RALEIGH — Nils Bruening stole a miscalculated pass in the midfield and dribbled his way toward the box.
The senior midfielder lofted the ball over the NC State defense, finding Milo Garvanian’s left foot. With a quick volley from the first-year, the ball soared toward the goal, only for the Wolfpack goalkeeper Leon Krapf to snag it out of the air.
It was a missed opportunity for the Tar Heels, much like the rest of the night.
The No. 1 North Carolina men’s soccer team (9-2-1, 4-1-0 ACC) fell 1-0 to NC State (8-3-2, 2-3-1 ACC) on Friday night, despite outshooting the Wolfpack, 18-2. Of those two shots, only one was on goal, and that one made the difference.
“It doesn’t help us if we outshoot the opposing team,” Bruening said. “We have to score goals.”
The night was riddled with poor finishes and a lackluster effort from the offense. Despite the 18 shots the team took, the Tar Heels suffered from the same problem they have had all season: inaccurate finishing.
“You've got to have a little more attack personality, a little more determination,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “You've gotta strike a little more aggressively. I just don’t think we were aggressive enough in front of the goal or attacking the goal hard enough on shots. We were just a little bit too hesitant.”
Up and down the offensive line, players were taking shot after shot, hoping it would go in.
Giovanni Montesdeoca had three shots while Bruening shot four. Jelani Pieters took a stab at two shots of his own, as did Garvanian, but both of his were on goal. Even defensive player John Nelson had a shot on goal. No one was capitalizing.
“That’s the nature of our game, and it’s a cruel game sometimes,” Somoano said.
The 18 shots were the highest taken by the Tar Heels all season.
“It’s the final third that we didn’t convert the goals, the shots we had, the momentum we couldn’t get back,” Bruening said.
The loss was not a result of being outplayed. The Tar Heels played with equal talent compared to their Wolfpack opponents and they didn't get outrun either. On the contrary, they dominated possession.
The root of the problem was solely mentality.
“We were missing a little bit of determination in the box,” Bruening said. “We need to get the scoring mindset and just go in there and try to score with all we got.”
The effort and play was there. UNC managed eight shots and five corner kicks in the first half alone.
Once NC State’s midfielder David Loera stole a pass and made a break for the box, ultimately scoring the lone goal of the Friday night game, the sense of urgency only flared within the Tar Heels. However, their kryptonite was hesitating in the box.
“Mistakes like (NC State scoring) a goal, that can happen,” Bruening said. “It doesn’t mean that if they score a goal then we have to lose the game. We have to be able to score goals.”
While all the Tar Heels were trying to add a tally on the board in some capacity, Bruening and junior Jack Skahan created the most chances, something you won’t see on the box score.
As the far right midfielder in the 3-4-3 lineup, Bruening ran all over the field, hoping to capitalize off crosses from his teammates and set up plays for them, too. He remained cool, calm and collected throughout the full 90 minutes, reacting in a controlled manner. Even with a Wolfpack player charging his way, Bruening waited for the ball, utilizing his tall frame and calm demeanor to help him slip past.
Skahan came off the bench, still working his way back to his full playing potential after a knee injury in early September. His fresh legs gave him a speed advantage over the opponent, helping him make quick touches and slip past the defenders in his way. Out of the 11 corner kicks, Skahan took nine.
At the end of the day, mentality overruled their remarkable play.
“That’s the problem, not the way we played,” Bruening said. “We all gave everything we had, played well, had a lot of possession, but at the end of the day, all that counts is scoring goals.”
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