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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 7 seed UNC men's soccer falls to No. 4 seed Clemson in ACC Championship


The UNC men’s soccer team's penalty kicker’s line-up before penalty kicks begin at the ACC men’s soccer championship at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC, on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. The Tar Heels lost in penalty kicks after a full-time game score of 1-1.

The No. 7 seed North Carolina men’s soccer team (10-4-5, 2-3-3 ACC) lost, 1-1 (5-3), in a penalty shootout against No. 4 seed Clemson (11-3-4, 4-2-2 ACC)  in the ACC Championship game, Sunday afternoon in Cary, NC. 

UNC’s path to the ACC final has been quite the journey. Earning a home game in the first round, the Tar Heels knocked off No. 10 Virginia Tech in an impressive 4-1 start. Then traveling to Winston Salem, the team earned a hard-fought 1-0 upset, against No. 2 seeded Wake Forest in the quarterfinals. A final road game took the Tar Heels to Syracuse, NY, where they clinched a bid in the championship by defeating No. 6 seeded Syracuse, 3-1. 

The last time UNC won the ACC tournament was in 2011, when head coach Carlos Somoano led the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship and the NCAA National Championship in his first year. 

In the opening 20 minutes of Sunday’s match, neither the Tar Heels nor the Tigers got off to a quick start. Instead, an early portion of the game was dominated by short spurts of possession that fizzled out in the final third. It took until the 18th minute before an opening shot was even recorded – a weak attempt by a Clemson forward that drifted far from the UNC goalpost. 

UNC’s only real chance in the half came from a series of pieces around the Clemson box.  Near the 30-minute mark, the Tar Heels were able to win a corner and a pair of free kicks. Despite a trio of free crosses into the box, however, North Carolina could not come away with anything more than a soft header, a blocked shot, and an errant attempt on goal. 

Tied 0-0, UNC and Clemson ended the first period with no separation. 

In the second half, however, North Carolina quickly changed the pace of the game. Within the first five minutes following the intermission, the Tar Heels broke through the defensive deadlock.

Playing a well-weighted through ball down the right side of the field, senior forward Ahmad Al-Qaq ignited the UNC attack. With ample space to send a cross into the box, midfielder Andrew Czech whipped a knee-high ball towards the penalty spot. Corralling the ball with a first touch into the air, graduate forward Quenzi Huerman rifled a skipping shot toward the bottom corner of the goal. Easily beating a diving Clemson keeper, Huerman’s shot dinked off the left post to score his 10th goal of the season and give UNC the 1-0 advantage.

“It just takes one moment [for Huerman], and it's like see ya later; the balls in the back of the net,” head coach Carlos Somoano said.

Trying to prevent Clemson from finding an equalizer, UNC’s defense withstood multiple attacking opportunities. In the 76th minute, a dangerous set piece at the edge of the box seemed like the Tiger offense was lurking. Instead, a pass back toward midfield led to a Clemson shot that was altered by Tar Heel defender Riley Thomas’ outstretched leg, which blocked the shot. 

In the 83rd minute, a bubbling Clemson attack finally overflowed. Surrounded by multiple UNC defenders, Clemson forward Ousmane Sylla worked his way around the top of the box to find an open window. With just enough space to fire a shot, Sylla curled a crafty ball around fully stretched-out goalkeeper Andrew Cordes. 

Clemson’s goal tied the game at 1-1 with less than 10 minutes remaining, eventually sending the match into overtime. 

An uneventful 20 minutes in extra time failed to produce a deciding goal. With nothing separating the two sides, the ACC Championship came down to penalty kicks.

“I think we got to [penalty kicks] on heart alone,” Somoano said. “That’s an incredible testament to our guys because you know, as a coach you can see how hard they were laboring just to move around the field and to cover ground.”

In PK’s, a critical miss by UNC defender Matt Edwards gave Clemson the advantage. Going on to finish all 5 attempts, the Tigers won the ACC Championship in a 5-3 shootout.

North Carolina will await selection day this coming Monday to find out its seeding for the NCAA tournament which will start first-round action Thursday, Nov. 16.


@dthsports |

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