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The Daily Tar Heel

Men's soccer torched by Zips

Defense struggles with champs

Eddie Ababio and the UNC defense stepped up their game after Akron scored three goals.
Eddie Ababio and the UNC defense stepped up their game after Akron scored three goals.

In a rematch of last year’s College Cup semifinal game, the No. 4 North Carolina men’s soccer team fell to No. 1 Akron for the second time in nine months.

And much to the chagrin of starting left back Eddie Ababio, the Tar Heels allowed three goals in the loss to the Zips — a quarter of the total goals scored against UNC in its 22 games last year.

“We made too many mistakes and they capitalized on them,” Ababio said. “It started off slow, and you can’t have a slow start like that, especially against a team like that.”

Despite holding the Zips to just five shots on goal, the defense struggled for much of the game. But that wasn’t necessarily unexpected.

UNC lost two of its starting defenders to the pro ranks last year when Zach Loyd and Jordan Graye were selected in the first and fourth rounds of the MLS draft, respectively. With the duo leading the way in the back, North Carolina went to consecutive College Cups in 2008 and 2009.

Head coach Elmar Bolowich didn’t hide the fact that they were dearly missed in Friday’s loss.

“It always worries you when you lose a player of that caliber,” Bolowich said. “But I think the exciting part is that we have new players. We integrate them and they’re doing well. They still need to adjust some.”

A shutout wasn’t quite what the Tar Heels had in mind for their season opener. But on Sunday against Seton Hall, North Carolina looked like a whole new team.

Sharper and quicker on the counterattack in the 4-1 victory, the UNC defense successfully stopped the Pirates in their tracks and held them to just one shot on goal.

For Ababio, the defense improved leaps and bounds from Friday’s disappointment.

“We had everyone behind the ball and we pressed,” he said. “Everything we did, we were in our right spots. If one guy made a mistake, the other guy backed him up. We did everything as a team.”

With a lead against the Pirates in the second half, the defense moved forward, putting pressure on the opposition and assisting on offense.

In the final 16 minutes of the game, Ababio came up from the back and had two shots on goal.

For a defense that struggled to fulfill even its primary duty against the Zips, it was an obvious sign that something had clicked.

Ababio, a key contributor and captain on defense, sat out for most of last year with a foot injury. But the redshirt senior has returned for his final season and is ready to lead.

And for his teammates, he’s exactly who they want backing them up.

“He is one of those players that by looking at him, it makes you want to work harder,” sophomore forward Enzo Martinez said. “He’s just a warrior. He’s always going forward and he’s always positive. He’s a true leader.”

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