With the chance to advance to the second round of the ACC Championship on the line, the UNC men’s soccer team (7-7-4, 3-5-0) tied Syracuse (7-5-5, 2-4-2) in a scoreless draw before falling to the Orange in the ensuing penalty kick shootout in front of a home crowd.
After regulation and two periods of overtime, the Orange were able to find the back of the net five times to UNC’s three in Tuesday evening's penalty kick shootout.
Early on, the game was dominated by the midfielders who prevented offensive chances for both teams. The Tar Heels saw one glimpse of goal in the first half when senior midfielder Jack Skahan drove down the field with the ball and had a deflected shot miss just barely wide of the post. After 45 minutes of play, UNC had three total shots and zero shots on goal.
The second half looked like a completely different team.
UNC and Syracuse both came out with a newfound intensity and seniors Mauricio Pineda and Jelani Pieters both put up shots on goal. Pineda had a quick shot that was blocked by Syracuse goalkeeper Christian Miesch, and Pieters saw an opportunity to shoot from just outside the box, but a Syracuse defender blocked the shot before it could find the net.
The offensive burst continued, and UNC put pressure on the Orange's defense, allowing senior Jeremy Kelly to find the back of the net off of a header in the 85th minute.
The Tar Heels' joy was quickly deflated when the referee called the play offsides and disallowed the score for North Carolina.
In a decision that largely influenced the outcome of the game, head coach Carlos Somoano believed that the call was wrong.
“Unfortunately, they have this giant TV here that confirmed that it was not offsides,” Somoano said. “It doesn’t lie, but the VAR, apparently you can’t use it for that. I don’t know why we have it if you can’t use it for those scenarios.”
UNC competed hard through the rest of regulation and two rounds of overtime, but the scoreboard remained blank.
The game came down to live penalty kicks — the first time for North Carolina since the 2016 College Cup. The Orange went on to make all five penalty kicks and advance, 5-3.
Who stood out?
From the start, the match became a game of which goalkeeper could block the most shots. UNC goalkeeper Alec Smir was able to block two shots on goal in the first half, three in the second half and another two in the overtime periods before being bested in the shootout.
When was it decided?
Santiago Herrera stepped up first for the Tar Heels, but Syracuse’s goalkeeper blocked the shot and sent it barely wide left. Pineda, Skahan and Kelly followed and each made their shots.
But it wasn’t enough.
Senior Matt Orr stepped up fifth for the Orange and Smir needed a block to keep the shootout going, but Orr's shot slipped in.
Why does it matter?
The game ended UNC’s chances to advance in the ACC Tournament, but the team’s future is a bit unclear. For a squad that opened the season ranked No. 6 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll, the combination of a loss in the first round of the conference tournament and a regular season filled with highs and lows leaves the future of the Tar Heels in up in the air.
When do they play next?
UNC will have to wait for the NCAA Tournament schedule to be released on Nov. 18 to see if they will receive a playoff berth.
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