The North Carolina women’s soccer team passed its first test of the NCAA Tournament with a dominant 5-0 win over Old Dominion on Saturday.
Next, the Tar Heels will return to Dorrance Field to take on Georgia on Thursday night. The Bulldogs, who are the No. 7 seed in the region, enter the matchup coming off their previous 2-0 win over Samford.
With every game being a must-win scenario for the Tar Heels, here are several keys to success for the upcoming contest:
Build a ‘sophisticated attack’
Following a 2-1 loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship final, head coach Anson Dorrance urged his players to diversify the attack and play with less predictability. In the victory over Old Dominion, the Tar Heels seemed to take this message to heart, as four different players found the back of the net.
For much of the season, North Carolina has demonstrated the ability to have these types of offensive explosions – evident in the team’s eight regular season outings with three or more goals. However, this success has often led to opponents lining up several walls of defenders, which has sometimes stymied the team’s creativity up top.
If the Tar Heels hope to break down a Georgia defense that ranks 24th nationally with 0.66 goals allowed per game, All-ACC forwards Avery Patterson and Ally Sentnor will need some help from the supporting cast.
First-year forward Maddie Dahlien, who has made several starts this season, has embraced her new role as a weapon off the bench and contributed a goal soon after entering Saturday’s contest. Using her speed at the right-wing position, she has the ability to be a playmaker on the outside, which should allow for enhanced scoring chances for others inside the box.
Dominate the midfield
The Tar Heels were dealt a tough blow entering their matchup against the Monarchs when it was revealed that junior First-Team All-ACC midfielder Sam Meza would miss time with a stress fracture. Although North Carolina was able to pull away with ease, it might not be that easy against more challenging opponents, especially with Meza’s status still unknown.
Throughout her career, Meza has been the linchpin behind the Tar Heels strong midfield unit. As perhaps the team’s most dynamic dribbler and passer, her creativity is essential in creating scoring opportunities. At the same time, her defensive effort has also aided a back line that has been dealing with injuries of its own.
In her absence, Talia DellaPeruta started in her place and was effective on both sides of the ball. The junior from Georgia has made 25 starts in her three seasons in Chapel Hill, so she has proven to be a more than reliable option if Meza is held out once again.
Remain stout defensively
Following a midseason spell that saw the team allow six goals over a four-game span, the North Carolina defense has mostly regained its early-season form to become productive down the stretch.
Since Oct. 6, the Tar Heels have kept all teams aside from Florida State off the scoreboard. While the two-goals surrendered to the Seminoles in the ACC Championship seemed to mark a step back, holding Old Dominion to just four shots and one corner kick attempt marked a slight resurgence.
The North Carolina back line, led by senior All-ACC First-Team selection Tori Hansen, will be tasked with slowing down Georgia's Dani Murguia, who leads the Bulldogs with eight goals.
Murguia has now scored in three straight contests, so she will arrive in Chapel Hill carrying a wave of momentum. For UNC to move to the next round, marking her closely and letting other players create their own offense will be a top priority.
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