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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC season derailed on penalty kicks

Akron triumphs 0-0 (5-4)

When North Carolina's Brett King received a red card in the 70th minute of UNC's College Cup game against the No. 1 seeded Akron Zips, one got a sense that the sending off might have been the death knell of the UNC men's soccer team's season.

Usually getting a starting defender sent off with 20 minutes remaining in regulation - against the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, no less - is cause for panic.

Indeed, the Tar Heels' season did end on Friday night.

They took Akron all the way to the brink, playing 40 straight gritty, grinding, nerve-wracking minutes with10 men. UNC could not quite finish the job in penalty kicks, converting on four out of five, while the Zips converted all five to move on to the finals on Sunday.

"I wasn't so concerned about (King's ejection) because in the past we've looked better with a man down than with 11 on the field sometimes," UNC head coach Elmar Bolowich said. "It was a matter of keeping our organization, and the players understanding as to how we need to press.

"We have done it in practice on numerous occasions, and the guys were comfortable doing it in practice as well. It's not unfamiliar territory."

North Carolina had three opportunities to score their own golden goal in the last three minutes of overtime. Potential hero Jordan Graye had his header cleared off the line by the Akron defender stationed at the far post for the corner kick.

Not five minutes later, Graye watched his penalty kick fly over the crossbar - the only member of either team not to find the back of the net in the session.

"Well, what can you say?" Bolowich said. "You cannot say anything because he feels bad about that. This is just the way it goes, so to have the courage to step up to the line, and take the PK is what we want the players to do. So he missed one."

While he was the only player who did not score the penalty kick, the game never would have gotten to extra time without Graye's steady work in the back.

Graye's header was the best chance of three chances the Tar Heels failed to convert in the closing moments of overtime. Akron keeper David Meves turned away a point blank shot from Enzo Martinez and a wicked sinking shot from distance by Michael Farfan.

"It was a matter of who would take advantage of their opportunities," Bolowich said. "I felt like towards the end of the second overtime, even a man down, we had the best chance of the entire game to score a goal, but it didn't come out and Akron was a little bit more opportunistic on the PK's."

King was sent off after a hard tackle of Akron's Teal Bunbury, the NCAA's leading scorer. Even though the foul was not harsh enough to merit a red card, King had already accumulated a first yellow, 15 minutes beforehand.

The UNC defense turned back every attack the Zips could muster, even appearing to be even tighter after King's expulsion. The unit limited Bunbury to four shots, with only two of those finding the frame.

"Credit North Carolina," Akron head coach Caleb Porter said. "Going down a man to hang on like they did is a credit to their heart and the type of team that they are. They've had a great season and they're a tremendous team."

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