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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's soccer defeats Syracuse 1-0 to advance to quarterfinals of NCAA Tournament

North Carolina sneaked out a 1-0 victory over Syracuse in the NCAA round of 16. The defense stood strong as Jeremy Kelly’s lone goal was enough to push the Tar Heels past the Orange.

What happened?

The game started tight. The back and forth flow was reminiscent of the 0-0 draw between North Carolina (13-3-3) and Syracuse (12-4-4) earlier this season.

After a few minutes, the Tar Heels found their rhythm.

The Orange made a few dangerous attacks, but redshirt sophomore goalkeeper James Pyle made sure UNC wouldn’t play from behind.

The game’s first big chance was in North Carolina’s favor.

Redshirt senior Walker Hume played a ball up to forward Alan Winn, who knew exactly what to do with it. The junior worked past his defender to the end line, got past another defender and pushed the ball to fellow junior Zach Wright. Wright’s shot was stopped by the Syracuse keeper.

UNC’s big break came in the 31st minute. A strong counter-attack by the Tar Heels left first-year midfielder Jeremy Kelly attacking the Syracuse box. He patiently worked the ball across the face of the goal before placing the ball in the back left corner of the net.

It was one of the few instances UNC had a clean look at the goal, and Kelly wasn’t about to let his chance slip away.

North Carolina looked to be the better team in the first, and the score showed it. But at no point could it relax, for Syracuse weren’t going to give up.

The Orange increased pressure in the second half. Syracuse dominated possession for much of the half, and it seemed that something would break. 

But the UNC was resilient. No matter how many chances Syracuse had, it couldn’t get past the strong Tar Heel back line.

The little possession North Carolina did have was spent launching the ball up the field or draining the clock. A frantic last few minutes found North Carolina loading up its box and deflecting the Syracuse advances until time expired, allowing UNC to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

Who stood out?

Colton Storm and North Carolina defense was stellar throughout this game. Though there were plenty of scary moments, the back line never broke. Despite a lot of Syracuse possession, they held the Orange to just six shots — only one of which was on target.

Jeremy Kelly came off the bench for UNC late in the first half, but immediately made an impact by scoring the game’s only goal — his third of the season. Kelly’s effort let him play the entire the second half as well.

Syracuse goalkeeper Hendrick Hilbert was fantastic in this match. Though he let one shot go past him, he was the reason the Orange were in the game to the end. He saved eight shots, including a couple that looked like easy goals for North Carolina.

When was it decided?

In the 30th minute of the match, Coach Carlos Samoano decided to get some fresh legs in the game. Out came Jeremy Kelly, who didn’t wait to put his stamp on this game.

After a few high kicks, the ball settled with first-year Cam Lindley, the ACC Freshman of the Year. Lindley played the ball deep to Kelly, who was streaking down the left side of the field.

Kelly collected the ball on the counter-attack and worked the right across the face of the goal. He cleanly struck the ball back across the goal and slotted it past the keeper and into the back left corner of the net.

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The goal was a rare break in a game that was much about the battle of possession. It was also enough to let the Tar Heel defense settle back go to work.

Why does it matter?

The Tar Heels’ season is still alive, and this game pushes them to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. This was a tough Syracuse team that UNC tied earlier in the year. Conference opponents are difficult in the postseason play, especially Syracuse, who made the College Cup last season. The Tar Heels haven’t taken home the NCAA trophy since 2011, and this win makes that dream one step closer.

Where do they play next?

The Tar Heels will host Providence at Fetzer Field at 7 p.m. on Friday.