a while, but I went to the doctor and had an MRI. The results came back that I tore my knee.

“Overall, all my four years here, it’s amazing memories with the team. I love this team. I have a lot of good moments. Overall, everything has been great.”

Although Clark was disappointed in the defeat, he singled out Barron as an example of a committed player who raises the level of a program with his positive attitude and work ethic.

“He has a love for St. Patrick, the game and for his teammates,” Clark said of Barron. “He’s here because he loves these guys. He could’ve been playing academy or somewhere else, but he decided to come back and play here year after year. That kid is an all-star. I love that kid. I taught him in class. I’ve coached him on the field. He’s a role model to all of the other boys. He’s hilarious. He’s a true St. Pat kid.

“We fought until that last minute, but unfortunately within that last minute, it didn’t go our way. We’ve been fighting back all season, working hard to come back from all those holes that we’ve dug ourselves into. The errors are all on us. It was our fault, but we fought back until the last minute. I hope all the other schools that play us understand they are going to play a full 80-minute game.”

Carrera said Wednesday’s game is meaningful in the long run if his team can learn from its mistakes.

“Hopefully, we can win our other conference games, and I hope to play my game and get some goals and assists and play as a team player,” Carrera said. “I want to overcome this as a team, realize we have the talent to make a state run this year.”

Starting lineups

Notre Dame
GK: Cian Haugh
D: Max Stalenczyk
D: Luke O’Regan
D: Ante Basan
D: Adrian Pasic
MF: Jack McNamara
MF: Ian Martinez
MF: Angel Panora-Garcia
MF: Joey Sorce
F: Sebastian Dzierzanowski
F: Ryan Shanahan
St. Patrick
GK: Gianlucca Estrada
D: Sergio Barron
D: Jesus Sanchez
D: Ernesto Meraz
D: Christian Correa
MF: Rafael Rios
MF: Christian Medina
MF: Daniel Carrera
MF: Emilliano Garcia
F: Isaiah Gomez
F: Nefi Solano

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Joey Sorce, jr., MF, Notre Dame

Scoring summary

First half
Notre Dame: Sorce (corner kick), 16’

Second half
St. Patrick: Rios (Solano), 78’
Notre Dame: McNamara (Sorce), 80’