Strong backline, defense lead Tar Heels to victory
Georgia Southern took the first shot against the No. 6 North Carolina men’s soccer team Tuesday night 65 seconds into the game, and one more in the 63rd minute.
Those would be the only shots UNC allowed in its 2-0 victory Tuesday night.
GSU spent 90 minutes trying to figure out UNC’s defense, but time and time again, it was turned away with blocked shots and timely tackles.
The Tar Heels strung together as many as 11 passes at a time, patiently moving the ball up the field before finding an outlet.
“One of the reasons we don’t give up many goals is that we spend less time defending than the opponent, and I think we’re able to get them chasing,” coach Carlos Somoano said. “When they finally get the ball, it’s a little bit harder to get up the field. They don’t quite have the legs or energy.”
Senior captain Jordan Gafa said the backline, which also features Boyd Okwuonu, Jonathan Campbell and Jordan McCrary, values keeping possession more than making flashy passes that could be intercepted.
“We always want to transition into our offense with our defense,” Gafa said. “If we win a ball, our first look is always forward. If it has to go over the top, run in behind, we’ll do that, but we always want to keep the ball first.”
The Tar Heels have allowed just 0.3 goals per game in 2012 and entered Tuesday’s contest ranked second in Division I in goals against average.
McCrary said the Tar Heel defense takes pride in the fact that it has only allowed three goals this season.
“Keeping the ball away from (the opponent) is what we want to do and we showed that,” McCrary said.
When Georgia Southern got power behind its few chances, it was defenders Campbell and Okwuonu who sacrificed their bodies to keep the ball in front, not goalkeeper Scott Goodwin.
That ability to prevent shots on goal from reaching Goodwin — UNC’s career leader in shutouts — has helped UNC shut out four of its last five opponents.
Gafa said the defensive unit is always in sync.
“Our spacing is very important to us, being in tune with the guy next to you, (Okwuonu), Jonathan and Jordan,” Gafa said. “It’s very natural back there, and it’s very comfortable playing with all four of us back there. It’s a lot of natural movements and we won’t have to say much unless we see runners coming through.”
At times, the Tar Heels’ offense takes a while to get going, as it did against Georgia Southern. The defense has consistently stood stout behind them.
“They put in an honest shift every game,” Somoano said. “Game in and game out they’re very competitive.”
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