Seconds after falling into a 1-0 hole in the opening ten minutes against No. 5 Duke men’s soccer at Koskinen Stadium on Friday, UNC responded. North Carolina forward Akeim Clarke deflected a through ball from midfielder Hilli Goldhar, tapping the cross off his right foot into an open goal.
For the next 80 minutes, the Tar Heels kept pace with their crosstown rivals — battling in the midfield, creating chances and never dropping back to preserve the draw. UNC continued to compete despite a hostile road environment, earning the team its first draw of the season.
For a North Carolina team that had lost two of its previous three matches, earning a 1-1 result on the road against one of the nation’s best teams could point to brighter days ahead.
“We’re tough, I think people are doubting us,” said goalkeeper Andrew Cordes, who finished the night with three saves. “Not getting ranked, it was hard for the team. But that doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day. We’re a tough team. We’re going to keep pulling results all season.”
To hear head coach Carlos Somoano tell it, UNC’s quick reaction following the Blue Devils’ early goal was a sign that the team is improving as it approaches the heart of ACC play. After Tuesday’s match against UNC-Wilmington, the Tar Heels will open the conference schedule on the road at Notre Dame on Sept. 24.
“That’s something that we’ve been working on, is reactions to anything that doesn’t go our way,” he said. “When you go through any learning process, you have to relearn things, and you go through a little hesitation.”
Clarke’s goal was his first of the season. Getting him on the scoresheet is another good sign for a North Carolina team that hasn’t scored more than once in a game since its season opener against Air Force.
“Of course it’s a confidence booster, just hoping to get back out and get another one,” he said. “Just whatever I can do to help my team out and I was able to do that tonight.”
It's also a good sign for Clarke, who tied for second on the team in assists in his 2020 first-year campaign. Clarke emerging as a consistent scoring threat will be key if North Carolina hopes to regain its usual contending standard in the ACC.
After being injured last year and not seeing the field, the junior has been UNC’s primary striker this season, starting in all but one contest. With shots on goal in each of the previous two matches, it was only a matter of time before he broke through.
“I think he’s going to get better as the year goes on,” Somoano said. “He had a long layoff from his injury last year and I think every game he’s getting better. It’s just going to be a natural part of the process, goal or no goal, he's just playing better.”
Moving forward, Clarke said the Tar Heels still have room to grow, and that despite the impressive result against an elite Duke squad, they still haven’t played their best game.
“We have a lot of work to do going forward, we could’ve played much better,” he said. “We did well getting a result, especially with a tough crowd. Obviously, it’s our biggest rival. We fought hard for this tie.”
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