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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 13 UNC men's soccer falls, 1-0, to No. 18 Syracuse in first loss of the season

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

The No. 13 North Carolina men’s soccer team (5-0-5, 1-0-4 ACC) suffered its first loss of the season to No. 18 Syracuse (6-2-3, 2-1-2 ACC), 1-0, in a top-20 showdown Friday night at Dorrance field.

In 2022, Syracuse won the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship and defeated the Tar Heels 1-0 in the ACC Tournament — the only time the two met last season.

Early on, it looked to be a repeat of that game, as it was the Orange who dominated possession in the opening 20 minutes. UNC’s defense withstood a flurry of crosses into the box early, along with a poor clearance that led to a goal saving denial from sophomore keeper Andrew Cordes.

Eventually the Syracuse offensive build-up broke through in the 23rd minute, off of a corner kick goal from graduate defender Buster Sjoberg. His header trickled its way into the bottom corner of the net, after Tar Heel defender Parker O’Ferral barred Cordes from the ball, in a failed attempt to clear the shot.

“It was just completely reacting to scenarios,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “Nobody went up and really attacked the first ball well enough, and then the ball bounced down [into the goal].”

UNC’s sloppy play while in possession continued throughout the remainder of the half and into the break, often losing the ball past midfield and struggling to create any attack. Syracuse held North Carolina’s offense to zero shots through the first 45 minutes, resulting in North Carolina’s first shotless half of the season. 

“We didn’t play hard enough," Somoano said. "We didn’t close down the ball fast enough. We didn’t pass the ball fast enough, and then we were kind of just reacting to scenarios.”

A more settled Tar Heel team opened the second half with early shots from senior forward Ernest Bawa and junior defender Matt Edwards. The increased intensity allowed North Carolina’s defense to motion higher up the pitch, which offered moments for the front line to better press the Orange.

This spark from Bawa and Edwards brought forth the first real chances of the night for UNC. In the 65th minute, a free kick from the edge of the box came close to tying the contest. Graduate midfielder Quenzi Huerman curled a shot up and over the wall that glanced off the woodwork of the goal frame.

After throwing a physical elbow to turn and spin off of a defender, graduate forward Martin Vician struck a hard hit shot toward the Syracuse goal inside the final seven minutes of the game. An athletic save by goalkeeper Jahiem Wickham spoiled the best chance of the night from the Slovakian native.

Seconds later, a deflection within the 18-yard box found the feet of Huerman, who fired a low cruising ball into the hands of Wickham. 

A third opportunity arose within the dying moments of the game, when UNC midfielder Sam Williams whipped a long shot from outside of the box. The diving Syracuse goalkeeper pushed the ball just wide of the post, saving the Orange defense within the final three minutes of the match.

“I think we maybe could have put together some chances there," junior midfielder Andrew Czech said. "But just being so defensive minded, just tryna get out of a pinch — it's hard.”

Despite creating a few threatening chances late, the Tar Heels were unable to find the back of the net by the time the third whistle sounded, resulting in the first Tar Heel defeat of the season.

“We have a short time until the next game, but definitely going to analyze, talk about it, and do everything we can to play much better on Tuesday for sure,” Vician said.

UNC will look to bounce back in its next home matchup against non-conference opponent Florida Gulf Coast, Tuesday at 6 p.m.


@dthsports |

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