DURHAM — Behind Nils Bruening’s second brace of the season, the No. 3 North Carolina men’s soccer team defeated No. 19 Virginia Tech, 2-1, on Saturday night. Bruening scored in the 21st and 84th minutes to give UNC its eighth consecutive win.
Virginia Tech (6-4-2, 1-3-1 ACC) had two good chances in the first 12 minutes, but UNC (9-1, 4-0 ACC) defended both well. North Carolina’s Mark Salas was then assessed a 16th-minute yellow card, but the free kick and subsequent corner were also fruitless for the Hokies.
In the 21st minute, forward Jelani Pieters took two defenders down the right side of the box and crossed the ball to Bruening, who hit it in stride for UNC’s first goal of the match, and his fourth of the season.
Three minutes later, the Tar Heels appeared to have another goal, again off Pieters’ right-side attacking. But the score — originally credited to Milo Garvanian — was taken off the board on a late foul call against UNC, much to the ire of head coach Carlos Somoano.
In the 45th minute, the Hokies equalized off a Vincent Jackson II header. The goal came off a corner kick on what ended up being Virginia Tech’s final possession of the half. The teams entered the locker rooms tied, 1-1.
The second half started off less eventfully. Virginia Tech’s best chance came on a 57th-minute corner kick, and UNC’s on a 70th-minute shot off a solo run by midfielder Raul Aguilera.
In the 78th minute, Bruening nearly converted a one-touch goal while running down the right side of the box. The cross was on target, but the senior forward’s shot was just wide left.
But on his next opportunity, Bruening capitalized. After a length UNC possession, Aguilera found an open Bruening in the box. The 6-foot-3 forward booted it in from the right side — not too far from where his previous chance was — to give UNC a 2-1 lead, and himself a brace.
The Hokies were unable to get a shot off in the remaining minutes.
Who stood out?
Bruening was the man of the match. After missing all of the 2017 season with an injury, he has racked up five goals and three assists for a team-best 13 points this season.
His second goal against Virginia Tech, which he finished left-footed, was his third game-winner for UNC this season. Bruening is also leading the team in shots this season, with 21, and looks on track to break his previous career high in goals for a season (eight, as a first-year in 2016).
Pieters, a redshirt junior, created chances for the Tar Heels all through the first half. He assisted on a goal and created the chance for Garvanian’s, which was called off.
In the second half, Aguilera, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, provided speed and energy for UNC. He almost scored on a 70th-minute shot and set up Bruening for the game-winner.
When was it decided?
The second half of the match saw more physicality than finesse, with both teams fighting for a go-ahead goal. It wasn’t over until a timely UNC possession led to Bruening’s goal.
After taking a 2-1 lead, North Carolina’s defense did a good job preventing Virginia Tech from getting any quality looks.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina is now the only undefeated team in ACC play, at 4-0. Virginia Tech, however, did end a UNC shutout streak that lasted for around four and a half matches.
The Tar Heels are now 6-0-1 in their last seven meetings with the Hokies, and 21-0 since 2017 when they score multiple goals in a match.
When do they play next?
UNC will travel to Norfolk, Va., and play Old Dominion on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
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