In the teams' five total matchups, the North Carolina men’s soccer team had never lost to Syracuse.
That changed Saturday.
After trailing for much of the game, the Orange scored three straight goals in the final 20 minutes to upset the No. 18 team in the nation, 4-3, in Chapel Hill.
It was a tale of two halves. UNC got off to a slow start, allowing Syracuse sophomore midfielder Ryan Raposo to score just 42 seconds into the game. The ball squeaked past the near post, avoiding the reach of sophomore goalkeeper Alec Smir.
The Tar Heels found a response in the 15th minute off a strong header from sophomore Alex Rose. Senior Mauricio Pineda lobbed a pass to set Rose up with the tying goal.
The team finished the first half strong, scoring another goal in the 33rd minute. First-year Jonathan Jimenez used a great run to get separation from the defense, making a move on the goalie and scoring on the open net.
North Carolina went into the locker room with a 2-1 halftime lead and all the momentum on its side. A second-half penalty-kick goal by junior forward Santiago Herrera extended the lead to two.
But then Syracuse scored two goals in just over three minutes, tying the game. Raposo scored one and assisted on the other.
But the Orange weren't done.
"As the game went on, I felt pretty good," Jimenez said. "But we got sloppy toward the end."
Just when the match appeared to be heading to overtime, Raposo timed a run perfectly, getting himself wide open behind the Tar Heel defense. He calmly finished the one-on-one breakaway, sealing the game.
“They just played harder than us in the second half,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. "They just got the ball forward, squeezed up and just kept putting the ball on our end.”
Aside from allowing one goal, the Orange dominated the majority of the second half, outshooting UNC 5-2 and playing with an aggression and confidence that translated into goals.
While North Carolina dominated possession in the first half, holding a significant shot advantage, the second half was different. Syracuse rebounded and placed immense pressure on UNC's defense.
With the absence of senior midfielder Jack Skahan, UNC needed players to step up on the offensive end. In his second career start, Jimenez netted the second goal of the match and drew a penalty that the team would convert on. All signs seemed to point to a UNC win against an inferior opponent seeking its first ACC win of the year.
But being without Skahan, and senior midfielder Martin Salas, eventually hurt the Tar Heels. While Syracuse thrived as the game went on, North Carolina looked a step slower down the stretch.
“It seemed like we hit the wall,” Somoano said.
Though the team refused to blame a few key absences for the poor performance, Pineda admitted that they were "all over the place."
“Obviously, (we) started off not ready to play," he said. "And then we came back from that, and then dropped the level again toward the end. And they punished us.”
Moving forward, hopefully, with Skahan and Salas back in the mix, the Tar Heels will look to live up to a consistent standard of play rather than the up-and-down performance the team saw on Saturday.
“We didn’t play 90 minutes,” Pineda said.
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