Mauricio Pineda broke through the Louisville defense and ripped a shot.
Fans stood on their feet, holding onto one another. For a brief moment, a look of hope flashed across their — and the team’s — eyes as Pineda’s ball sailed through the air.
But the ball landed into the hands of Louisville’s goalkeeper, quickly extinguishing any chance of a tie or even a victory.
With three seconds left, the Tar Heels watched the game slip away as Louisville took a ball-clearing free kick. The No. 21 North Carolina men’s soccer team (7-5-3, 3-4-0) fell 1-0 to Louisville (8-5-2, 3-3-1) on Friday night, unable to give its graduating players a win on senior night.
“It’s bittersweet to be the first class that goes off in a new stadium as seniors,” senior midfielder Jack Skahan said. “It’s difficult to not win the game, but I think our senior class is the special ones because of the success that has been had by our class on and off the field, the relationships we have on and off the field."
The seven seniors on the team now have a record of 45-15-9 during their four years, and traveled to the College Cup in both 2016 and 2017. Despite that, their final season hasn’t gone how the team hoped.
“This season hasn’t been what obviously they or we envisioned, but it doesn’t take away from how proud I am of them,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “...I just wish they could get more reward from their efforts, because that’s all you want as a coach. You want to see them happy and successful.”
The night opened with a tribute to the team’s graduating players, honoring each of them for their accomplishments.
“When you walk out onto the field and they’re calling your name, your mom is there and you feel something,” Skahan said. “You’re like, ‘Wow, this is almost the end of playing here.’”
The game was fairly even during the first half — Louisville pressed high, causing UNC to sit back to protect the goal. The Cardinals outshot North Carolina 6-5 before the break, converting one of those shots into a goal in the 35th minute.
In the second half, North Carolina could not find its offense. In shot after shot, UNC’s balls went wide or were deflected at the last second. Only two of the team’s 10 shots were on goal, while Louisville was on target with three of its 11.
As the game ended after Pineda’s last-ditch shot, North Carolina's bench stood as the realization hit. Each player paused where they were standing, some with their hands over their heads, a few covering their faces with their jerseys.
Aside from Louisville's cheers, the stadium was silent.
Senior Jeremy Kelly slowly walked over for postgame interviews. He was at a loss for words, struggling to articulate what the night meant to him.
“It was nice to have the family there, but you really don’t think about that now after a loss,” Kelly said. “I don’t really know honestly...Stepping onto the field with your family always means something. It’s been a great four years here. They’ve been a big part of it, so it’s nice to honor them too.”
Recounting favorite memories was especially difficult because Kelly, a lifelong UNC fan.
“Every four years, you make great friends and you’ll remember a lot,” Kelly said. “... Growing up a Carolina fan, it’s amazing stepping out onto this field, putting on the Carolina jersey, playing with so many great players..."
“It’s a family with a big legacy, so it’s an honor. It means everything.”
While that night was meant to honor the seniors, Somoano isn’t ready to reflect on his veterans' time at UNC just yet. Despite the loss, he's looking ahead.
“I know it’s senior night, but it’s not the end of the season,” Somoano said. “You never know, maybe the best is yet to come.”
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