North Carolina men’s soccer Coach Carlos Somoano searched all season for a reliable striker.
But when the Tar Heels needed a goal the most, they couldn’t find one in their 1-0 NCAA Tournament quarterfinal loss to Indiana Friday night.
The Tar Heels created plenty of chances — outshooting Indiana 13-6 in the game and 4-0 in the first half — but couldn’t find a finishing touch.
While UNC failed to find an established finisher, Indiana’s Eriq Zavaleta scored his 18th goal of the season in the 60th minute. UNC’s senior goalkeeper Scott Goodwin made a reflex save on Zavaleta’s first headed effort, but the Indiana striker stayed calm to head in the rebound.
“We did most of the things we wanted to do, but in the end, the only plays that matter are the ones in the box,” Somoano said. “We know that it hasn’t been easy for us to score goals, and it caught us tonight.”
Despite fielding the nation’s best defense, which allowed only seven goals all season, the Tar Heels were unable to complement their defensive efforts with production in the attacking third. UNC failed to score a goal in regulation in three NCAA tournament games.
UNC defeated UMBC on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw in its first game and scored in overtime to defeat Fairleigh Dickinson 1-0.
With less than 15 minutes remaining in the quarterfinal match against the Hoosiers, Somoano brought on junior forward Josh Rice to replace Andy Craven.
After Rice’s entrance, UNC’s sense of urgency increased and the Tar Heels recorded eight shots in the final 13 minutes. Only one shot found its target, though, and it was saved by Indiana goalkeeper Luis Soffner.
“We were still driving to get a goal back, but it just didn’t go our way in the second half,” said UNC senior captain Jordan Gafa.
But Somoano said not all of the Tar Heels’ offensive struggles could be blamed on the forwards.
“We didn’t have a guy who could come out of the midfield and be a threat on goal,” Somoano said.
For Indiana, the win against UNC is especially gratifying. The Tar Heels eliminated Indiana in the 2009 and 2011 NCAA Tournaments.
“Last year we left here a little bit devastated because we thought we played really well enough to win that game,” Soffner said. “We knew that we had the team this year that we could take them down.”
Though his team failed to advance to the College Cup for the first time since 2007, Somoano said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“I’m disappointed because of the result tonight,” he said, “but I’m going to look back on this group very fondly.”
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