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The Daily Tar Heel

Lackluster first half against Syracuse leads to UNC men's soccer's first loss of the season


UNC senior midfielder Ernest Bawa (10) runs during the men’s soccer game against Syracuse at Dorrance Field on Oct. 6, 2023.

Coming into Friday’s home game against Syracuse, senior midfielder Ernest Bawa believed that despite its undefeated record, the No. 13 UNC men’s soccer team had not yet played a complete game.

When the No. 18 Orange defeated North Carolina, 1-0, to hand the Tar Heels their first loss of the season, the game highlighted that same issue — the inability of UNC to put together a full 90 minutes. 

The Tar Heels were dominated in the first half by the reigning national champions and couldn't dig themselves out of the hole they created.

“We were just really, really bad in the first half,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “I mean really bad. Going back to preseason intensities, speed of play, you can’t do that against Syracuse.”

All season long, the Tar Heels had played with fire, eking out four draws in the first nine games. Against Notre Dame, UNC dominated the Irish in the first half before laying off the gas pedal and giving up the game-tying goal with under seven minutes to play. Against Duke, UNC went up 2-1 in the first half before being outshot by 10 in the second and coming inches from conceding in the final minutes.

On Friday, they finally got burned.

In the first half, the Tar Heels were outshot 7-0, controlled just 40 percent of possession time and had only one corner kick opportunity to Syracuse's six. It was the first half all year where the Tar Heels didn't manage to get off a shot. 

This sloppiness allowed Syracuse to take the early lead. Off a corner in the 23rd minute, Orange defender Buster Sjoberg headed the ball into the right corner of the goal. Miscommunication between sophomore defender Parker O'Ferral and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Cordes led to no one going for the ball and, in turn, a goal for Sjoberg.

“It was completely reflective of the entire first half for us,” Somoano said. “We just weren’t attacking the ball. We were just reacting to everything.”

The Tar Heel offense started to find its groove in the second half, outshooting the Orange 9-5, including four shots on goal. In the 85th minute, graduate forward Martin Vician and graduate midfielder Quenzi Huerman both sent attempts towards the net that had to be saved by Orange goalkeeper Jahiem Wickham. 

But it was too late.

"We just needed to play harder," junior midfielder Andrew Czech said. "We weren’t running hard enough.”

Against a top 20 team in Syracuse, only playing hard for 45 minutes was a recipe for defeat.

“It’s, what we say, paying for the sins of our past here,” Somoano said. “Because the last couple of games, we just started to look fatigued and not play with the same intensity.”

As the Tar Heels enter the home stretch of their regular season, the ability to put together a complete game will show who this team really is. In the eyes of Somoano — despite being a top 15 team in the nation — UNC has not yet reached that next level.

“I think there are going to be some natural points in the season where you just get flat, but the best teams find a way and that’s the goal,” Somoano said. “Clearly, we haven’t gotten there yet. We’re good, but we’re not elite yet — that doesn’t mean we can’t get there.”


@dthsports |

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