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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina women's soccer picks up second win of season against South Florida

Redshirt first-year Taylor Otto had a breakout performance on Sunday afternoon for the No. 4 North Carolina women’s soccer team.

Not only did Otto complete the first Tar Heel hat trick in four years, she also scored the first three goals of her young college career. She led her team to a decisive 4-2 victory over previously unbeaten South Florida.

What happened?

The Tar Heels (2-1) thoroughly dismantled USF (3-1) from a statistical standpoint. Even though that was the case, this game was not a gimme whatsoever.

UNC controlled the pace of the game early one, led by the fearsome attack of first-year forward Sydney Spruill. Her constant presence on the ball gave the Bulls’ backline difficulties.

“She is probably our best pressing player,” head coach Anson Dorrance said. “Sydney’s energy, quickness, aggression and physical reckless abandonment was savage. She played fifteen minutes of just pressing, and pressing, and pressing.”

In the 15th minute, Dorrance substituted Otto in for Spruill, which generated almost immediate results.

“She is a phenomenal player,” Dorrance said of Otto. “Her runs were fantastic. Her decisions on the ball were great.”

UNC struck first with Otto scoring off a penalty kick in the 17th minute. However, the celebration for this opening goal was quite short-lived when USF's Andrea Hauksdottir returned the favor with a penalty kick of her own, tying the game even at 1-1 in the 21st minute.

This back-and-forth play continued later into the first half. After Otto connected on another goal in the 38th minute off an assist from Morgan Goff to give UNC the lead once again, USF quickly responded with a counter-attack that concluded with Evelyne Viens lobbing the ball overtop UNC goalie Samantha Leshnak to even the game at 2-2.

Shortly after intermission, the Tar Heels’ adjustments allowed for them to regain command over this game, outshooting the Bulls 16-2 in the second half alone.

These extra opportunities firmly culminated into scoring outcomes, as first-year forward Alessia Russo recaptured the lead with her strike into the lower right corner of the goal in the 74th minute. Eventually, Otto scored her second penalty kick in the 85th minute, putting away the game for good.

UNC finished with an advantage on total shots (25 to 6), shots on goal (11 to 4) and corner kicks (10 to 0), further emphasizing on the Tar Heels’ numerical dominance over the Bulls.

When was it decided?

While Russo’s goal from right outside the box was the one that ultimately became the game-winner for the Tar Heels, the Bulls’ fate were sealed when Otto cemented her hat trick through her closing penalty kick with minutes left to spare.It was only at this moment when the victorious outcome was no longer in doubt.

Who stood out?

Is it really that obvious? This was definitely Otto’s time to shine.

While two of her three goals were penalty kicks, she showcased her precise finishing abilities in a sensational fashion. Dorrance was especially complimentary on her excellent capability of putting the ball through the net, as she does this in practice on a daily basis.

“Most players on the roster will blast the ball in the general direction of the goal," he said. "She finishes it. There is a big difference between shooting and finishing, and she is an elite finisher.”

Furthermore, Dorrance highly stresses that he is trying to utilize her in the most strategic way that he can.

“It is going to be really important to figure out ways to keep her up top (as a forward) as often as possible,” Dorrance said.

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Why does it matter?

Following a disappointing loss to Central Florida on Friday, this matchup was essential for the Tar Heels to reclaim momentum heading into their next string of games.

“It was incredibly important because had we lost this game, I think the entire staff would have been on suicide watch,” Dorrance said.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels return to North Carolina this upcoming week for the Duke Nike Classic in Durham. They'll face off against Auburn at 5 p.m. on Friday and UNC-Wilmington at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

@KEberly1996

sports@dailytarheel.com