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Fighting Irish Capture First-Ever College Cup, Defeat Maryland 2-1

Philadelphia, Pa.-  Call it the luck of the Irish. In a match pitting two of the top teams in the nation, and two of the top players in the nation, the 2014 Men’s College Cup did not come down to a late-game winner or a dominating performance, but rather one team having a little bit more luck than the other. In a match that featured sub-arctic temperatures, questionable referee decisions, and key injuries to top players it was the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (17-1-6) that  withstood the elements and claimed their first-ever Men’s College Cup defeating the Maryland Terrapins (17-4-5) 2-1 in front of 6,000 people at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.

In a rematch of game earlier this season that saw the Terrapins squeeze out a point in the dying minutes, both teams came into this match looking to undo last year’s poor finishes in the College Cup tournament. For Notre Dame, their loss was particularly damaging as they were the #1 team in the tournament and were bounced out in the Round of 16 by the eventual champion Indiana. Coach Bobby Clarke, the former Scotland international and Aberdeen player, has served as Manager of the Fighting Irish for over 26 years and developed the program that has lived in the shadow of not only football and basketball, but a women’s team that is considered to be one of the best in college soccer.

Meanwhile Maryland was looking to send to star Forward Patrick Mullins off with a title, after being upset by hated rival Georgetown in last year’s tournament. With an alumni roster that has names like Zusi, Edu, and Twellman, the Terrapins have turned into a national power in recent years, winning two College Cups in 2005 and 2008.

The match started off at a slow pace as both teams braced the elements. The area had been blanketed by snow earlier in the week and temperatures ran as low as 20 degrees on the field. The colder temperatures made tackles and fouls all the more devastating, which was never more evident when Notre Dame forward Vince Ciccarelli left the match with what was later a broken collarbone. He was replaced by, Leon Brown who immediately made an impact by providing and speed pace on the outside for the Irish.

As the players began to warm up to the conditions and play began to improve, the Terrapins struck first. In the 35th minute, Mullins finished off a rebound from corner kick by Tsubasa Endoh for his 19th goal of the season. Although Mullins finished off the play, Midfielder Dan Metzger got off the first shot which went off of the hand Notre Dame Forward Patrick Hodan, who was defending the goal line with Goalkeeper Patrick Walls. But because the end of the play resulted in Maryland scoring, no penalty was called.

While Maryland took the lead, Notre Dame went immediately on the attack. Forward Harrison Shipp, who would eventually claim a share of the College Cup Most Outstanding Player with Mullins, led the attack distributing pinpoint passes to Hodan, Brown, and Midfielder Nick Besler to stretch the Maryland defense. Their hard work paid off in the 40th minute when Brown scored off of a throw in from Luke Mishu that was headed to him by Besler. Brown was able to control the header and fire it into the right corner past Maryland Goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

After evening things up, Notre Dame continued their attack. Shipp and Brown were working give and go’s against the left side of the Maryland defense, forcing Zack Steffen to make two impressive saves in the 48th and 51st minutes. But Maryland would make another mental error in the 60th minute when Endoh fouled Notre Dame Midfielder Evan Pankin just outside of the box. In the ensuing free kick, Shipp placed a low curling cross onto the head of Irish Defender Andrew O’Malley, who hit for the lower left corner of the goal just narrowly avoiding the hands of Steffen.

With the lead secured, the Irish went on the defensive against a Terrapins team who ranked fifth in the nation for the most goals scored per game. The Terrapins lived up to their pedigree, by adding in forward Jake Pace for Michael Saunders. Pace added some width to the Terrapin attacking, allowing Endoh and Midfielder Alex Shinsky to work as the playmakers in the midfield and push the Irish defense on their heels. But the Irish defense did not break. Their back-line of O’Malley, Mishu, van de Casteele, and Max Lachowecki played tough zone defense which gave the Terrapins room in the midfield, but very little opportunities inside the Notre Dame 18.

Maryland’s only credible opportunity came in the 70th minute when a Dan Metzger cross came into the box and deflected off of Hodan’s arm once again. Although the Terrapins players and Coach Sasho Cirovski believed it to be a penalty, no call was made by the referee.

After losing out once again on a questionable decision by the referee, the Terrapins attack began to lose steam. Although they would have two successive corner kicks in the dying minutes of the match, their hopes of gaining a third national title in eleven years was snuffed out by a stifling Irish defense and Goalkeeper Patrick Wall.

With the game winding down, and victory all but certain, it would be Leon Brown, who would drive the ball down the Maryland defense and finish off the clock. In a game where decisions and poor weather could have given either team the advantage, it was the Fighting Irish who stood on top and claimed their first-ever College Cup.

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