After securing its first conference win, the North Carolina men’s soccer team returns home to face one of its biggest tests of the season — the Clemson Tigers.
Fresh off its 2021 NCAA championship, Clemson was tabbed the top team in the county in the preseason and remained atop the polls until late September. Despite losing two of their last three contests, the Tigers still stand as the No. 17 squad in the nation and boast a wealth of championship experience.
North Carolina will look to counter the Tigers with the momentum gained in UNC’s road win against Notre Dame. For the Tar Heels, a win against Clemson would not only give North Carolina its first win over a ranked opponent this season, but it would also situate UNC back into the mix of teams vying for an ACC regular season title.
Here are three keys for UNC to pull off the upset and secure its first win over Clemson in two years.
Remain stout on defense
Much of North Carolina’s success this season has come due to the Tar Heels’ sturdy backline.
UNC boasts the perfect combination of young talent and seasoned experience, with graduate Til Zinnhardt and junior Riley Thomas anchoring the center-back positions and first-year Benjamin Kabeya and sophomore Matt Edwards flanking out wide. Combined with team captain and defensive midfielder Tim Schels holding down North Carolina’s defending third, it’s clear why UNC has only allowed five goals this year.
Against the Tigers, the Tar Heels’ defensive core will be put to the test. Junior midfielder Ousmane Sylla leads the Tigers with 13 points this season, and the second-team All-ACC selection has the ability to strike at any given moment — including from outside the 18-yard box.
The Tar Heels will need to counter the shifty feet of Sylla in an effort to hold a third-straight opponent scoreless.
Find a go-to goal scorer
Amidst the struggles on offense, head coach Carlos Somoano has said that the Tar Heels have yet to find a go-to goal scorer.
During the team’s search, many candidates have asserted themselves as potential lead offensive weapons. Milo Garvanian leads the team with three goals this season, but two of the fifth-year midfielder's goals have come by way of penalty kicks.
UNC has rotated its fair share of quick attackers, with the likes of Key White, Ernest Bawa, and Juan Caffaro all logging quality minutes this year. But of the three, White stands as the lone speedster to have found the back of the net this season with a first-half goal in North Carolina’s season opener against Air Force.
If the Tar Heels are able to secure the statement win, it will in part be due to the offense finding a go-to guy or the entire unit discovering its identity. And with the defense UNC possesses, even one goal could be enough to come out victorious.
Shake off rust
With Hurricane Ian postponing the Tar Heels’ bout to Monday night, North Carolina could be in danger of a slow start.
When UNC kicks off against Clemson, it will be the Tar Heels’ first contest in nine days — the longest gap between games this season.
Look for North Carolina to initially press up its midfield and forward positions, in hopes of not only eliminating a slow start for the Tar Heels, but catching the Tigers off guard if the rust bests Clemson.
An early goal is not a necessary by-product of a successful start. However, if the Tar Heels can find the back of the net first, it will pave the way for North Carolina’s upset bid.
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