It's not often that halftime stands out as the most important moment of the game, especially in a season-opener that goes into extra minutes.
But for the No. 6 North Carolina men’s soccer team, a come-from-behind 2-2 draw with Creighton on Friday was defined by a special moment in which the program honored one of its all-time greats.
With over 180 former coaches and players in the stands to watch the beginning of a new era in the UNC Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium, the Tar Heels started off slow.
Creighton's two goals came from a series of defensive lapses by the Tar Heels. They capitalized off of a free kick in the 18th minute and extended their lead in the 31st minute with a tap-in goal that slid past sophomore goalkeeper Alec Smir.
As they walked off the pitch after the first 45 minutes, the team found itself in an unfamiliar 2-0 deficit. It was the first time that head coach Carlos Somoano had seen his team fall behind by more than one goal since Nov. 5, 2017, against Notre Dame.
But halftime brought a renewed sense of purpose for the Tar Heels with the dedication of the Kirk Urso Student Section.
As a myriad of alumni streamed down onto the field while a tribute to the late Urso, who died from a heart condition in 2012, played on the scoreboard, the mood at the UNC Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium shifted. Highlights of the 2011 national championship team served as a reminder of the standard set by the beloved team captain.
Despite the unfamiliar nature of their two-goal setback, the common bond shared by the North Carolina soccer family brought new energy to the match. Somoano reflected on Urso’s impact on the match and the program as a whole.
“He made me better, he made Carolina better, and doing something like this makes these kids better,” Somoano said. “He may not be with us in body, but he’s here in spirit.”
After the ceremony, the Tar Heels retook the field and took control of the game. Senior Mauricio Pineda deflected in his first goal of the season in the 52nd minute to begin the comeback effort.
Somoano saw similarities between the play of Urso and that of Pineda.
“Talk about another guy who’s just getting it right," Somoano said. "He's leading, he’s pushing, he’s demanding. His play is always outstanding."
UNC continued to force the issue on offense and reinvigorated the home crowd. After 15 minutes of continued pressure, the Tar Heels tied the game up in the 68th minute when a lofty cross from senior Jelani Pieters was headed home by junior Alex Rose.
While the offense stalled after that, the flurry of goals in the opening minutes of the second half was enough to save North Carolina from an upset in the inaugural game in its new stadium.
As a senior leader of the team who sparked the resurgence, Pineda recognized the impact that Urso had on the UNC soccer program.
“He had a strong influence on Carlos and a lot of people around here,” Pineda said. “I’m glad we had this moment for him.”
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