No. 13 North Carolina men's soccer team (2-0-1, 0-0 ACC) experienced the first loss of the season against Florida International (2-0-1) 2-1, in Chapel Hill on Saturday night.
The Tar Heels maintained most of the possession since the beginning of the game and built their attacks from behind. North Carolina’s defensive line was high up the pitch and prioritized pressing high whenever they lost the ball to rapidly regain possession.
UNC had two goalscoring chances in the first 20 minutes of play from the lateral edges of the box, but it was the Panthers who scored first in their first true offensive chance they had 25 minutes into the game. A poor heading clear by junior defender Riley Thomas gave the ball away in a compromised position, and Florida International took advantage of the defensive mistake.
The second half saw a Tar Heel team that was less threatening and suffered more on the defensive end. The game became more disorganized as UNC lost a lot of the tactical structure it began the game with.
The second goal for Florida International came in the 17th minute of the second half, originating from a left-sided cross. North Carolina’s defensive fragility was seen again as the Panthers’ offense had time to take a touch inside the six-yard box and have a clear shot on goal.
Despite their struggles in the second half, the Tar Heels kept their heads up. North Carolina fired back with a goal as graduate midfielder Hilli Goldhar's strike from the edge of the box landed in the top right corner.
Even though UNC gave it all in the end, the ball did not find its way inside the net, and North Carolina dropped the game, 2-1.
Who stood out?
The Tar Heels’ clearest goalscoring chance of the first half came from fifth-year midfielder Milo Garvanian. A technical cut on the left side of the box gave him a low and hard shot that was blocked by the goalkeeper, showcasing his electric dribbling skills. Garvanian, who scored UNC’s only goal in last week’s win against South Florida, showed that he is in top form as the season progresses.
Garvanian also controlled the Tar Heels’ midfield for most of the game. His skills with the ball gave UNC superiority in the midfield.
Sophomore left-back Matt Edwards also had a good game. He was very solid in defense, successfully cutting off any offensive opportunities from the Panthers’ left wing. His offensive progression was also excellent. He dribbled the ball along the sideline multiple times and associated well with the midfield to transition North Carolina’s defense into offense – something the team was struggling with.
When was it decided?
Saturday night’s game was contested until the final minute. After going down 0-2 in the 63rd minute, it was an uphill battle for the Tar Heels.
Goldhar’s goal gave North Carolina a glimpse at leveling the game. The Tar Heels gave it all to level the game in the final minutes but they lacked the offensive strength to see real chances to equalize the game.
Why does it matter?
Saturday night’s game against Florida International was North Carolina’s first loss of the season.
North Carolina needs to improve in both their defensive focus as well as getting more key passes into the box to create more goalscoring opportunities. Fundamental mistakes on the defensive end caused the Tar Heels to concede the two goals that ultimately cost them the game.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be back in Chapel Hill on Friday, Sept. 9, to kick off the ACC season against Pitt at 7 p.m.
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