Third time's the charm.
At least, that's what the North Carolina women's soccer team hopes heading into its upcoming College Cup semifinal showdown against top-seeded Florida State.
The Tar Heels have faced the Seminoles twice this season. But, after defeating the team on the road in mid-October, UNC's offense was later stymied by FSU's back line in an ACC Championship final loss.
On Friday, the Tar Heels will be searching for redemption.
The recent loss to the Seminoles has seemed to ignite the Tar Heels in their NCAA Tournament run, as their offensive dominance was capped in Saturday's 2-0 win over Notre Dame, securing their place in the College Cup.
Here are three keys to continuing this forward momentum and securing a victory against Florida State on the road to a 23rd NCAA national championship:
Control possession for full 90 minutes
Throughout the season, the Tar Heels have consistently demonstrated they are a team that succeeds when in control of the ball. The intense press out of possession strategy favored by head coach Anson Dorrance has been inconsistent this year due to a multitude of injuries negatively impacting the depth of the bench, making possession time all the more important for the Tar Heels.
In its quarterfinal bout on Saturday, UNC commanded the game offensively from the start, limiting Notre Dame to only two shots in the first period and securing a 1-0 lead. The Tar Heels continued this momentum in the beginning minutes of the second half, almost immediately scoring another goal.
But after going up 2-0, the Tar Heels relaxed their aggressive offense and allowed the Fighting Irish to take over possession, which let their opponents put a startling 12 shots on the board in the second half. This could have proven to be deadly for the Tar Heels if their opponents' attempts had been more accurate, which might present a challenge against a quality Florida State attacking group.
The Seminoles defense has also been productive throughout the year. As in the last matchup, they did not allow the Tar Heels to register a single corner attempt. In order to come out on top on Friday, the Tar Heels will have to make a concerted effort to take charge of possession through both halves and not rely too much on a depleted defensive unit.
Shut down Nighswonger
The Seminoles have multiple offensive threats, but none have been more stellar than midfielder Jenna Nighswonger. The senior has proven time and time again to be the playmaker for Florida State, as she ranks second in the NCAA for total assists.
In her last outing against North Carolina, she was responsible for scoring one of the Seminoles' goals and assisted the other, proving to be the driving force behind their victory. In order to best Florida State this time around, UNC must limit Nighswonger's playmaking abilities by defending her closely and reducing the amount of touches she gets on the ball.
Keep the goals coming
North Carolina switched to a 3-5-2 formation following its lackluster play in the ACC Championship, and ever since the offense has been rolling.
The new shape allows the Tar Heels to push more players into the attacking third, giving them better and more frequent chances at the goal. Weapons like redshirt first-year forward Ally Sentnor and junior midfielder Talia DellaPeruta have thrived in the new-look offense, combining for eight goals in the four tournament games.
In the ACC Championship final, junior Avery Patterson took five of UNC's seven shots. If they are to find success in Friday's rematch, the Tar Heels must lean on the team-oriented offense that has come alive of late.
North Carolina’s third matchup against Florida State may prove to be one of the toughest, and most telling, games the team will play — and could define the season as a whole. To step closer to claiming the program's first national title in 10 years, UNC will have to dig deep and play with the principles that have taken the team to this point.
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