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The Daily Tar Heel

Akron rematch awaits Tar Heels

Teams met in national semis last year

Josh Rice, who scored the game-winning goal against UNC-Wilmington in the last minute of UNC’s first exhibition game, scored twice for the Tar Heels in the preseason. North Carolina will open its regular season Friday in an NCAA College Cup semifinals rematch against Akron.
Josh Rice, who scored the game-winning goal against UNC-Wilmington in the last minute of UNC’s first exhibition game, scored twice for the Tar Heels in the preseason. North Carolina will open its regular season Friday in an NCAA College Cup semifinals rematch against Akron.

When the North Carolina men’s soccer team opens its season Friday against Akron, it won’t necessarily be a grudge match.

The Zips ended UNC’s season last year in the NCAA College Cup semifinals after beating the Tar Heels 5-4 on penalty kicks. It was a brutal way to lose after playing with 10 men for most of the second half when Brett King earned his second yellow card of the match.

But now senior Eddie Ababio sees the upcoming game as a chance to start the season off in a positive direction.

“Win, loss or draw, whatever happens tomorrow will set the tone for the season,” Ababio said. “If we lose tomorrow, we are going to know how far behind we are and what we need to work on, but we want to win.”

“We are in a new phase, a new season, and we both have new teams,” coach Elmar Bolowich said. “I think we both look back on how close we were to that final.”

Losing this game won’t ruin either team’s season. It is only the first game of the year, and both squads are still busy integrating freshmen and adjusting to new positions.

But winning would mean having a huge early win over a top team on the Tar Heels’ resume and a nice dose of confidence in the locker room.

This time around, Akron will be seeing a completely different team out of Chapel Hill. Gone are King, Brooks Haggerty, Zach Loyd and Jordan Graye, along with injured junior Cameron Brown, who sustained an ACL tear over the summer. All of them started in the national semifinal against Akron.

Bolowich now has true freshman Brendan Moore in goal and replaced Loyd, a former All-American, with transfer Jalil Anibaba.

“(Anibaba) blends right in; he is as athletic if not more athletic and very strong,” Bolowich said. “It’s almost as if there is nothing missing in that department.”

But perhaps the most important player to emerge in the offseason is junior forward Alex Dixon. North Carolina spent much of last season with Billy Schuler as its lone striker up top. But Dixon, who may be the fastest player on the team, gives the Tar Heels a dual threat on offense.

“He was a little overshadowed by Billy last year, but Alex made significant improvements in his game,” Bolowich said.

And while the Tar Heels have played some quality opponents in the preseason, including No. 23 UNC-Wilmington and the pro team the Carolina Railhawks, they have yet to play a team of Akron’s caliber.

“We expect them to possess the ball a lot and push the tempo,” Ababio said.

With eight starters returning, four of whom are preseason All-Americans, the Zips have the ability to score on anyone. But notably missing from the 2010 lineup is Hermann Trophy winner Teal Bunbury.

Bunbury led the nation with 17 goals scored and was selected in the Major League Soccer draft with the No. 4 pick.

Scoring on Akron will be the difficult task. Four defenders and goalie David Meves, who recorded 17 shutouts last year, are back on the pitch for the Zips.

Last season the Zips played 24 games before taking a loss.

This year, North Carolina is hoping it only takes one.

Contact the Sports Editor

at sports@unc.edu.

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