Heels’ defense stifles Clemson

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Sophomore Mikey Lopez moves the ball up the field. The midfielder scored once in the 2-0 shutout of Clemson on Friday.

All season long, North Carolina men’s soccer coach Carlos Somoano has been waiting for his offense to click.

He’s still waiting.

Heading into Friday’s matchup against Clemson, the Tar Heels were averaging 1.5 goals per game — far short of the 2.23 goals the national championship UNC team averaged last year.

And on Friday, the No. 6 Tar Heels (9-1-1, 4-0-1 ACC) raised that statistic only slightly, riding goals from freshman Jonathan Campbell and sophomore Mikey Lopez to a 2-0 win against Clemson.

Somoano said Sunday that his offense still isn’t where he would like it to be. But while UNC hasn’t been scoring at the same clip, it has seen no decline in the win column.

“We’re definitely not as explosive a goal-scoring team as we would like, but that’s OK,” Somoano said. “That just may not be the characteristic of this team.

“But we defend extremely well, and if we have to be a little bit more of a defensive team because that’s our strength this year, then we’ll embrace our strength and go with it.”

So far this season, that defense has carried the Tar Heels.

Through 11 games, UNC has allowed just three goals, notching its eighth shutout of the year against Clemson.

The Tar Heels held the Tigers (4-6-2, 2-2-1) to nine shots Friday, only one of which was on frame.

For Somoano, the sight of his backline shutting down an opposing team was a familiar one.

“Yeah, they’re good,” Somoano said, chuckling. “It’s hard to quantify. I guess the eight shutouts is one way. They’re just good … And anytime they break down, we have (goalkeeper) Scott Goodwin behind them.

“They’re doing a great job. There’s no doubt about it.”

The back four includes Campbell, sophomores Jordan McCrary and Boyd Okwuonu and, on most nights, redshirt senior captain Jordan Gafa, who sat out Friday due to injury.

Campbell said the consistency in the backline has facilitated a stronger connection between himself and his fellow defenders.

“I already know where the player to the left of me and to the right of me are going to be. And that really helps,” Campbell said. “The offense is constantly switching in people, so I think it’s a lot harder for them to stay on the same page.”

While the defense has anchored the team so far this year it was fitting that the first goal North Carolina scored Friday came from a defender.

After senior Cameron Brown’s shot in the 36th minute was deflected by the Clemson goalkeeper, Campbell headed it in for the first goal of his career.

Campbell said the goal itself was easy — the ball was waiting for him in the box.

But there was one problem.

“After that, I didn’t know what to do,” Campbell said. “I didn’t have any good goal celebrations because I couldn’t really think of anything at the time.”

With the way Campbell and his fellow defenders have played, he’ll likely be forgiven.

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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