When the final horn sounded, zeros blanketed the scoreboard at Dorrance Field.
From a mere glance at the score, many would assume that Tuesday night’s matchup between UNC and UNC Wilmington was a defensive grudge match that saw neither team give way to its opponent’s attack. Rather, it was countless missed opportunities that doomed the Tar Heels, leading to a 0-0 final against UNCW and the team's second consecutive draw.
This season, North Carolina rosters six transfers and 12 first-year players — meaning nearly half of UNC’s team is donning Tar Heel jerseys for this first time. Some of North Carolina’s returning players also missed time last season with season-ending injuries, and the Tar Heels’ chemistry issues have come to light.
“We’re not fully committed to (scoring) right now,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “We have a ton of new players on the field this year and they’re getting used to each other.”
One of the only UNC players who has been in the program for multiple years is senior goalkeeper Marco Saborio-Perez.
Despite being a Tar Heel since 2019, the Geneva, Switzerland native made his first career start in net against the Seahawks. With the help of a suffocating backline that limited the Seahawks to just two shot attempts, Saborio-Perez earned a shutout.
“I’ve practiced with him for two months now and I knew he was capable of doing that,” graduate defender Til Zinnhardt said. “It doesn’t really matter who was in the back — Marco did a really good job.”
While North Carolina’s defense held off UNCW’s speedy attack, the Tar Heels’ offense struggled to find its footing. It took nearly half of the first period for UNC to register its first shot of the night when junior forward Ernest Bawa's line-drive boot fell right into the palms of senior goalkeeper Gabriel Perrota.
But junior defender Riley Thomas said North Carolina’s offensive struggles don’t fall on the shoulders of one single player or unit.
“We like to say everyone on the field is a defender and everyone is an attacker,” he said. “I feel like you can’t put that responsibility (to score) on one guy.”
Using their cohesive mentality, the Tar Heels came into the second half looking to break the standstill.
Within the first 10 minutes of the half, shots by redshirt junior forward Key White and sophomore midfielder Juan Caffaro missed right of the mark. In the 63rd minute, another chance presented itself, but junior forward Akeim Clarke’s header was punched just over the crossbar.
With every offensive chance engineered by Tar Heels, UNC failed to find a goal. Even a UNCW red card that gave North Carolina an advantage for nearly 19 minutes of play could not get UNC over the hump.
“It’s no secret we’re getting into good positions and I think we’re putting teams under pressure,” Thomas said. “I feel like we lack a bit of courage right now in the box. Just trusting each other and trusting ourselves to make a play.”
Somoano spoke about North Carolina’s offensive struggles — a unit that’s averaging less than one goal per contest through seven games. The Tar Heels’ leading goal scorer, graduate midfielder Milo Garvanian, only has two goals to his name this season.
As UNC prepares for the bulk of its ACC schedule, Somoano knows he has little — or zero — time to solve the Tar Heels’ offensive woes.
“The chances we are creating don’t feel fully sharp,” Somoano said. “It’s going to take time, which we don’t have. We’re going to have to learn fast. That’s just the bottom line.”
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