Marquette Men’s Soccer: Loss to Irish muddles already murky race for division title

Axel Sjoberg scored Marquette’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Notre Dame Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.

The Blue Division of the Big East was thrown into a major state of flux Wednesday night when No. 8/7 Notre Dame beat No.5/3 Marquette 3-1 in South Bend, Ind.

The Golden Eagles and Fighting Irish are now tied atop the division with Connecticut and Georgetown, and no team’s destiny is as easy as a win leading to a championship.

Redshirt freshman Axel Sjoberg scored his fifth goal of the season in the 25th minute for Marquette off a corner from junior Paul Dillon, which gave Marquette a 1-0 lead at halftime.

Notre Dame outshot Marquette, but coach Louis Bennett was pleased with his team’s performance in the first half, as Notre Dame couldn’t completely break through.

“They couldn’t wriggle completely through, and we kept them out,” Bennett said. “On the flipside, Axel puts a goal in. In the second half I thought we had a couple of chances. We were through, but we couldn’t break and put enough distance between us and them.”

Early in the second half, senior Andy Huftalin was taken down when he was through on goal, and Dillon’s subsequent free kick was saved. No card was awarded.

“Once we didn’t get that call,” Bennett said, “they forced the game to swing in their way.”

After that, Notre Dame scored three goals in a span of six minutes and 26 seconds. The first came off a botched clearance by Marquette, which fell to senior midfielder Kyle Richard, who struck home from the top of the 18-yard box to equalize for the Fighting Irish.

“When we give them a goal like that to give them some momentum, it’s tough being away from home,” Sjoberg said. “We didn’t really cope with that as we would have wanted to today.”

Senior Ryan Finley went on to score his 15th goal of the season on a penalty in the 60th minute before adding his 16th a minute and 32 seconds later off a through-ball by freshman midfielder Patrick Hodan.

Finley, Hodan and junior Harrison Shipp all came off the bench for coach Bobby Clark’s team, which had plenty of attacking difference makers.

“They were definitely a very experienced frontline that worked well,” redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Charlie Lyon said. ”They were a very solid unit, were very organized, and were able to break us down ultimately.”

Now, all Bennett’s team can focus on is winning its game on Saturday, which would lead to a good finish in the country’s toughest division.

“Winning this game will be our sole focus,” Bennett said. “The spoils of that would mean we give ourselves a chance to win the championship or we secure second place. One way or the other, I believe the mathematics of it are winning would give us place one or two.”

“Notre Dame is a good team, and I like playing good opposition,” Sjoberg said. “It will be a different story when they come to play Valley Fields with us at home. It’s a new game on Saturday, and we have to recharge. We still have a chance to win the division, so it will be a great game, same for them.”

As Marquette and Notre Dame face off again on Saturday night, both Connecticut and Georgetown play home games against Providence and Seton Hall, respectively. With Notre Dame beating Marquette but losing to both Connecticut and Georgetown, the Hoyas having beaten Marquette, and the Golden Eagles having beaten Connecticut, the fate of the Blue Division will go down to the final minutes of the regular season, and possibly more than just one or two tiebreakers.