Consistent pressure leads No. 7 UNC men's soccer to victory

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The men's soccer team huddle during a game against George Washington on Sep. 19 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

CARY — Through a combination of high-pressing defense and transitional offense, the No. 7 North Carolina men's soccer team maintained its momentum on Tuesday night, defeating George Washington, 4-1.

The Tar Heels (7-1) sent wave after wave at the Colonials' defense to extend their winning streak to five games.

Despite dominating possession, UNC didn't attempt a shot through the game’s first 19 minutes. But the aggressive attack played out perfectly 20 minutes into the game. 

After receiving a long ball from defenseman Alex Comsia, Zach Wright  slashed through the George Washington (2-4-1) defense and found David October at the top of the 18-yard box. October fired the Tar Heels’ first shot of the game home for an early 1-0 lead.

Wright, who tallied three assists in total, said this quick transition was exactly what the Tar Heels look to execute every time they get the ball.

“We go into every game high pressing and we look to transition quickly,” he said. “So we can just pick the ball off and go forward right off the bat.”

All three of Wright’s assists came from similar endline runs where he slashed through the defense before passing the ball back into the middle to open teammates.

Wright has tallied six assists in the season and said his intent was to draw the defense away from open players inside the box, which he did repeatedly against George Washington.

Head coach Carlos Somoano knows what kind of impact his senior forward has for the offense.

“Zach’s a handful,” Somoano said. “He will torture defenses. He’s just so strong and powerful, and he’s hard to stop from getting to the endline or coming inside — he can go either one.”

Wright also set up Alan Winn on UNC’s second goal — which came just three minutes after the first.

But the best example of the Tar Heels’ high pressure came on their third goal of the night, just moments before halftime. Jelani Pieters pressured Colonials keeper Thor Arne Höfs and forced the goalie into a poor clearance to the middle of the field.

The lurking Winn stepped in front of the pass for an easy pick-off, took a few dribbles and easily beat Höfs in a one-on-one for his second goal of the game. But Winn gave all the credit to Pieters for forcing the costly George Washington mistake.

“He pressed the ball,” Winn said. “We press as a team, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. And when that happens, you get rewarded.”

Despite the offensive fireworks, Somoano described the Tar Heels’ performance as “just OK.”

Through eight games, the Tar Heels have yet to shut out an opponent. They failed to do so again on Tuesday, thanks to a wonder strike from Koby Osei-Wusu from midfield just four seconds after Winn’s second goal.

Somoano said he didn’t see the goal since it came immediately after the Colonials kicked off to restart play. Winn blamed a momentary lapse in intensity for giving Osei-Wusu the chance for a once-in-a-lifetime goal.

The Tar Heels have been inconsistent defensively so far this season, but they showed improvement on Tuesday — save for the momentary slip-up. Somoano refused to blame or focus on one positional group.

“We’re not going to limit (improvement) to one thing," he said. "It has to be a better team. It’s not a defensive thing. It’s a team thing.”

Tuesday’s win made it clear that each unit’s contributions in both phases of the game — whether it be defense transitioning to attack or forwards pressing defensively — are critical to the Tar Heels' success.

sports@dailytarheel.com

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