As has been the case for most UNC victories this season, it was the defense that shined in the North Carolina men’s soccer team’s much-needed 2-0 win against No. 15 Loyola Marymount on Tuesday.
The Tar Heels flipped the script after a devastating loss to Louisville on Oct. 15, giving up two goals in the final four minutes. The defense took over after two early first half goals for UNC, giving away zero goals and allowing the Lions to get off just four shots. All eight of UNC’s wins this season have been shutouts.
“They’re outstanding,” fifth-year goalkeeper Alec Smir said of the defense. “It’s not really a shutout for me, it’s a shutout for them. I think they traveled really well tonight and everyone was just really focused on carrying the ball and defending hard.”
Smir, a Second-Team All-ACC selection last year, is the centerpiece of an experienced defensive unit that averages just one goal allowed per game this season. His play was impressive once again in this match, notching two saves and venturing out of the goal area a few times to break up plays.
Smir was aided, though, by a back line that prevented the Lions from getting many shots off at all. Multiple times in the match, LMU sent the ball downfield to a sprinting winger in an attempt to get a break away shot — and each time a UNC defender was there to fend off the attack.
Tar Heel defenders were even making plays on the offensive side of the ball, as senior left back Milo Garvanian accounted for both of UNC’s goals. Garvanian’s brace marked the first time he had scored in a game since 2018. Dating back to his first year on the team, he had taken 45-straight shots without finding the back of the net.
“It felt good to get on the scoresheet finally,” he said.
The first score came by way of a penalty kick in the sixth minute after LMU goalkeeper Jacob Jackson slid into first-year forward Tega Ikoba, tripping him. Garvanian placed the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal, deflecting off the hands of Jackson and into the net.
Seventeen minutes later, Garvanian found himself with another opportunity in front of goal, sending a hard-hit shot on the ground from outside the penalty box. The goalkeeper dove forward in an attempt to stop the shot but the ball eluded him, bouncing off his hands and behind him into the net.
Head coach Carlos Somoano praised Garvanian’s performance after the game and described how he has grown into a leadership position on the veteran defense.
“What we’re asking him to do, it's not easy,” Somoano said. “I think the hardest part about soccer is you're trying to get 11 guys on the field at any given time to see the same thing and have the same idea under a high speed and pressure, and that takes a ton of experience and practice. And I think that's where Milo has really grown.”
The Tar Heels will travel up to Blacksburg, Va. to play Virginia Tech on Sunday, then end the regular season at home against Notre Dame on Oct. 29. Sitting in the middle of the ACC with a 2-4 conference record, UNC hopes to stack some victories on top of each other to finish strong.
Tuesday’s victory over a top-15 team proved that there is still some fight left in the once No. 4 ranked team in the country.
And if this match was any indication, the Tar Heels’ success will probably lie in the play of its defense.
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