In the ACC Tournament final, the No. 1 North Carolina women’s soccer team (11-1, 8-0 ACC) couldn't keep up with No. 2 Florida State (11-0, 8-0), falling to the Seminoles, 3-2, on Sunday afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park. With this loss, UNC lost the opportunity to snatch its 23rd Conference title in program history.
It was a Florida State offensive showcase early.
After a shutout game against Virginia on Friday night, the Tar Heels gave up a goal just a minute and a half into the game off a cornerkick by Florida State defender Clara Robbins. UNC struggled generating offense early with FSU maintaining possession and keeping the Tar Heels scrambling in front of their net. With too much offensive pressure and an outstanding opening by Robbins, UNC was left playing defense most of the opening ten minutes.
In the fifth minute, Robbins scored again with a rocket kick from the middle of the box that sailed up and just left of UNC goalkeeper Claudia Dickey to put the Seminoles up, 2-0. FSU saw another chance to put the Tar Heels away on a dangerous free kick attempt after a foul from UNC junior Brianna Pinto. Dickey was able to protect the net, taking the shot right to her chest.
UNC saw its best look of the half after a Florida State foul gave North Carolina midfielder Sam Meza a chance right in front of the net, but her opportunity was snatched up by the Seminoles' goalkeeper, Christina Roque.
Six substitutions brought fresh legs and new energy to the Tar Heels, who started pressuring the FSU defense by breaking the zone and getting into the Seminoles' box.
But the Tar Heels still couldn't find a chance to pull ahead.
With just a minute left in the half, it seemed like the Seminoles were going to put the Tar Heels away on a mistake that gifted an FSU attacker, Ran Iwai, possession right inside the box. Dickey went right while Iwai dodged left on a break that seemed inevitable for a goal, but UNC defender Julia Dorsey bailed out the Tar Heels with a last minute pressure and midfielder Maggie Pierce was able to clear the ball.
At the half, UNC trailed in goals, shots and corners, leaving the field to reset for the second half.
But if history repeats itself, the Seminoles repeated their hot start in the opening again in the second half — another FSU goal just a minute and a half into the period put the Seminoles up, 3-0. For a team that hadn't given up more than one goal in a game this season, giving up three goals in 50 minutes was baffling.
When the game seemed just about over for the Tar Heels, Rachel Jones gave them hope.
A Florida State foul set Jones — one of UNC’s best penalty kickers — up for a chance to end the shutout. With a powerful strike that landed just right of the FSU goalkeeper, Jones not only gave UNC its first goal of the game, but provided a boost in confidence for the team that had so far been dominated.
The Tar Heels kept with the momentum to make a final push against the Seminoles’ dominance. Pinto was able to score with just two minutes left in the match to put UNC in a position to tie the game late, pulling UNC within one goal at 3-2.
Though Jones and Pinto were able to show what UNC is usually capable of accomplishing offensively, it was too little, too late for the Tar Heels as they fell 3-2 to FSU for their first loss of the season.
Who stood out?
FSU’s Clara Robbins sucked the air out of the Tar Heels with her two early goals and went on to be named the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.
All season the Tar Heels have relied on their goalkeeping and backline for success, but those were two of UNC’s weakest spots Sunday, giving up goals early in each half to seal the loss.
When was it decided?
The third FSU goal just minutes into the second half was the nail in the coffin for UNC. Trailing by two and forcing a comeback was a doable task if UNC returned from halftime with a re-energized mental and physical prowess, but the 3-0 deficit was a visible shift in UNC’s confidence.
Though Jones and Pinto gave UNC boosts late in the second half, it was too little, too late against an aggressive FSU team.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels couldn’t capitalize for their 23rd ACC title. It was their fifth straight ACC Tournament final appearance and the 27th appearance in program history, but the Seminoles snatched the top spot with their offensive dominance.
When do they play next?
With this loss, the Tar Heels fall 2020 season came to a close. They will return to action in the spring of 2021 — when the NCAA Championships are set to be held — in an altered format.
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