The energy at Dorrance Field was palpable in the North Carolina men’s soccer team’s 4-0 rout of N.C. State on Sunday night.
A sea of inflatable thunder sticks — given out to fans before the game — roared throughout the match. The crowd burst into cheers for every Tar Heel shot and save, and jeered at Wolfpack players in their vicinity.
At one point, a life-size alien doll dressed in UNC gear was being tossed around the student section.
And the fun was only put to an end after a fan ran out onto the pitch at the half, hoisting the extraterrestrial above his head.
“In Europe, we call it the 12th man — I think that really helped us tonight,” graduate defender Filippo Zattarin said. “You know, whenever something happens on the field, hearing the crowd helping you out and cheering really gives you that extra energy.”
It was exactly the atmosphere the former preseason No. 4 team needed after a disappointing stretch of five games with only two wins that left the team unranked. After dropping a match to UNC-Wilmington last Wednesday, head coach Carlos Somoano knew his squad needed to come into Sunday's showdown more level-headed.
“We weren't competing the way we should have been, and by that I mean we weren’t reacting to setbacks very well,” Somoano said. “We talked about not letting a mistake lead to another mistake, which leads to a goal, which leads to a loss. I think they got the message loud and clear.”
Zattarin helped lead a defensive unit that allowed only seven shots from the Wolfpack, and graduate goalkeeper Alec Smir recorded four saves to secure his sixth shutout of the season. The experienced UNC defense has only allowed 43 shots on the season, compared to the 188 taken by the Tar Heel offense.
“We did a very good job at covering each other and stepping at the right time,” Zattarin said. “So really, I think not only the defensive line but the whole 11 on the field did a good job at pressing them and making sure they would not play out.”
Zattarin also made a crucial play on the offensive side of the ball, assisting junior Cameron Fisher’s goal with a long downfield pass to open up scoring in the 31st minute.
It was Fisher again who put the nail in the coffin with a highlight-reel goal to put his team up 3-0 in the 84th minute. Graduate transfer Gerit Wintermeyer set up Fisher with a perfectly placed header, culminating in a through-the-legs goal.
“It was a free kick in our half, and I just told Gerit to challenge (his defender), flick it on and I’ll run in behind him,” Fisher said. “And he did that, got a good header, a lot of space behind him, and I just cut in and saw a guy come and just hesitated and put it through the legs.”
Five minutes later, Wintermeyer put the ball in the back of the net for the Tar Heels’ fourth and final goal of the night. The transfer forward from Bradley University pointed to the sky and ran towards the uproarious student section, coming to a sliding stop as he pumped his arms in celebration.
“I've been here since 2002. There's just some special ‘Carolina soccer nights,’ and that was one of them,” Somoano said. “I was thinking about afterwards on the walk in, chatting with the guys. I don't think I've felt that since 2018. It’s a great feeling to have fans behind us and make us feel like Carolina soccer back on Dorrance Field.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.