CHESTER, Pa. — Confetti rained down, the Notre Dame fight song Victory March blasted over the loudspeakers and everyone on the Fighting Irish’s soccer team ran to one side of the field to celebrate.
For the first time in the school’s proud athletic history, Notre Dame was on top of the men’s college soccer world.
Led by goals from Andrew O’Malley and Leon Brown, and another big game from College Cup co-Most Outstanding Player Harrison Shipp, Notre Dame won its first men’s soccer title with a 2-1 victory over Maryland on Sunday at PPL Park. The Fighting Irish finished the season 17-1-6.
“We’re all smiling big smiles,” said 68-year-old coach Bobby Clark, who won his first title in 27 years coaching at Dartmouth, Stanford and Notre Dame.
Patrick Mullins, the nation’s leading scorer, scored for Maryland (17-4-5). The Terrapins were trying to win their fourth national championship and third under coach Sasho Cirovski.
“They are worthy winners and I’m genuinely happy for Bobby for all he’s done for college soccer,” Cirovski said. “I hope he enjoys this one.”
Shipp, a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best player, set up O’Malley’s winning goal with a perfectly placed free kick in the 60th minute. O’Malley leaped for Shipp’s kick and directed a header past goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s outstretched arms.
Coming into Sunday’s title game, O’Malley, a senior defender, had scored just twice in his collegiate career – and, according to Clark, he missed a couple of chances throughout the season.
But he didn’t miss when it counted.
“The goal itself was really put on a silver platter for me,” O’Malley said. “It would have been tough for me to screw it up, I suppose.”
O’Malley, from nearby West Chester, said it was extra special to score the championship-deciding goal in front of many of his family and friends, who made the short commute to watch him play at PPL Park.
“I kind of jokingly said after the game – but I’m a little bit serious – that people think I’m good now,” O’Malley said. “So, hopefully, I’ll just ride that.”
Brown tied it at 1 in the 40th minute with a tough-angle shot. He entered the game as a reserve when Vince Cicciarelli was forced to leave when he broke his collarbone in the 10th minute.
Luke Mishu and Nick Besler were both credited with assists after Besler flicked on a long Mishu throw-in right to the foot of Brown, who slid a tough-angle shot past Steffen.
Mullins, Maryland’s own Hermann Trophy finalist, opened the scoring for the Terrapins in the 35th minute.
Moments earlier, Mullins thought a penalty kick was warranted when a volley from Alex Shinksy from cleared off the goal line by what looked to be the arm of Notre Dame’s Patrick Hodan. But Hodan was not called for the hand ball and then Mullins used his own hand to bring the ball down and deposit a shot past goalkeeper Patrick Wall.
“In the heat of the moment, I hit it down with my hand and, like any good forward, I hit it in the net,” Mullins said. “That’s not who I am and I’m very disappointed in how that play resulted. ... I will regret that one for the rest of my life.”
Mullins, who shared College Cup Most Outstanding Player honors with Shipp, had 19 goals this season and finished his college career with 47, second in program history.
But for Cirovski, it was the character Mullins displayed in admitting to an intentional hand ball that shows what MLS teams will be getting when the Maryland senior is likely selected as one of the top picks in next month’s draft.
“When I build my stadium, I’m going to bronze a statue with him out front,” Cirovski said. “He’s made from the best stuff on earth. It affected him. It affected him a lot. ... His conscience was hurting.”
For Shipp <0x2014> who finished his senior season with 12 goals and 11 assists, including three in the College Cup <0x2014> it was not only gratifying to win a national title but to do so for Clark.
“I think this program has known for the last few years that we’re headed in the right direction,” Shipp said. “We had a great regular season (last year) but I think we kind of realized that it was time for this program to take the next step. And we thought the only logical place to do that was to reach the final four and win a national championship.
“And to do it for this guy <0x2014> our coach <0x2014> is amazing. He’s probably the most underappreciated college soccer coach in the country.”
NOTES: The Besler family has won two major soccer titles in the past week. Besler’s brother, Matt, a U.S. national team defender, won the MLS Cup with Sporting Kansas City last Saturday. ... In Mullins’ four years at Maryland, the Terrapins have lost only two games in which he scored. ... In the semifinals Friday, Notre Dame beat New Mexico 2-0, and Maryland topped Virginia 2-1. ... In addition to Shipp and Mullins, Patrick Hodan (Notre Dame), Besler, O’Malley, Grant Van De Casteele (Notre Dame), Tsubasa Endoh (Maryland), Steffen, Jordan Allen (Virginia), Darius Madison (Virginia) and Michael Calderon (New Mexico) were selected to the College Cup All-Tournament Team.