The North Carolina men’s soccer team (11-7-2, 4-4-0 ACC) was defeated, 4-1, by the New Hampshire Wildcats (17-1-2, 7-0-1 America East) in Sunday’s second round match of the NCAA Tournament.
After a thrilling, penalty kick victory in the first round, the Tar Heels traveled on the road to take on the No.16 Wildcats.
Starting off the game, the Wildcats looked like a team worthy of their ranking. New Hampshire’s attack was led early by midfielder Linus Fallberg when he gifted the Wildcats their first corner kick of the half.
Despite the corner kick opportunity coming up empty, the pressure by the Wildcats kept the UNC defense on its heels during the early stages.
The early attack was eventually simmered thanks to the consistent play of UNC graduate defender Filippo Zattarin. His timely headers and clears kept the game scoreless for the first 22 minutes of the game.
However, the Wildcats' persistent attack finally paid off in the 23rd minute, when Bridger Hansen’s bicycle kick ended up in the back of the net.
The early gut-punch seemed to ignite the Tar Heel offense, as the first shot of the day proved to be a good one for UNC. Junior forward Jonathan Jimenez's low cross made its way through the Wildcat defense and ended up on the foot of sophomore midfielder Tim Schels who booted in the equalizer.
From this point on, New Hampshire took full momentum of the game. In the 37th minute, midfielder Rory O'Driscoll scored his seventh goal of the year when his header sneaked past the outstretched arms of UNC's graduate goalkeeper, Alec Smir.
Minutes later, a similar looking cross allowed forward Jacob Gould tap in the third goal of the game for the Wildcats.
Bad became worse for the Tar Heels when UNC sophomore defender Riley Thomas misread a pass, giving the Wildcats a breakaway opportunity. New Hampshire’s Johann von Knebel capitalized on the error, scoring the Wildcats fourth goal of the half with just six seconds remaining until halftime.
UNC’s attempt at a second half comeback started off on the right foot. During the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Tar Heels earned two free kicks but came up empty handed both times.
The Wildcats almost scored their fifth goal of the game, but Paul Mayer’s shot ricocheted off the left post. From here on out, the two teams exchanged numerous chances, but neither could capitalize, ending that game at 4-1.
Who stood out?
One of the lone bright spots for the Tar Heels was the resurgence of Schels. His equalizing goal in the first half was his second of the season and appeared to give UNC some momentum midway through the first half. Standout first-year Tega Ikoba also had a strong game, earning the Tar Heels numerous corner kicks with his aggressive play.
On the defensive side, Zattarin’s steady play kept the Tar Heels in the game for much of the first half. His early leadership and timely clears helped fend off an early push from the Wildcats.
When was it decided?
The first half proved to be detrimental for the Tar Heels. It appeared UNC would be heading into the half trailing by two goals, but von Knebel’s last-second goal pushed the deficit to 4-1.
This goal proved to put the game out of reach for the Tar Heels, as a two-goal deficit is tough to overcome, but a three-goal deficit is almost impossible.
Why does it matter?
The result of the game concludes the season for UNC and sends New Hampshire into the third round of the NCAA tournament.
When do they play next?
The defeat officially ends UNC’s 2021 season. Despite the finish, the Tar Heels will look to build off the young pieces they discovered this year during the team’s offseason.
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