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No. 3 seed UNC men's soccer defeats No. 14 Hofstra in penalty shootout to advance to NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals

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UNC senior midfielder Ahmad Al-Qaq (34) headbutts the ball for a goal during the third round of the NCAA men’s division one soccer tournament against Hofstra on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, at Dorrance Field.

Despite conceding more than one goal for the first time this season, the No. 3 UNC men’s soccer team (12-3-6, 2-3-3 ACC) came from behind to overcome No. 14 Hofstra (14-4-4, 5-1-2 CAA), 2-2 (5-3), in a penalty shootout in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday at Dorrance Field. 

After losing the ACC Tournament championship in a penalty shootout, the Tar Heels were perfect from the spot on Sunday.

“Every game, day in and day out, trying to say, ‘We got more in ourselves,’” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “‘Stay focused on these things, and if you keep your head here, you can do it.’ And I think we’ve done a good job of growing in that area, so we’re trying to keep our head in a place where we’re focusing on attacking and doing what we’ve trained and believe in, and I think that’s what shows up on penalty kicks."

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Cordes, who owns the nation’s best save percentage at 89 percent, was forced into action for the first time in the 15th minute. Hofstra forward Eliot Goldthrop wiggled into the box before shooting right at the goalkeeper. Cordes made another stop shortly after, denying midfielder Teddy Baker.

But Baker would not be denied a second time as he found the breakthrough for the Pride in the 18th minute. After a set piece from a throw-in, Baker found himself all alone in the six-yard box and coolly beat Cordes.

The Tar Heels answered almost right away, however, equalizing in the 21st minute. Junior midfielder Andrew Czech created space for a cross with a couple of step overs on the right wing before playing a perfect ball to senior forward Ahmad Al-Qaq, whose close-range header rippled the back of the net.

Hofstra was back in front in the 27th minute through its leading goalscorer Ryan Carmichael.

He intercepted a pass from junior defender Matt Edwards as the Tar Heels were attempting to play out from the back. That interception saw Carmichael in on goal, and his finish was not lacking composure.

The Pride took a 2-1 advantage into the break. Hofstra had the better of the play in the first half, controlling 55 percent of the possession and totaling four shots on target compared to UNC’s one.

UNC started the second half with purpose. Less than a minute into the second 45, what looked like an intended cross turned into a shot from Czech that struck the crossbar.

Cordes kept the Pride advantage at just one on the hour mark when he stopped Baker’s low effort after the midfielder had charged onto a long ball over the top of the Tar Heels’ defense.

UNC top scorer graduate forward Quenzi Huerman injected some life into the crowd when he unleashed a left-footed screamer from the top of the box in the 76th minute. But his effort was always rising, and the Tar Heels’ search for an equalizer continued.

North Carolina rattled the crossbar again in the 81st minute. Al-Qaq moved the ball onto his right foot outside the box before firing towards goalkeeper Wessel Speel’s net. The Hofstra goalkeeper was beaten, but the woodwork came to his rescue.

“Our mindset is really good this year in terms of the whole group,” Huerman said. “I don’t think one of us gave up. We all had that belief that, if we just were given one opportunity, we were going to put it away.”

That elusive equalizer finally came in the 86th minute via a masterfully-worked set piece. Huerman played a sublime, in-swinging ball towards graduate forward Martin Vician, who rose above Hofstra defenders and headed home.

UNC pushed for a late winner, but the match went into extra time tied at two. The Tar Heels dominated the second half, outshooting the Pride 11-3.

Chances were few and far between in the 20 minutes of extra time, and the match headed to a penalty shootout.

Sophomore midfielder Sam Williams stepped up first for the Tar Heels and rolled his penalty past Speel to give UNC the lead. Goldthrop then matched him for Hofstra.

Huerman was the second taker for North Carolina and cheekily beat Speel with a panenka right down the middle to put his team back in front.

“I tried one or two [panenkas] during this week, but most of the time coach doesn’t like it,” Huerman said. “As long as it goes in, he won’t say anything. [Somoano] said it before the game, we gotta have big character and be able to make big plays.”

Cordes came up massive in the shootout, getting down to his right and saving the second Pride penalty. Senior forward Ernest Bawa converted his spot kick to put the Tar Heels up 3-1. 

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“It’s a great experience just to be with the team,” Cordes said. “Being able to give my best efforts in a penalty shootout. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. I think we’ve trained penalties this past week, since Clemson, a lot harder and a lot more intense, which I think has helped all of us.”

After Vician scored the fourth, Czech dispatched the winning penalty to send UNC to the quarterfinals.

North Carolina advances to face Oregon State next weekend in Chapel Hill.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com