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Sunday January 29th

UNC men's soccer season ends with 2-0 loss to High Point in first round of NCAA Tournament

<p>UNC sophomore forward Daniel Kutsch (42) shoots during the Tar Heel's exhibition against Mount Olive at Finley Soccer Field Center on Aug. 15, 2022. The Heels tied 1-1.</p>
Buy Photos UNC sophomore forward Daniel Kutsch (42) shoots during the Tar Heel's exhibition against Mount Olive at Finley Soccer Field Center on Aug. 15, 2022.

In an in-state battle, the North Carolina men’s soccer team (8-6-5) fell to the High Point Panthers (11-4-5), 2-0, on Thursday afternoon at Dorrance Field to conclude its season.

What happened?

The Tar Heels controlled possession first and pressed the Panthers early. In the first five minutes of play, North Carolina registered two shots, including senior midfielder Milo Garvanian’s boot from outside the box that was punched out of play.

Despite coming up empty handed, UNC’s attack remained aggressive. In the seventh minute, sophomore forward Daniel Kutsch worked his way toward the left side of the goal before ripping a shot that trickled wide.

North Carolina’s backline would be tested by the Panthers midway through the first frame, as High Point earned a pair of corner pieces. But the Tar Heels defense remained stout, fending off both set pieces without facing a shot.

As the first half came to a close, UNC continued to find itself with opportune chances within its attacking third. Redshirt junior forward Key White blitzed down the far side of the pitch and lined a low-bouncing cross to Garvanian. The Second-team All-ACC honoree appeared to have a clear shot on goal, but his boot was deflected over the crossbar. 

Despite outshooting the Panthers by six, North Carolina entered halftime knotted in a scoreless tie.

Out of the break, the Panthers' offense broke the standstill. Junior defender Riley Thomas’ handball awarded High Point a set piece feet outside UNC’s goal box. On the ensuing kick, first-year midfielder Jefferson Amaya blast deflected off a Tar Heel and looped into the goal.

Moments later, High Point’s attack pressed again. Defender Holland Rula twisted a skying cross to  forward Noah Holmes. From there, the Panthers' leading scorer finished from close range, extending his team’s lead to 2-0. 

Now in control, High Point dropped back into a compact defensive alignment and held the Tar Heels scoreless to secure the first round victory. 

Who stood out? 

After opening up a one-goal lead early in the second half, the Panthers looked for the knockout punch, and a perfectly placed cross to Holmes allowed High Point’s leading scorer to send home his first shot of the day.

Kutsch earned his first career start as a Tar Heel, after junior forward Akiem Clarke was sidelined early due to injury. Although the sophomore from Alabama failed to find the back of the net, Kutsch proved to be serviceable in place of the Tar Heels’ leading scorer — notching a pair of shots in the first half.

When was it decided?

For much of the first period, the Tar Heels controlled the game. Shots by Kutsch and Garvanian looked to give North Carolina the lead, but each UNC opportunity came up empty handed. 

Out of the stoppage, the Panthers capitalized on a pair of mental lapses by North Carolina's backline. Thomas’ hand ball set up High Point’s first goal of the game, and miscommunication shortly after helped the Panthers send home a cross. After the visitors opened up a two-goal advantage, the game’s outcome was clear. 

Why does it matter?

The first-round loss to the Panthers officially ends the Tar Heels’ 2022 campaign. North Carolina’s final defeat showcased a number of areas that haunted UNC throughout the year. 

Whether it was North Carolina’s inability to convert on any of its seven first-half shots or consecutive defensive breakdowns within a five-minute span, the Tar Heels’ struggles came full circle in its final bout of the season. 

When do they play next?

With the defeat, North Carolina’s season comes to an end.

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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