The No. 19 North Carolina men’s soccer team (7-4-2, 3-3 ACC) dropped their second straight close contest on Friday night in a 1-0 loss at No. 4 Wake Forest (12-2, 5-1 ACC).
For both ACC rivals, offensive production was scarce to begin the game. The first 45 minutes were defined by futile offense and stifling defense on both ends of the pitch.
UNC sophomore goalkeeper Alec Smir bore the brunt of the defensive responsibility for UNC, keeping the game knotted at zero with a number of point-blank stops. Decisive saves from Smir in the 17th, 38th, and 42nd minutes kept a lopsided half at a neutral score for the Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels’ best chance in the first half came in the dying seconds of the 45th minute. Jelani Pieters nearly connected with a promising cross as time expired, but the ball soared over his head and sent the teams into the break with little to show for themselves.
Finally, in the 66th minute, a flurry of attacks from the Tar Heels broke the game open from a drowsy defensive standoff into a thrilling second half contest.
Junior forward Alex Rose opened up the offense for the Tar Heels, but a deflection from the Demon Deacon backline kept UNC off the board.
Just one minute later, midfielder Raul Aguilera fired on goal past the goalkeeper, only to watch it hit the left post and harmless dribble out of play.
This close call lit a fire under the Demon Deacon offense, who proceeded to turn up the pressure on UNC’s defensive unit.
After several minutes of scrappy play following Aguilera’s near miss, Wake Forest finally found a hole in the Tar Heel defense. A deft pass from junior Machop Chol in the 79th minute set up senior midfielder Bruno Lapa with a smooth strike, breaking the defensive stalemate and giving Wake Forest the 1-0 lead.
The Tar Heels played aggressively in the final minutes, but couldn't mount a successful comeback.
Who stood out?
In what was a classic defensive road test, Smir kept his team alive with four big saves early in the game.
Without the sophomore’s performance in goal, Friday night’s matchup could have seen UNC suffer its first multiple goal loss of the season.
Despite the lack of counting stats in the box score, senior Jack Skahan was a spark plug for the offense on the right wing. His pace and ability to break free from defenders offered hope late in the game. In the 88th minute, he stormed up the field and unleashed a menacing cross that ended up at the feet of senior Mauricio Pineda. While Pineda was unable to capitalize, Skahan’s playmaking ability throughout this match was undeniable.
When was it decided?
The game was lost on two separate occasions for the Tar Heels. The first came when Wake Forest found the back of the net in the 79th minute, producing the game’s only points.
The second loss came during Skahan’s cross in the 88th minute. A series of deflections careened the ball right to Pineda. The senior striker shot sailed high over the net, eliminating any chances of a comeback.
Why does it matter?
Friday’s loss marks the second straight ACC loss for the Tar Heels, who now hold a 3-3 conference record.
For head coach Carlos Somoano’s squad, this road match proved that the Tar Heels offense can be neutralized by a disciplined defensive unit. Wake Forest held UNC to a mere 4 shots on goal, a far cry from the team’s season average of 14.2.
As UNC looks forward to the remainder of ACC play, this loss will serve as a reminder for what can happen to the defense when the offense fails to produce.
When do they play next?
The North Carolina men’s soccer team will look to rebound from Friday’s loss when they travel to Buies Creek, NC to face Campbell University at 7pm next Tuesday.
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