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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's soccer outruns opposition

Going up against the Carolina RailHawks in the final leg of its three-game exhibition season, the North Carolina men’s soccer team knew its professional opposition would be older and more experienced.

Though they weren’t as long in the teeth as the visitors from Cary, the Tar Heels had younger, faster legs. And Monday night at Fetzer Field, speed killed.

“We wanted to go in and just press, press … and it really paid off,” redshirt freshman forward Josh Rice said.

In no instance was this advantage more apparent than the circumstances leading to the Tar Heels’ first goal of the evening.

In the 34th minute, the RailHawks’ Cory Elenio made what at first appeared to be a safe pass back to his keeper, Eric Reed. But seemingly out of nowhere, UNC striker Alex Dixon sprinted down the left flank in order to meet Reed at the ball in a dead heat on the edge of the box.

The ball bounced off Reed’s leg and when the dust settled, Dixon had the ball at his feet and an open goal in front of him. Dixon coolly deposited the ball into the back of the net, and the Tar Heels had a 1-0 lead.

“I knew I definitely had a chance to get to it,” Dixon said. “I didn’t think the keeper was that fast, so he got it off me and I was just like, ‘All right. Now here’s the easy part.’”

The Tar Heels’ ability to be first to the ball was even more pronounced given all of the areas in which they lacked. The bigger, stronger RailHawks outmuscled the Tar Heels during the first half.

Despite having a number of chances early in the game, UNC seemed listless in the attacking third and was unable to capitalize until Dixon’s strike.

But at the half, the Tar Heels found a second gear their opponents just didn’t have.

Despite conceding a penalty-kick goal against the run of play to start the second half, the Tar Heels were dominant the rest of the way.

“These guys are older, they have more experience, but after thirty minutes they’re just going to sit back,” Rice said. “If they go for the ball, they’re not going to go too much because they’re not as in shape as we are.”

With an attack that features Enzo Martinez and Billy Schuler in addition to Dixon, the Tar Heels will be the faster team on the field during the regular season more often than not.

Whether or not North Carolina will be able to exploit this advantage will depend on its ability not only to come out of the gates at full speed, but to have the stamina to maintain this pace for all 90 minutes.

“We live off of our energy,” UNC coach Elmar Bolowich said. “If one guy doesn’t bring energy, we are screwed.”

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