The North Carolina men’s soccer team (2-0, 2-0 ACC) won its home opener against Clemson (2-1, 0-1 ACC) in dramatic fashion off a buzzer-beating goal from graduate transfer Filippo Zattarin.
The Tar Heels started out slow in the first half, not recording a shot until the 37th minute. It was a gritty, physical match with Clemson committing 14 fouls and picking up four yellow cards. Those penalties gave UNC ample opportunities from free kicks, which paid off in the end.
The North Carolina came out more aggressive in the second, controlling the ball more and pressing the defense. UNC sophomore forward Jonathan Jimenez had a quick shot on goal which Clemson goalkeeper George Marks was able to get his hand on for the save. The Tigers offense responded with two shots on goal but were unable to find the back of the net.
After being outshot 6-3 in the first half, the Tar Heels were able to flip the script after halftime, outshooting Clemson 8-4 in the second for a total game lead on shots of 11-10.
The game remained chippy throughout, and a Clemson penalty in the 90th minute set up the deciding free kick with five seconds to go. A well placed kick by junior midfielder Milo Garvanian allowed Zattarin to head the ball into the back of the net as time expired.
Who stood out?
Zattarin was the star of the night, not only having the deciding goal but also making a few crucial defensive plays that were able to stifle the Clemson attack.
Junior goalkeeper Alec Smir, who was recently named ACC Player of the Week, recorded his second straight shutout. Smir had two saves, both in the second half, and commanded the defense which had another strong showing.
For Clemson, senior forward Kimarni Smith helped lead the offense with three shots, two on goal.
When was it decided?
Much of the match was a back and forth affair, with strong defensive plays and turnovers on penalties often shifting momentum between the teams. In the end, it came down to the wire and at one point looked like both teams might go scoreless until Zattarin’s improbable goal.
Garvanian’s free kick was punted high into the air by freshman Akeim Clarke, which Zattarin was able to track and head into the top right corner of the goal, just out of reach of the goalkeeper.
Emotions ran high as Tar Heel players swarmed Zattarin, while the Clemson bench was given a team yellow card for their reaction to the shot.
Why does it matter?
Zattarin, a newcomer to the team after transferring from Saint Mary’s University, has proven his worth to the team on both sides of the ball. Based on his performance, the 2019 West Coast Conference Defender of the Year has already carved out a role for himself with the UNC program.
UNC remains undefeated on the season after their 2-0 win against Duke last week. Clemson were the favorites to win the ACC in the preseason coaches poll, and this win shows that the Tar Heels can hang with the best in a very competitive ACC.
When do they play next?
UNC faces off against another strong opponent in Wake Forest on Sunday, Oct. 18 in Winston Salem.
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