The 2021 NC State men’s soccer season has likely reached its finale with the team’s 1-0 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The Pack was a longshot to make it to the big dance, but any hopes of the team doing so through a miracle run in the conference tournament have now subsided.
The Wolfpack would finish the regular season with a record of 7-7-2 (1-5-2 ACC), and its performance within the conference would ultimately be its demise. NC State was matched up against the highest possible seed in the first round of the tournament and would need nothing short of a miracle to pull out a win in South Bend, Indiana against fifth-seeded Notre Dame (9-5-2, 4-2-2 ACC).
The goal that would ultimately win the game for the Irish wasn’t a display of beautiful passing or a rocket from outside, but rather a penalty kick conceded in the 53rd minute off of a foul committed by freshman midfielder Will Buete. The mistake from the young, but promising, midfielder will likely cost his team the opportunity to see the field again this season, but at the end of the day there were plenty of other ways the Pack could’ve found to pull out a win.
Unlike many of the games the Pack has competed in this season, the final score line of this matchup is fairly indicative of how the match went overall. At 1-0, it’s normally safe to assume that both teams put on a solid performance, with the winning side being the one that wants it more. While it’s hard to quantify something like “wanting it more”, Notre Dame ended the game with slight advantages in most team stats and that slight margin of victory was fairly reflected on the scoreboard when the clock hit zero.
The match was eerily similar to the one played between the two sides earlier in the season, that also saw the Pack lose in 1-0 fashion on the road. The Fighting Irish’s slim margin of victory held true across the stat sheet, allowing the side to prevail just as it did in the most recent matchup.
As the 1-0 final suggests, NC State didn’t go down without a fight. Defending with its all up until what were likely the final seconds of its season, the Pack simply did not have the power to penetrate this stout Notre Dame back line.
The Pack saw considerable improvement this year from the results it sputtered out a year ago. Even though this team will be losing a few upperclassmen anchors to graduation in the offseason, such as redshirt senior goalkeeper Leon Krapf and senior forward Kuda Muskwe, there is a very promising young core ready to usher in a new era of NC State men’s soccer. The older guys would’ve likely wanted to delay that passing of the torch for as long as possible, but the loss to Notre Dame is almost surely the end of the line for a handful of key cogs to head coach George Kiefer’s machine.
Conference results were the metaphorical thorn in the side for this squad throughout the year, and it will likely be the reason that the Pack doesn’t get the call to participate for a national championship. All eyes will now turn to these young guns to take control of a men’s soccer program that’s on the rise.