CARY — For the No. 5 North Carolina women’s soccer team, much has happened since the last time it hosted a game at WakeMed Soccer Park.
After using the venue as a temporary home this past season, UNC (7-2-1, 2-0 ACC) head coach Anson Dorrance and his players weren’t expecting to return to the professional soccer complex anytime soon, especially since they’re currently using Finley Fields South as a home location.
But then Hurricane Florence hit the coast, traveling across the state to Chapel Hill, and drowned the team's home field. So Thursday night’s game, a 3-0 victory over Pittsburgh (4-4-1, 0-2 ACC), served as a return to the place the team called home last season.
“The only thing that affected us really was our field," forward Alessia Russo said. "But this is a great option, I don’t know if you saw a picture of our field but it was completely drowned, so I mean this is an amazing field to use.”
The team was clearly comfortable in a venue where it won eight out of 11 games last season. The Tar Heels did not disappoint in this reunion. The squad managed 24 shots, 12 of which were on goal, in dissecting the Panther defense.
“We’re excited,” Dorrance said. “A 3-0 win is a good win. Obviously a shutout is always good. I thought the quality of some of our goals were outstanding. I thought Dorian Bailey played a great game. I thought her two assists in the first half were spectacular. I thought Taylor Otto had some great moments, Alessia Russo on the scorecard, along with Bridgette, two wonderful goal scorers for us."
Having just played three consecutive road games against top ten opponents (No. 6 Santa Clara, No. 1 Stanford and No. 7 Florida State), UNC’s battle-tested demeanor and aggressive style of play caught the Panthers off guard.
Enforcing their will through tenacious on-the-ball defense and sharp ball movement, the Tar Heels afford Pittsburgh very little room to breathe. Therefore, the team was unable to produce any efficient production on either side of the ball.
By the match’s end, Pittsburgh was only able to put up one shot on frame, and the attempt came less than six minutes into the contest. From that point on, the Tar Heels dominated, not just with their shot count, but with time of possession.
North Carolina utilized a balanced combination between offense and defense, building its possessions from the backline, moving forward.
"I think that connection is really important going from the defenders to the offenders because buildup is just really important," forward Bridgette Andrzejewski said. "I think that the tempo is key in making sure we find each other and have that connection on the outsides and the middle everywhere on the field where we can play the ball to our feet or over the top, just learn each others’ movements because that’s how we’ll be the best we can."
By the 22nd minute, it was clear the Panthers had no answer for the Tar Heels, as Dorrance's team put together a two-goal lead, courtesy of goals from Russo and Andrzejewski. UNC added a third goal in the 52nd minute, courtesy of Brianna Pinto, firmly putting the game out of reach.
The team hopes its field is drained and ready to use for its next home venue in Chapel Hill — a Sept. 29 clash with Louisville.
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