Spring has sprung, but some fall sports are still competing.
On April 13, the North Carolina men’s soccer team won its second straight U.S. Soccer Spring College Program championship after beating Virginia Tech, 4-2. The Tar Heels have gone 8-0-1 and are the only program to go undefeated during the last two years.
“The spring is a different animal than the fall, and so to come out to win the spring tournament for the second time allows us to realize that we just need to continue doing what we do because it can prove that it works, so it’s worth it,” junior Jack Skahan said.
The 2-year-old U.S. Soccer Spring College Program provides an opportunity for U.S. Soccer Scouts to watch and identify potential U.S. Olympic and National Team players while allowing the college teams to learn how to work together after losing pivotal players to the professional draft or graduation.
“Across the world, soccer is played with consistent games from August to May and in college, you’re really only scheduled in the fall,” Skahan said. “The spring tournament basically allows you to get more high level games, more consistency.”
During the spring 2018 season, UNC finished 5-0 while outscoring its opponents, 13-2. The Tar Heels beat Clemson, 4-1, Georgetown, 4-0, Virginia, 2-1, Wake Forest, 2-0, and lastly, Duke, 1-0, to win the spring 2018 title. The biggest win, besides beating rival Duke for the championship, was the 2-1 win over UVA in 2018. The Cavaliers were the other unbeaten team in the program at the time.
The Tar Heels kicked off the spring 2019 season with a Battle of the Blues matchup on March 2. UNC topped Duke 1-0 after junior midfielder Jeremy Kelly scored a goal in the first half. For the remainder of the game, the Tar Heels played strong defense to shut down the Blue Devils.
“It’s always exciting to play Duke because I am from Chapel Hill and am a big UNC fan,” Kelly said. “It means a little more, but once the game starts, it’s not much different.”
Next up on UNC’s schedule was Clemson, where the teams tied, 2-2. The game headed into a penalty shootout, which the Tar Heels won, 4-2. Junior Mauricio Pineda and sophomore Alex Rose scored the two goals during regulation while Pineda, Kelly, Skahan and sophomore Raul Aguilera all converted penalties.
North Carolina earned its spot in the spring college program title game after it breezed past Wake Forest, 3-1. With two goals from Rose and one from Pineda, UNC clinched the south division.
“The Wake Forest game was really positive, and told us that this team we have, which of course isn’t the same team as the fall, is able to do this at a high level,” Skahan said. “We knew that, but we put it together against Wake Forest for the first time completely or more so than we had before.”
The Tar Heels took on Virginia Tech, who won the north division, this past Saturday. The match was back and forth throughout the first half, with a 2-2 halftime score. Skahan scored the first point for UNC after his cross bounced off of a Hokie player for an own goal.
Virginia Tech quickly answered with a goal of its own after a corner kick.UNC’s second goal came from Pineda after he took the loose ball in the box and chipped it over the goalie. The Hokies eventually scored, tying the game 2-2 going into halftime.
UNC came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. Aguilera slipped the ball behind the Hokie defense for Jelani Pieters to score the third goal of the game, giving UNC a 3-2 lead. The final nail in the coffin came from Kelly. As Virginia Tech took a corner kick, the junior collected the ball and started the counter attack. His solo goal sealed the 4-2 win, securing another undefeated season for the Tar Heels and their second U.S. Soccer Spring College Program title.
“It says a lot about the program and says a lot about Carlos (Somoano, head coach),” Skahan said. “He would never let the standard drop, and we don’t either, or we try not to. That’s Carolina soccer. It’s just not letting the standard drop and continuing to raise it even in the off-season.”
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