After falling to Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the ACC Championship, the UNC men’s soccer team earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels will play High Point on Thursday at noon in their first-round matchup, hoping to craft a Cinderella run similar to what the team pulled off in the spring of 2021.
The Tar Heels boast a talented defense but an inconsistent offense, resulting in an 8-5-5 record and fourth-place finish in the ACC Coastal division.
Here are three key statistics that have defined UNC’s performances thus far.
10.39 — Shots per game
The Tar Heels’ formation has been mainly spearheaded by junior forward Akeim Clarke, who has tallied four goals this season. However, despite the notable performances of the front line, UNC has struggled to control the ball in the back and middle parts of the pitch. As a result, forwards often feel compelled to drop deep in order to assist in ball possession, creating a 3-6-1 or even a 3-7-0 formation that has minimized attack opportunities.
The extra players in the middle of the field occasionally prove to be effective in maintaining possession. However, the tactic significantly reduces the Tar Heels' number of attempts and accurate shots per game.
As of Nov. 16, UNC has only attempted 4.44 shots on goal per contest, ranking 137th in the nation. The Tar Heels have an even larger deficit in total attempts per game with 10.39, which ranks 144th nationwide. The poor attacking output is caused by a lack of link-up from the midfield to the forwards. As forwards drop back to get involved, less options are available up front for creative passes.
This phenomenon helps explain why the build-up play often seems delayed and lazy. It's not due to a low player work rate, but the abilities of forwards to spread the field and allow room for line-breaking passes that would result in more shots and goals.
44.4 — Shutout percentage
UNC’s three-defender system has proved to be truly effective this season. Despite having underwhelming shooting stats, the Tar Heels have delivered a shutout in 44.4 percent of their games, ranking in the top 30 in all Division I schools in the country.
Til Zinnhardt, Riley Thomas, and Matt Edwards have started every game to make up the three-defender backline. Their consistent and sturdy play has helped the Tar Heels protect the back end of the field throughout the season.
Goalkeepers Andrew Cordes and Marco Saborio-Perez have also been stellar in between the posts with a save percentage of 71.7 percent. These defensive performances have held UNC to only two losses in the eight conference matchups the team has played.
.640 — Home winning percentage
UNC typically draws a dedicated base of fans to its games at Dorrance Field, and that has aided in an impressive home record over the past several seasons. But after posting a .750 winning percentage in home games last season, the team has taken a bit of a step back this year, particularly in conference games.
The Tar Heels have a 6-3-2 record at home this year and they have only won one out of four home games in ACC play. However, the Tar Heels have won three of their last four games at Dorrance Field, which is where Thursday's bout will take place. In order for North Carolina to begin its tournament run on a positive note, the team will look to reverse this trend and feed off the home crowd against the Panthers.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.