Playing at Elon due to field reconstruction in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina men’s soccer team opened their season with a solid 4-2 win over No. 12 Providence (0-1) in a rematch of last season’s thrilling overtime quarterfinal matchup.
The No. 4 Tar Heels (1-0) started their season aggressively, but a quality attempt from Mauricio Pineda in the opening minutes was blocked away by Providence keeper Ben Seguljic.
UNC finally broke through in the 15th minute when the ball fell to John Nelson after a scramble following a corner-kick. The first-year deposited his shot into the back of the net, giving North Carolina an early lead.
Moments after James Pyle saved a headed attempt to preserve the lead, the Tar Heels added to their advantage in the 33rd minute when Jeremy Kelly flicked a pass over a defender to the feet of Cam Lindley who calmly finished his chance and doubled UNC’s lead.
The Tar Heels’ lead did not last long as Providence rallied back with a pair of quick goals to end the first half. Substitute Brendan Constantine scored in the 36th minute to cut the Friar’s deficit in half, then Joao Serrano scorched a free kick from 20 yards out in the 42nd minute. The two sides headed into the half tied at two.
The Friars and Tar Heels traded chances in the second half’s opening moments before Jelani Pieters rose above a crowd of Providence defenders to tip in Zach Wright’s cross with his head in the 63rd minute.
UNC would not squander their lead for a second time, and after Wright was fouled in the box in the 86th minute, David October finished his penalty kick opportunity to put the finishing touches on a solid 4-2 win for the Tar Heels.
Who stood out?
Lindley led the Tar Heels with three shots with one ending up in the back of the net, while Nelson and Pieters each tallied two shots and a goal.
Though he did not score, Zach Wright found himself in the middle of the action during the second half. The senior forward served Jelani Pieters’ eventual game-winning goal and managed to earn a penalty kick in the game’s waning minutes.
In goal, Pyle found his footing by the second half. Despite allowing two goals, the redshirt junior made two saves and did enough for the Tar Heels to come away with an opening night victory.
When was it decided?
After Providence stormed back in the first half, UNC’s slight 3-2 lead was far from safe.
However, when Wright was taken down in the box, October’s calm penalty finish gave the Tar Heels enough breathing room with only four minutes remaining.
Why does it matter?
Starting the season ranked highly, North Carolina has the ability to return to the College Cup for a second straight year, but a lot can happen between now and the NCAA Tournament. To secure an early win over a ranked opponent could set the tone in UNC’s title campaign.
Head coach Carlos Somoano was pleased overall with his team’s performance, though he noted that it was far from a perfect performance and that there is plenty for his team still to work on moving forward.
The Tar Heels will also take heart in securing a win while “hosting” at a neutral site. All of UNC’s games this season will be played outside of Chapel Hill due to field reconstruction, and Somoano’s squad hope that this lack of a true home field advantage won’t prove to be an obstacle.
In a season with the highest of aspirations, any complication could derail the Tar Heels’ hopes, so to earn a victory in one of these early games could clear the mental block and give UNC confidence moving forward.
Where do they play next?
The Tar Heels will host Rutgers on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
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