CHESTER, Pa. -- To the average fan, the odds likely weren’t in Notre Dame’s favor on Sunday in the championship game of the 2013 Men’s College Cup.Not only were the Fighting Irish making their first appearance in the title game, but they also were facing a Maryland squad that has made a name for itself throughout the years at this level of action, with this being its sixth opportunity for a crown in its storied past.
Call it the luck of the Irish, but those odds simply didn’t matter to head coach Bobby Clark and the Notre Dame squad when they notched a 2-1 win against the Terps at PPL Park in Philadelphia.
“I think this program has known for the last few years that we were heading in the right direction…we had a great regular season and we realized it was time for the program to take that next step, and we thought the only logical place to do that was to reach the [College Cup] and win a national championship,” senior forward Harrison Shipp said.
“And to do it for our coach is amazing. I think he’s probably the most underappreciated college soccer coach in the country, in terms of lessons he teaches you on the field and off the field. I can tell you that I’m a much better person and player than I was three and a half years ago when I came in.”
As luck would have it, Notre Dame’s pair of goals didn’t come from the squad’s usual front-runners in Harrison Shipp or Patrick Hodan this time.
Ironically, senior forward Leon Brown came off the bench to replace Vince Cicciarelli after he was forced to leave with an injury in the 10th minute, and netted the game-tying goal which was just his fifth on the season.
Another welcome surprise came off of the head of senior defender Andrew O’Malley for the go-ahead goal and ultimately the game winner.
“When we lost our big striker [Vince Cicciarelli] with a broken collarbone, that was a blow, but Leon Brown came in and got the equalizing goal,” Clark said. “We went behind, and that was definitely a blow, but we equalized fairly quickly, and that was Leon that did that. Andrew O’Malley stuck that goal away…he missed a few all season, I can tell you, but he saved that goal for the right time. It was a great goal.”
It’s no shock that Notre Dame’s edge came from the likes of Brown and O’Malley. The team has thrived all season off of their balanced attack and the ability to count on any given player at any given moment to make clutch plays and clinch big wins.
In true Notre Dame fashion, Brown and O’Malley did just that on Sunday to hand the Fighting Irish the program’s first national championship.
“It’s pretty awesome, to be honest,” Shipp said. “We experienced a lot of pain our first three years…we realized that if we wanted to make that next jump, it was all 30 guys on the team, not just the 11 that played or the 21 that dressed, but all 30 guys…I think we showed that over the past five games.”
Those 30 guys showed up and showed out, and it may not have sunk in just yet, but they now have a national championship crown to show for it.
“Being able to take the program from somewhere it’s never been, like an Elite Eight win, to a national championship win, is a huge jump,” O’Malley said. “It’s euphoric.”