Tar Heel men's soccer one win from College Cup
The ninth-seeded North Carolina men’s soccer team is just one win away from its fifth straight College Cup — the final four of Division I men’s soccer — but a familiar opponent with a penchant for knocking off favorites stands in the Tar Heels’ way.
No. 16 seed Indiana, fresh off an upset of top-seeded Notre Dame, will visit Chapel Hill Friday to face UNC in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.
While UNC has seen the Hoosiers in the NCAA Tournament before, coach Carlos Somoano said UNC’s past experience with Indiana won’t be particularly helpful.
“They’re a different team this year, and so are we, so every year is a new experience,” Somoano said. “To be honest, we could’ve played them a month ago, and it could be different tonight.”
The Tar Heels defeated Indiana 1-0 in the third round of NCAA play in 2009.
In 2011’s third round, UNC won 1-0 on a golden goal from former Tar Heel Billy Schuler.
Indiana forward Eriq Zavaleta ended the Fighting Irish’s season Sunday with a header goal in double overtime.
Zavaleta’s 17 goals lead all players on the eight remaining teams in the tournament.
After a first round bye, the Hoosiers beat Xavier to advance to the third round thanks to a stellar performance by junior midfielder Nikita Kotlov, who scored a hat trick in a 4-1 win.
In six career NCAA Tournament games, he has seven goals and two assists.
Senior goalkeeper Scott Goodwin, who was named the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year for Division I men’s soccer Thursday, said Zavaleta is skilled at holding up the ball and waiting for more players to get forward.
But Goodwin said he is confident that the UNC defense, which leads Division I in goals allowed with six, will be able to contain the Hoosiers’ scoring threats.
“We’ve seen some very good forwards this year, and we’ve been able to contain them,” Goodwin said. “I think we’ll be able to do the same thing.”
The Hoosiers have struggled to keep their attack level with defenders and have drawn 81 offside penalties — 32 more than the Big Ten team that raised the second-most offside flags, Michigan.
The Tar Heels have had some timing issues themselves and are hoping to solve their offensive woes just in time to keep their tournament run alive.
UNC needed penalty kicks to defeat Maryland-Baltimore County after 110 minutes of scoreless regulation and scored their first tournament goal in the 92nd minute to put away Fairleigh Dickinson in overtime.
“We created some very good chances in the last game,” Somoano said. “Look, this is tournament time. You don’t expect to be blowing teams out. Sometimes it opens up, sometimes it doesn’t.
“The last two games, our possession has been quite good. Our ball movement has been quite good, and as a result, we’ve backed the teams up on top of their goal.”
Senior captain Jordan Gafa said he feels the team is on the verge of breaking through its scoring slump.
“Last game could have easily been 3- or 4-0, and I think right now our team’s at a turning point with goals and progress,” Gafa said. “We’re right at our peak, and I think it’s great timing.”
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