The No. 7 seed North Carolina men’s soccer team (10-3-5, 2-3-3 ACC) knocked out No. 6 seed Syracuse (8-3-7, 2-1-5 ACC), 3-1 in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament Wednesday night in Syracuse, NY.
In what turned out to be a deciding game for tournament seeding, the Tar Heels lost to Syracuse 1-0 at home, earlier this season. The lone goal of the match – resulting from a UNC defensive breakdown – lifted the Orange past a sluggish North Carolina side in early October. It was also Syracuse who ended the Tar Heels’ ACC tournament run in last year’s quarterfinal match.
On Wednesday night, however, it didn’t take long for North Carolina to find the goal they were so desperately searching for in October. Within the first several minutes of the game, UNC’s aggressive press led to a three-on-one opportunity that was no trouble for the Tar Heel front line to finish off.
Following a pass from the Syracuse goalkeeper, graduate forward Quenzi Huerman tracked down and stripped a solo Orange defender of the ball. Turning upfield, the Frenchman led UNC’s breakaway flanked on both sides by Tar Heel support. Picking out graduate forward Martin Vician, Huerman led the Slovakian with a through ball into the box. Vician tucked away the early opportunity with ease.
After conceding in just six minutes, Syracuse responded to the challenge. The Orange tallied seven shots in the first half and forced UNC goalkeeper Andrew Cordes to save four. Yet, the consistent offensive pressure was not enough for the Orange to find an equalizer.
Instead, fresh legs for North Carolina allowed the Tar Heels to find a brace in the 37th minute. Carrying the ball through plenty of open space across midfield, senior forward Earnest Bawa laid down a perfectly weighted through-ball between the Syracuse back line of defenders.
Junior forward Daniel Kutsch received the pass in-stride and advanced toward goal. With no one between him and the keeper, Kutsch buried a shot towards the back post to score his first career goal and give UNC the 2-0 advantage at halftime.
Out of the break, Syracuse reclaimed a goal to bring itself back within one. Stationed on the left side of the Tar Heel box, Syracuse midfielder Jeorgio Kocevski, served up a beautiful ball across the goalmouth.
With just a knick of his forehead, Syracuse forward Nicholas Kaloukian finished the inswinger past Cordes before he could even react.