The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 12th

UNC men's soccer takes on defending champ Stanford in NCAA semifinals

The North Carolina men’s soccer team has defeated a lot of tough opponents this season en route to the College Cup. But its toughest opponent remains ahead, as the ninth-seeded Tar Heels (14-3-3) take on fifth-seeded Stanford (14-3-4) tonight at 8:45 p.m. in Houston for the right to play for a national championship. 

If the Tar Heels want to play for a title, they’re going to have to go through the defending champions. 

How do they play?

Stanford has been an offensive juggernaut for the entire season. The Cardinal led the Pac-12 in goals scored with 1.81 per game. Stanford is relentless in its attack, and North Carolina goalkeeper James Pyle will have to be ready, as the Cardinal averages over 15 shots per game. 

One area of this matchup that could be a deciding factor is whether Stanford can score off its set pieces. In the Cardinal’s 2-0 win over Louisville in the quarterfinals, both goals came from set pieces. North Carolina should be up to the task, as it has one of the best defensive units in the country with Alex Comsia, Walker Hume and Colton Storm solidifying the back line. 

Who stands out?

UNC can’t let Foster Langsdorf anywhere out of its sight. Langsdorf leads the Cardinal with 15 goals — accounting for nearly 40 percent of his team's scoring — and was named Co-Pac-12 Player of the Year. Even though Langsdorf is a high-volume shooter, he is very efficient, scoring on 25 percent of his shots. More importantly, he puts 60 percent of his shots on goal, so Pyle will have to be ready and avoid giving Stanford too many rebound opportunities. 

If the offense isn’t clicking, Stanford is still capable of winning games with its defense. The Cardinal allows only 0.67 goals per game and much of that is attributed to first-team Pac-12 goalkeeper Andrew Epstein. Epstein has allowed just 14 goals this season and has not allowed a goal so far in the NCAA Tournament. 

What’s their biggest weakness?

There aren’t many weaknesses for teams that make the College Cup in back-to-back seasons. But if there is one, it’s Stanford’s lack of scoring after Langsdorf. No other player on the Cardinal has more than four goals. 

North Carolina’s win over Providence last Friday could foreshadow what might happen for Stanford if it can’t create offense outside of Langsdorf. Providence’s Julian Gressel came into the UNC game with 36 points on 15 goals, but the Tar Heels were able to take Gressel out of the game, and none of his teammates were able to pick up the slack. 

How could they win?

Stanford needs to control possession in the midfield so it can penetrate into the offensive third and create some set-piece opportunities. If the Cardinal is able to find Langsdorf, he is more than capable of putting a shot past Pyle. 

The Tar Heels have been prone to slow starts at times this season and are vulnerable if Stanford attacks from the beginning.

@david_adler94

sports@dailytarheel.com

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