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Senior Til Zinnhardt leads UNC men's soccer to 2-0 senior night win over Louisville

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UNC graduate defender Til Zinnhardt (2) dribbles the ball during the men’s soccer game against Louisville at Dorrance Field on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.

Slowly sweeping his hand away from his body, in a horizontal motion, Carlos Somoano illustrated how consistent senior center-back Til Zinnhardt has been for the North Carolina men’s soccer team. 

“He’s that guy that doesn’t ever falter,” Somoano said – pausing between the last three words to dramatically emphasize his defender’s consistency.

In a year where UNC has struggled to find the back of the net, North Carolina has been stout on defense. Led by Zinnhardt, the Tar Heels have only allowed eight goals this season, and never more than one in a game. Sunday evening's 2-0 victory against Louisville was more of the same, as North Carolina displayed a defensive clinic to grab a vital ACC win. 

On a night kicked off by senior ceremonies, the Tar Heels came out of the gates firing. An aggressive high press reaped benefits in just the first three minutes of the game, as graduate midfielder Quenzi Huerman smashed home the first chance for UNC. From then on, it was North Carolina’s game to lose. 

Louisville’s offense took a long time to build up its attack throughout the game. When it seemed like the Cardinals were finally knocking on the door within the last 15 minutes of play, the Tar Heels' defense dug in. 

“We knew they were going to come out there, we were up 1-0 and time was running out for them,” Zinnhardt said. “They sent everything forward and obviously we had five in the back, just tryna hold on.” 

In a position where the team has often found themselves throughout the season, Zinnhardt led the North Carolina backline to its sixth shutout of the year. Defending tirelessly for the final stretch of the game, a weathered Tar Heel defense stood strong.

Zinnhardt proved his defensive prowess by deflecting crosses out of the box and timing vital tackles to suspend the Cardinals' attack.

“He can just concentrate and stay engaged for long periods of time,” Somoano said. “Other guys, they may lose their focus for a moment here or there, but he is just so dialed in and I think that obviously makes a big difference.” 

Zinnhardt credits his freedom to play so well under pressure to the man who has his back, redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Cordes. After coming in to replace injured goalie Quinn Closson midway through the season, Cordes has solidified the defense by continuously making plays between the sticks. 

Despite his introduction to the lineup midway through the season, Cordes has developed a symbiotic relationship with his backline of defenders. In the rare moments that an opposing attacker breaks through UNC’s defense, Cordes is almost always there to extinguish the threat. 

“Having these guys win balls over the top, heading them and being able to just shut it down before it can even get to me is really important,” Cordes said. 

“It’s a really good unit and I have full confidence in all the guys in front of me,” he continued. 

Yet Zinnhardt doesn’t command his defense with the same vocal cadence of most center backs. Instead, the German-born defender will rarely open his mouth.

Somoano claimed he almost never talks, but instead leads by example. Often on the training ground, the head coach says that he can always point to Zinnhardt as a model for other players. 

A “pensive” and “thoughtful guy”, as further described by Somoano, Zinnhardt lets his game do the talking. With his final year of collegiate soccer coming to a close in Chapel Hill, the center-back has fulfilled his duties this season. 

Commanding a strong back line all year, Zinnhardt just wants to be someone his teammates can trust as they transition into postseason play.

“I think it's important to be a guy other people can count on,” he said. “Especially in my role as a center-back, you don’t have that much room for error. So you have to be consistent in order to be good and perform.”

@cadeshoemaker23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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