UNC soccer hopes to spare the drama against SMU

The North Carolina men’s soccer team can be confident of at least one thing entering its quarterfinal matchup with Southern Methodist University on Friday. If the game comes down to penalty kicks, recent history is on the Tar Heels’ side.

UNC has won the first two games of the NCAA Tournament at the soccer charity stripe in 5-4 fashion.

With home-field advantage and a first-round bye, No. 4 seed North Carolina first battled Georgetown to a 0-0 draw before polishing off the Hoyas. In the third round, forward Enzo Martinez scored a goal with nine seconds remaining, sending North Carolina into overtime against Michigan State. The Tar Heels prevailed once again 5-4 in penalty kicks.

At this point UNC has mastered the penalty kick art, and junior Kirk Urso says it has nothing to do with luck.

“If you hit a ball well and into the corner, it will be difficult for the goalie to get that,” Urso said. “Yeah, a goalie can guess right, but you can tell the difference between a good penalty kick and a bad penalty kick.”

But if Martinez and his teammates have anything to do about it, their match with fifth-seeded SMU won’t come close to penalty kicks.

“There’s a confidence when we get to penalty kicks but we want to finish a game in regulation,” Urso said. “We haven’t done that yet this tournament.”

The overtime drama and penalty kick shoot-outs are not for lack of trying during the first 90 minutes. Against Michigan State, North Carolina launched 31 shots — 20 shots more than the Spartans. The problem hasn’t been creating opportunities, it’s been finishing them.

“Right now it’s just about making plays and finishing the opportunities that we have,” Urso said. “We’ve done well competing but we’ve lacked when it comes to executing the last pass.”

It is a problem that has plagued the Tar Heels all season long: through balls going just a tad bit long and shots flying wide of the goal post. Martinez believes the answer is a simple solution.

“We need to be more calm on the ball and execute our plays, just play like we know how to play,” Martinez said.
This week, practices have not revolved around the visiting Mustangs but getting back to the UNC game plan.

“We haven’t really focused on them too much,” Martinez said. “We are focusing on ourselves and what we need to do to get a win on Friday.”

And if Martinez and Co. handle business on the field, a third straight trip to the Final Four is in store.

“Every year it’s a goal of everyone and it’s something amazing to be a part of,” Martinez said. “I think if we can do it again it would be an amazing experience for everyone and especially the young guys too.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@unc.edu.

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