The North Carolina men’s soccer team struck gold at Dorrance Field against No. 11 Notre Dame Friday night.
The Tar Heels quickly found themselves ahead 2-0 against the Irish — scoring two goals in the first two minutes of the game — and never looked back in the 3-1 victory.
The first of these goals came off an assist from senior midfielder Milo Garvanian to first-year forward Tega Ikoba, who put the ball into the net with a powerful header. Just 28 seconds later, the Tar Heels scored again on an improbable shot from first-year midfielder Ken Bellini.
“I think (scoring two goals early) was just us coming out ready to play," Ikoba said. "We were focused on getting a good start, and that’s what happened. We were all together, the way we played, the way we started, our energy before the game and everything — it all contributed.”
Scoring two goals early in the game gave UNC the momentum, and its stingy defense limited Notre Dame’s opportunities the rest of the way.
Throughout the first half, the defense shut Notre Dame down. Every time the Irish had a chance to send a ball into the box, the UNC defense took it away or headed it out before any Irish player could get their head on it.
The strong defensive play from the Tar Heels allowed Notre Dame to only get one shot off in the first half, which was comfortably corralled by graduate goalkeeper Alec Smir.
The second half was much of the same story with Notre Dame only getting two shots off, the first of which Smir saved. However, Notre Dame kicked the rebound into the net and got themselves on the board as there was no one there to stop it.
Aside from these three shots, UNC’s back line completely shut down Notre Dame’s offensive attack.
“The defense was awesome," Smir said. "They’re always working really hard, traveling really well. Not letting them take shots on goal is a big part. They’re a huge part of this team.”
Scoring goals early in the game and minimizing your opponent’s scoring opportunities throughout the entire 90 minutes increases a team’s chances of winning. This style of play by the Tar Heels offense and defensive has not just been limited to tonight, though.
In the past three games, the Tar Heels have scored two or more goals in each game, and the defense has posted two shutouts before allowing the one goal on three shots tonight.
Additionally, all three wins during this streak have come against top-15 teams. Entering postseason play, the Tar Heels are peaking both offensively and defensively at the right time.
“It’s a season-long process," head coach Carlos Somoano said. "Some people think it just starts clicking, and what button did you press? And that’s not how it works. It’s been a process throughout the entire season since preseason. You just keeping sticking to your principles and trying to pick up little things.”
With the ACC Tournament and possibly even the NCAA Tournament on the horizon for this streaking 10-5-1 Tar Heels team — and with the overall team play they have recently displayed — the season-long process is starting to produce results.
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