Following a close 3-2 loss to then-unranked Duke last week, the No. 20 North Carolina men’s soccer team bounced back to defeat UNCW in a 2-0 win on Tuesday night behind the offensive effort of senior midfielder Jelani Pieters.
Head coach Carlos Somoano attributed the victory to the team’s ability to keep previous games in the past and focus on the task at hand.
“Regardless of what happens in the last game, you’ve got to go out and perform and try to get better the next game and the next day in practice,” Somoano said. “If we lose and that’s our motivation to get better, then I see that as a problem.”
The quick turnaround between matches ensured that the Tar Heels had the short memory that Somoano wanted from his team before taking on the Seahawks. North Carolina came out firing with a high powered attack, creating most of their offense from the wing positions, especially through Pieters.
After the match, Somoano declined to make players available. He also declined to make players available after UNC's previous match, a loss to Duke. The Daily Tar Heel spoke with players by phone the next day.
“Honestly, this year we have a very good offense, and a lot of things are going through Jelani, and also Jack Skahan on the right side,” junior goalkeeper Alec Smir said. “The way our team and offense is set up, a lot of our attacking play comes from our wingers and that’s been really effective for us.”
Pieters seemed to be at the center of the action in nearly all of the Tar Heels’ scoring opportunities and was directly involved in both North Carolina goals.
The senior was integral to the Tar Heels’ victory. He drew a foul in the box to earn a penalty kick that Mauricio Pineda converted into a goal in the first half, then finished off a right-footed breakaway goal from just inside the box in the 50th minute.
His ability to attack defenders from the wing changed the whole dynamic of the game when he was on the field. It’s Pieters’ combination of skill and speed that allows him to operate as a focal point of the Tar Heel offense.
“I really love what he’s doing this year in terms of his willingness to really get at goal and attack defenders,” Somoano said. “I think he’s really taking ownership of the responsibility of being a guy that we can go to to create offense.”
Somoano said Pieters has improved greatly through his years as a Tar Heel, which Pieters attributed to his teammates and the positive team culture that North Carolina provides.
“I think just being here at Carolina is the perfect platform for anybody to improve,” Pieters said. “You really have no choice but to get better because you’re surrounded by very good players in practice every day and everyone has a winning mentality. It’s the perfect program for a developing player.”
There’s no doubt the Tar Heels hope Pieters can continue to take over games offensively but Pieters is confident he's not the only attacking threat available to them.
“We always try to hurt them on the flanks,” Pieters said. “It was me tonight, but we have a lot of guys that can take over any given game.”
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