In a game of rivals, the No. 1 North Carolina women's soccer team (7-0, 6-0 ACC) faced No. 4 Duke (5-2-2, 3-1-2 ACC) on Dorrance Field in a high-energy match on Friday. Both teams showed why they are ranked so highly and how ACC women’s soccer is a force to be reckoned with.
The Tar Heels entered the game with a 6-0 record, one of only two undefeated teams that have played multiple games this season. North Carolina also held an impressive record of 41-3-3 in the all-time series against the Blue Devils.
To start the game, UNC played close to Duke’s goal, putting pressure on Duke's defense. With the same tenacity that she has displayed all season, junior Brianna Pinto attempted a shot early in the first half that missed to the right. The Tar Heels were physical throughout the first half, picking up nine fouls, but head coach Anson Dorrance contended that the team wasn't playing overly aggressive.
“I think the thing that does distinguish us is our high press,” Dorrance said. “We will pressure the other team even if the other team’s goalkeeper gets it to her feet, we’re pressing the goalkeeper.”
Duke warmed up towards the end of the first half, putting UNC's defenders in the action. This culminated with Duke’s lone first-half shot by midfielder Maggie Graham that flew over the top of the goal.
The Tar Heels got seven shots at the goal in the first half, but none could quite find their way to the back of the net. Four shots were by forward Izzy Brown, with the fourth occurring in the final minute of the first half. Brown had a total of five shots in Friday's game, the most she has had this year.
Duke came out in the second with back-to-back attempts within moments of each other. The second half continued to feature Duke’s newfound drive, with two more shots as well as a corner kick in the first 15 minutes.
“The first 15-minute block, Duke was in the ascendancy,” Dorrance said. “I couldn’t wait to get my reserves in because I thought that the starters were being outplayed during that stretch.”
The Blue Devils were creating shot after shot, while the Tar Heels were struggling to turn the direction of the game in their favor. A breakthrough came for North Carolina after just over an hour of play. Duke, mirroring its first matchup against the Tar Heels last month, scored an own goal when a cross from UNC's Rachel Jones deflected off Duke defender Mia Gyau in the 63rd minute.
“Every time a cross is across the six, it’s really dangerous,” Isabel Cox, the North Carolina forward who Jones' pass was headed towards, said. “We were lucky that it deflected off their player into the back of the net.”
North Carolina was able to pick up the pace the remainder of the second half, with shots by Brown, Talia Dellaperuta, Jones and Pinto. However, none of these attempts could quite finish, making the final result a 1-0 Tar Heel victory.
“Duke has an outstanding team, so I think that's the reason it's tough for us to create scoring chances against them,” Dorrance said. “They're not just outstanding in one or two positions, I think they're outstanding all over the field. So I think that's the challenge in trying to create a chance against them.”
UNC has been the only team to defeat the Blue Devils this season, with Friday's win snapping Duke's four-match win streak. Despite its previous success, North Carolina made sure not to underestimate Duke’s ability.
“We were really intense tonight and pushing them and fighting for the ball,” Cox said. “Every day in practice we always go at it. We’re always pushing each other to be our best.”
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