It’s all coming full circle for Mauricio Pineda.
For the first time since his first year, the senior midfielder notched multiple goals in a game on Tuesday night, a 3-1 win for No. 18 North Carolina over West Virginia.
Pineda, a team captain, is also tied for first in goals on the team with five on the season, as many as he had last season.
His two goals came back to back, with the first coming off a corner kick in the 28th minute. Pineda fielded the ball, took a couple dribbles to beat the defender, then blasted a shot over the goalkeeper’s head into the top of the net.
“The first goal just kind of landed at my feet,” Pineda said. “I took it on my left and just hit it as hard as I can. It was a good feeling. And then the second goal came right after, so I didn’t even have time to think about it.”
Less than a minute later, he scored again off of an assist from Jelani Pieters. The game was Pineda's first multi-goal performance since Oct. 11, 2016, when he scored a hat trick against UNC-Asheville.
“Mauricio is a spectacular player,” head coach Carlos Somoano said, “and he’s gotten better every year.”
The two early goals were largely a result of a fast-paced game. UNC peppered the West Virginia goalkeeper and had 10 shots prior to Pineda’s goals.
“Carolina soccer is high tempo, and that’s what you’ll see,” Somoano said. “... We want to be able to execute the ideas that we have faster than the opponent, and if you can do that you’re going to be pretty successful.”
Much of that is due to Pineda’s dominant play in the midfield. The senior controls the tempo of this team, and his leadership is apparent on the field.
“He’s kind of worked into that leadership role and he’s working on that,” Somoano said. “He’s a very shy and introverted kind of guy, so it hasn’t been easy for him, but it’s fun to watch him try to step out of his comfort zone.”
Pineda wasn't the only Tar Heel to impress against the Mountaineers. Both sophomore Milo Garvanian and first-year Jonathan Jimenez have seen their minutes increase in North Carolina’s recent games, and have shown out.
On Tuesday, Garvanian made an instant impact when he came on as a substitute in the 23rd minute of the game. He sped up an already fast-paced game and created multiple chances for the Tar Heels with his fancy footwork.
Jimenez had an even larger impact on the game, scoring his first collegiate goal in the 72nd minute to put the game out of reach.
“As soon as I saw the ball go in, it was a crazy feeling,” Jimenez said. “I’ve been waiting for it the whole season. It’s a bit late, but I’m happy that it happened.”
Going forward, North Carolina will look to continue its three-game win streak and hope for more impressive performances from its young players. And Pineda, in his senior season, will look to end the final chapter of his UNC legacy on a high note.
“I don’t really have words to say what he means to the program or the team,” Somoano said. “He’s just one of those guys that defines 'Tar Heel' for me. No matter what happens down the stretch here, he’s going to go down in my book as one of the greats.”
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