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Transfers continue to lead UNC men's soccer offense in draw against No. 10 Notre Dame

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UNC graduate midfielder/forward Quenzi Huerman (11) defends the goal during the men’s soccer game vs. Notre Dame at Dorrance Field on Sept. 15, 2023. UNC tied Notre Dame 1-1.

The UNC men's soccer team is taking a new approach this year.

In North Carolina’s 1-1 draw against No. 10 Notre Dame on Friday, the Tar Heels showcased a distinct shift that has occurred within this year’s team. While a late goal in the 84th minute by the Fighting Irish spoiled a potential top-10 victory, the result highlighted the team's increased emphasis on offense and extended UNC’s unbeaten streak to five games — the program’s longest such streak to start the season since 2015.

UNC relied on its defense to carry a lackluster offense in past seasons, but this year the Tar Heels have leaned on consistent offensive pressure to take stress off the back line. In 2022, UNC averaged just over 10 shots per game. That number is up to 18 shots per game now. 

During the first half of Friday’s contest, the offensive progress was put on full display. UNC outshot Notre Dame 10-1 and possessed the ball 62 percent of the time.

“For us, it’s comfortable,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “If we have the ball, then we don’t have to defend. We like to play that way.”

The reason for these improvements is simple: the transfer portal. In the team's five games, transfers have combined for seven of the Tar Heels' nine goals.

Graduate forward Martin Vician is one such transfer that fully embodies this new UNC offense. On Friday, Vician scored his second goal of the season, giving UNC a 1-0 lead entering the half.

Somoano said he tried to recruit Vician out of high school, but the forward made the choice to play at Harvard instead. Vician's extra year of eligibility granted by COVID-19 gave UNC “a second bite at the apple.”

Vician described the transition from Harvard to UNC as "easy" compared to the shift between high school life in Slovakia and college life in the United States. 

“It was very easy, very fluid to feel like part of the team,” Vician said. “Right from the beginning, we know the standards here and I just try to work hard every day and just enjoy it.”

On this year’s men’s soccer team, everybody — no matter their experience level — is held accountable. The team is uniquely unified and as a result, senior forward and four-year Tar Heel Ernest Bawa said this was the most connected group of friends he’s ever had at UNC.

“I wouldn’t say I feel like a senior,” Bawa said. “I just feel like another player on the team. And everybody is valuable in their own, whether you are playing or not, so we kinda share that responsibility all around.”

Despite the changes to the offense and the team's increased cohesion, the draw against Notre Dame still showcased a problem that has plagued North Carolina for years: the inability to close out games. UNC's four draws in conference play last season were the most of any ACC team, and the Tar Heels have already tied their first two conference games in 2023.

Somoano said the team’s lack of scoring output, even with the increased offensive production, is a result of hesitation in the final third. Bawa said he believes that these close results are an encouraging sign rather than a disappointing one.

“We know we can do it and we showed it in games in little flashes,” Bawa said. “So if anything, it’s encouraging to know that we have that ability to win games.”

The new-look Tar Heels will have the chance to extend their unbeaten streak to six on Tuesday. For Somoano, though, the record means nothing unless they can start finishing games and earning wins.

“We’re not thinking about any of that — just trying to find ways to get better and actually win a game, not tie,” Somoano said. “So we’re a little disappointed with the result, but we just got to make sure that that doesn’t creep into our process and just keep working hard and trust that if we commit to each other, and what we’re trying to do, we’ll get over the hump.” 

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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