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Thursday January 20th

Montesdeoca, Pieters secure spot in ACC Championship game for UNC men's soccer

<p>Sophomore forward Giovanni Montesdeoca (10) runs out of goal after scoring the first shot against Duke during the semifinals of the ACC Championship. UNC men's soccer beat Duke, 2-1.&nbsp;</p>
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Sophomore forward Giovanni Montesdeoca (10) runs out of goal after scoring the first shot against Duke during the semifinals of the ACC Championship. UNC men's soccer beat Duke, 2-1. 

CARY — When Jelani Pieters ran down the pitch to collect the ball and saw Giovanni Montesdeoca split to the right, he dribbled left.

Montesdeoca made the defender bite for just a second, enough time for Pieters to slice through three defenders. The redshirt junior forward then fired the shot that punched No. 4 North Carolina’s ticket to the ACC Championship for the first time since 2012 in a 2-1 win over No. 8 Duke on Wednesday. 

The moment was a reminder of the kind of offensive weapon Pieters is, even though it was only his second goal of the season. 

Last season, Pieters was second in goals scored with nine and third in assists with seven on a team that made a run to the NCAA semifinals. But the emergence of Montesdeoca and junior midfielders Jack Skahan and Mauricio Pineda has caused Pieters to be less relied on to score this season. 

Still, with the match on the line, there he was with a response just 29 seconds after first-year Blue Devil midfielder Issa Rayyan’s goal in the 87th minute.

“I look at it as a successful year,” Pieters said. “I’ve never been to an ACC final, let alone the semis. So, this year has been a success for me. I don’t rate it off my personal success. It’s (about) how the team does.”

That unselfish attitude is contagious and has become an embodiment of this group of Tar Heels. 

Even when Montesdeoca, a sophomore midfielder, scored his seventh goal of the season in the 29th minute off a corner kick from Skahan, he didn’t care for the recognition.

Montesdeoca’s goal tied him for first on the team. He’s also tied for most assists on the club with four. 

Earlier Wednesday, Pineda, senior forward Nils Bruening, senior defender Alex Comsia and redshirt senior goalkeeper James Pyle were named to the All-ACC first team. Sophomore defender John Nelson was a second team selection, and Skahan received a third team honor. 

Despite Montesdeoca’s strong performance throughout the season, he was left off all three teams. But the Dallas native doesn’t care for personal accolades. 

“My main focus is helping the team win,” Montesdeoca said. “I’m not worried about those individual awards. I’m worried about helping the team win games. That’s what I came here to do. And that’s what I was brought here to do.” 

Both of the Tar Heels’ goals came from players who were not All-ACC selections. Head coach Carlos Somoano said this is a reflection of the depth of his squad. 

“When you play for each other, the irony of that is you probably get more individual reward in terms of your growth as an individual player and recognition,” Somoano said. “It’s a hard one for me anytime somebody gets recognized because then somebody’s not recognized. And jeez, I don’t know how you pick out of this group.” 

After going scoreless 42 minutes into the second half, Somoano thought his team had gone flat and lacked energy. That’s when Pieters broke out of a 15-match scoring slump to lead UNC to victory. 

Though Pieters hopes his game-winner will turn into a postseason hot streak, he and his teammates know that anyone on the roster is capable to make a big play in any game. 

“I knew we were going to win the game,” Pieters said. “We didn’t have any doubts. It was just a matter of who was going to score it. I just took the liberty and made the play.” 

@pupadhyaya_

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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