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The Daily Tar Heel

Men’s soccer advances to third round

Alex Dixon
Alex Dixon

Alex Dixon thought about bringing it out a few times this year, but refrained.

Sure, the sophomore forward recorded North Carolina’s first hat trick since 2005 against Stetson this October. And yes, he scored a crucial goal against Wake Forest on the road a few weeks before.

But neither moment caused Dixon to celebrate as effusively as he did last year.

That changed in Sunday’s second round NCAA tournament game against No. 25 Brown (11-3-5). The No. 4 Tar Heels won 2-0. And after Dixon provided the game’s dagger, he rekindled his dramatic celebratory ways.

“Kirk (Urso) played me a nice ball through, and I was like, ‘If I get on the other side of the defender, I can have more space to go,’” Dixon said. “I got by him, and the back post was open, so I just slid it back there.”

As soon as the ball hit the net, Dixon beelined toward the UNC bench. But before embracing any teammates, he performed a cartwheel and a backflip.

“I did it a couple times last year,” Dixon said. “I haven’t done it all this year. It was good to bring it out.”

The Tar Heels (14-2-3) put up 11 shots during the game, though they dominated possession throughout.

Forward Billy Schuler capitalized with the team’s first goal in the 20th minute after Urso hit an in-swinging cross into the box. Schuler headed the ball into the net.

“We’ve been working in practice a lot on our free kicks and restarts,” Schuler said. “We have all our runs down, and Kirk played me to the right spot in the middle.”

But other than that finish, UNC didn’t make the most of its opportunities. Schuler spent most of the game around the 18-yard box, but couldn’t finish several chances.

Junior midfielder Cameron Brown blasted a couple shots over the goal. And even Dixon missed.

In fact, with less than 28 minutes remaining in the second half, Dixon found himself collecting the ball right inside the box. But with defenders trailing, he decided to quickly blast a shot at Brown’s keeper. The effort was easily deflected.

“Brown was very, very competitive,” Bolowich said. “We expected that. There’s a reason why they’re here. You have to find a way to survive and move on and advance.”

After a disappointing loss to N.C. State in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, such a display by the Tar Heels didn’t seem likely. Goalkeeper Brooks Haggerty spoke afterward about how excited the team was to get back on the field.

A physical struggle occurred, and UNC left with the ugly win.

Still, the Tar Heels can take some consolation knowing they took this same route last year to the NCAA championship game — they lost in the ACC quarterfinal before going on a surprising run in the NCAA tournament.

Dixon wouldn’t mind a return to the NCAA finals. In fact, he even suggested an extended celebration if he scored in this year’s title game.

“Definitely a couple more flips and maybe a slide,” he said.

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