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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's soccer prepares for upstart Providence in Elite Eight

Forward Tucker Hume (36) drives down the field with a defender from Florida Gulf Coast. 

Forward Tucker Hume (36) drives down the field with a defender from Florida Gulf Coast. 

That all changed in the Round of 32 when the Terrapins blew a 4-1 lead in the second half to unseeded Providence (15-6). The Friars weren’t satisfied with beating Maryland, adding a 2-1 win over Creighton in the Sweet 16. They now travel to Chapel Hill to face the ninth-seeded Tar Heels (13-3-3) tonight at 7 p.m. with a trip to Houston and a berth in the Final Four on the line.

How do they play?

Although Providence finished first in the Big East, it was a fairly middle-of-the-road team in terms of offensive output. When the Friars do attack, everything starts and stops with Julian Gressel.

Gressel leads the team in goals, assists and shots. But against Maryland, Steven Kilday and Nick Sailor scored their first goals of the season.

To beat UNC, the Friars must have different players emerge as scoring threats in order to keep the defense from keying in on Gressel.

Defensively, Providence was among the best in the Big East, allowing 0.94 goals per game and securing eight shutouts.

With North Carolina having so many offensive weapons, the Friars’ defense must play extremely disciplined and keep the UNC offense in front of them.

Who stands out?

Gressel, a senior midfielder, could be the best player in the country. This week, he was named a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s top player.

Gressel was the Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the Big East, leading the conference with 15 goals and adding six assists.

In goal for the Friars, redshirt sophomore Colin Miller has become a reliable last line of defense. After Ben Seguljic struggled to start the year, the Friars turned to Miller — who has earned a 14-1 record and a 0.73 goals against average.

What’s their weakness?

After Gressel, Danny Griffin is the only Providence player to score more than two goals. And this season, one player hasn’t been able to break through the North Carolina defense alone.

The Tar Heels have faced several top ACC players and have frustrated many — forcing them to take tough shots from well outside the box.

If Gressel and Griffin try to do it themselves, the Friars could see a lot of live-ball turnovers and be vulnerable to UNC’s counterattack.

How could they win?

Providence is used to playing as the underdog, so it shouldn’t be overwhelmed by North Carolina. If they can find some offense outside of Gressel and Griffin, the Friars can surprise the Tar Heels and sneak a goal past them.

If Providence can get an early lead and play physical defense, it can take North Carolina out of its game and continue an improbable run to Houston.

@david_adler94

sports@dailytarheel.com

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