In a bruising battle on Monday night at Dorrance Field — one that featured a combined 33 fouls between the two teams — UNC found itself blanked in another one-goal contest, losing to the No. 17 Clemson Tigers, 1-0.
The defeat marked the third time in a month the Tar Heels failed to find the back of the net, a recent trend head coach Carlos Somoano is searching for answers to fix.
“We have to figure something out and it’s either someone clicking or at some point, we’re going to have to look at some changes,” he said. “Maybe we’ll give someone else a shot, but at the same time I don’t want to create insecurities within the players.”
Against Clemson, the Tar Heels’ offense looked to snap out of its bitter trend and came out firing.
In the 12th minute, sophomore midfielder Juan Caffaro chipped a twisting shot on goal to kickstart what Somoano hoped to be a revamped attack. Less than nine minutes later, first-year midfielder Sam Williams tallied North Carolina’s second shot on net.
UNC’s effort to unleash scoring attempts early on did show improvement with the attack. Those two shots on goal matched the team's total in North Carolina’s previous game against Notre Dame.
Earlier this season, several Tar Heel veterans called on the team to start soul-searching in hopes of growing confidence in the attacking third.
“(Scoring) is a decision you have to make,” junior defender Riley Thomas said after North Carolina’s draw to UNCW on Sept. 20. “You can practice it all you want, but it comes down to coming out here and doing it. We have to make that decision within ourselves, and as a team, it comes down to coming out here and getting the job done.”
Yet, any signs of the offense breaking through against the Tigers were soon shut down. Williams’ boot in the opening half was the final scoring chance of the night for UNC.
The Tar Heels would engineer four more shots, but all failed to have a chance at goal — including a near 100-foot blast off a set piece from junior midfielder Ernest Bawa that soared over the back-wall netting.
“We advance the ball into dangerous positions and then we don’t seize the moment or execute… (Scoring) is the hard sport of soccer," Somoano said. "It’s the part you can’t really script.”
However, while North Carolina's offense quickly went stagnant, UNC’s defense appeared to be saving the Tar Heels from defeat once again.
With North Carolina on the verge of securing another clean sheet, the defending national champions’ title experience broke through. In the 77th minute, sophomore defender Joey Skinner headed home the game-winning goal off a corner kick for the Tigers.
UNC junior midfielder Tim Schels motioned for his teammates to calm down after the goal, but the final outcome of the game was evident.
In the defeat, North Carolina prolonged its winless streak against ranked opponents this year. However, Somoano pointed to the minuscule differences leading to one-goal losses in its high-stake matches.
“All is not lost — we’re losing 1-0 to tops teams in the country,” Somoano said. “So the margins are small and we don’t have them right now. We’re not a good goal-scoring team.”
And with a one-win Virginia Tech squad traveling to Dorrance Field on Friday, the Tar Heels know its upcoming contest can serve as a game to heat up its attack before they enter the final stretch of ACC play.
“It’s always better to have a game right away after you lose so you can bounce back,” Schels said. “Obviously for the moment (after the game) we were sad we didn’t get the result we wanted but you can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
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