In soccer, an extra touch can be the difference between giving the ball away and scoring a goal. So how do defenses make sure that extra touch doesn’t happen?
Pressure the team with the ball high up the field.
But pressing high against the No. 2 North Carolina women's soccer team? That’s a death sentence. They’re too good on the ball. Most teams take option two: sit back, wait for UNC to cross the halfway line and hope they can pounce on a mistake.
On Tuesday, the Columbus State Cougars — hailing from Division II — took option one.
In fairness, two of UNC’s starting defenders were first-years, and the other was a sophomore. If there was any time to press the Tar Heels, this was it.
But head coach Anson Dorrance trusted his young backline to stay poised and play through the pressure. And they did, en route to a 6-0 win.
“They've won the trust,” Dorrance said. “They're skillful, they're hard-working, they're smart, they're brave, and I have nothing but respect for them.”
Don’t think too much about the blowout result — it doesn’t prove teams shouldn’t press against UNC. Dorrance said had it not been for the Cougars’ goalkeeping errors, the Tar Heels might have only won 2-0.
“Their shift was difficult because our tempo wasn’t high enough, or, I guess, high-enough quality for us to escape their pressure,” Dorrance said. "Oftentimes we were in a three-touch rhythm when we should have been in a two-touch rhythm. Sometimes the accuracy or passing wasn't that good. Sometimes our first touch wasn’t good.”
Those struggles were all a result of how hard Columbus State worked to press, and Dorrance made sure to praise the Cougars for their work ethic.
“They were tough to play against,” Dorrance said. “I mean, they put more pressure on us than most of the games we've played the last year, so I have nothing but respect for them.”
Junior attacker Brianna Pinto also found the press to be a true challenge.
“I had to be really sharp with my first and second touch and making sure that I protect the ball by keeping my positioning in between the defender and the ball,” Pinto said. “So that was really good practice for me.”
That practice is important for Pinto, as she moves up from the midfield and adjusts to her new role as a striker.
You’d think that would be yet another weight on her shoulders— having to babysit the inexperienced first-years. But according to Pinto, her job as a veteran only goes as far as reminding the younger players to play hard in big games.
“Our freshmen already come with a wealth of experience at the youth international level and at club levels,” Pinto said. “In terms of being integrated into the team, I think it was a seamless transition, and they add so much on the field and off the field, too, because their personalities make this team just so united.”
Adjusting to the new role hasn’t slowed her down, either. Two goals and two assists typified a classic Pinto performance.
“I think that's a role I want to embrace because I want to figure out how to create goals and score goals and average a goal or an assist (per) game,” Pinto said. “And I was proud to say that I did that tonight.”
This result might not be the headline of the week, Pinto said, but in a spring season where opponents are tough to find, every game is important.
“We want to treat every opponent the same because on any given day, they can knock us out, just like the NCAA tournament itself,” Pinto said.
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