After a barrage of offensive chances in the first half, the North Carolina men's soccer team (3-2-2, 3-2-2 ACC) was unable to score in what turned into a physical, gritty game against Notre Dame (5-2, 4-2 ACC). After a scoreless regulation, Fighting Irish senior Aiden McFadden scored off a free kick in the 99th minute to defeat the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
The first offensive opportunity of the match came from Notre Dame with a corner kick that led to a penalty, setting up a Fighting Irish free kick in the sixth minute. Notre Dame junior Patrick Coleman delivered a high, arching shot dead center of the goal that UNC goalkeeper Alec Smir was just able to bat over the crossbar for the save.
For the remainder of the first half, it was all Tar Heel offense, starting with a shot on goal by sophomore Key White. Racking up seven corner kicks, four free kicks and four shots on goal, the Tar Heels put the pressure on the Notre Dame defense. But they were unable to find the back of the net, in large part due to a defensive clinic by Notre Dame’s senior goalkeeper Keagan McLaughlin.
The momentum flipped in the second half, with the Fighting Irish outshooting the Tar Heels seven to three, but Notre Dame was similarly unsuccessful in scoring. A Notre Dame corner kick in the 60th minute set up a shot from Philip Quinton from the left post that Smir was able to grab a hold of, although some Fighting Irish argued that the ball had crossed the goal line before Smir stopped it.
The Tar Heels’ best looks in the second half came from first-year Akiem Clarke, whose shot in the 56th minute missed high, and graduate transfer Joe Pickering, who beat his defender off a free kick but was unable to slip the ball past McLaughlin.
Who stood out?
McFadden was the hero of the match with his late-game goal that secured Notre Dame’s upset victory, but he was impactful throughout the game as well. He logged 90 minutes for the Fighting Irish and had an earlier chance to put Notre Dame ahead with a shot on goal in the 86th minute.
Both goalkeepers played high level defense, with McLaughlin recording five saves in his shutout for the Fighting Irish and Smir recording three of his own.
Led by Pickering and junior Milo Garvanian's three shots apiece, seven Tar Heels recorded shots in their shutout loss.
When was it decided?
The match was tight throughout the afternoon, and at a 0-0 deadlock after 90 minutes, the Irish and Tar Heels headed to sudden death overtime. Possession cycled back and forth as the minutes drained from the clock, but neither team managed to take control long enough to make a push.
The game-winning goal came when Notre Dame’s Matthew Radivojsa was tripped on the edge of the box by Jacques Bouvery, leading to a free kick opportunity for the Irish with 36 seconds left on the clock. The kick, taken by McFadden, cruised through UNC’s defense and into the bottom right corner of the goal, giving his team the 1-0 victory.
Why does it matter?
The match was important for North Carolina as it sought to wash away the memories of last year’s losing season, as well as the dramatic penalty kick loss to Syracuse in the first round of last year’s ACC Tournament.
Sunday's defeat means the stings from yet another opening round overtime loss will be added onto those from last year.
When do they play next?
Now heading into the offseason, North Carolina will have to wait to see how the ACC and NCAA will handle scheduling in the spring for another opportunity to take the field.
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