The No. 7 seed North Carolina men’s soccer team (8-3-5, 2-3-3 ACC) defeated No. 10 seed Virginia Tech (4-8-5, 2-5-1 ACC), 4-1, in the first round of the ACC Tournament Wednesday night at Dorrance field.
The Tar Heels are pursuing their fourth ACC tournament championship, with their last title coming in 2011. That year, head coach Carlos Somoano took over and lead UNC to win the trebel – ACC regular season, ACC Tournament, and NCAA National Championship – in just his first year at the helm.
On a cold night in Chapel Hill, the Hokies got off to a hot start. In just the opening two minutes of the game, a misplayed Tar Heel free kick started a fast break for Virginia Tech. Hokie forward Conor Pugh led the attack down the right flank before sending a dangerous ball across the box. After taking a deflection up into the air from the slide of a UNC defender, Virginia Tech midfielder Misei Yoshizawa finished the opener with an acrobatic pivot that located the bottom corner.
“I think [the team] really wants to please, they really want to do well and they sometimes get a little too conscientious,” Somoano said. “They should just go out there and play as hard as they can.”
Following the early concession, North Carolina looked sporadic early. Sloppy play in possession and the lack of pressure in the midfield wasted nearly a third of the game before UNC could build much of an attack.
In the 29th minute of the game however, the Tar Heels began to string together a few threatening passes in the final third, eventually finding the feet of graduate forward Martin Vician, who was firmly planted at the top of the box, and the Slovakian native curled a shot towards the Hokie goal.
Diving to make the play, Virginia Tech goalkeeper Timi Adams shoved the ball out to his defense. The weak clearance was not enough to avoid the ensuing danger however, as graduate forward Quenzi Huerman followed up the save. Collecting and scoring the rebound in one touch, the UNC winger brought the Tar Heels level with his ninth goal of the season.
After the equilizer, a revitalized North Carolina side began to turn up the pressure. Outshooting the Hokies 10-1 in the first period, it was only a matter of time before UNC got its second.
In the dying moments before halftime, Senior forward Ernest Bawa stole an errant pass from a Virgina Tech defender. After navigating into open space outside of the box, Bawa smashed home a knuckling ball past the outstretched arms of a diving Adams. Heroic play from the substitute gave the Tar Heels a one goal lead heading into the locker rooms.