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UNC men's soccer gets redemption in penalty kick win over Hofstra, advances to NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals

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UNC junior midfielder/defender Andrew Czech (27) celebrates after UNC wins the third round game of the NCAA men’s division one soccer tournament against Hofstra on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, at Dorrance Field. UNC wins 2-2 (Carolina advances on penalty kicks, 5-3).

Waiting to take his penalty kick, graduate forward Quenzi Huerman knew he had to change his approach in order to convert. The Frenchman had trained with Hofstra’s goalkeeper, Wessel Speel, during a tryout this summer. Huerman knew Speel was prepared for his typical approach.

So instead of blasting it home per usual, UNC’s leading goalscorer finished his penalty with a cheeky Panenka, a chip down the center of the goal

“Mind games,” Huerman said. 

In UNC's NCAA tournament third-round matchup against Hofstra on Sunday, North Carolina won, 2-2 (5-3), in a penalty shootout. In doing so, the Tar Heels rewrote a nightmare they endured just two weeks before, losing the ACC Championship to Clemson in penalty kicks. Following the loss, UNC made key changes in their penalty kick strategy on the offensive and defensive end, swapping out both goalkeepers and penalty kick takers.

In the ACC Championship, it was predetermined that alternate goalie Quinn Closson — instead of starting keeper Andrew Cordes — would be the goalkeeper in penalty kicks. This decision was made because, according to head coach Carlos Somoano, Closson is exceptionally good at saving penalties.  

However, Closson was unable to get a glove on any of the five attempts the Tigers had. To avoid déjà vu Sunday night, Somoano and his staff decided to keep Cordes in the game.

“The difference is he's is playing and he is in games,” Somoano said. “So it’s a little bit easier to kind of get yourself into that competitive mode when you are doing that.”

The decision paid off. On Hofstra’s second penalty kick, Cordes dove to his right and beat the ball to its spot well before it arrived.

“We’ve trained penalties in this past week, since Clemson, a lot harder and a lot more intense,” Cordes said. “Which I think has helped all of us, the takers and the keepers, to give us the extra edge to help save one.”

On the flip side, North Carolina also adjusted its five penalty takers from the lineup it rolled out against the Tigers. Keeping three of the shooters from the ACC Championship, the Tar Heels looked to senior forward Ernest Bawa as the third taker. He took the place of junior defender Matt Edwards, who missed UNC’s only penalty kick against Clemson. Junior midfielder Andrew Czech was the final addition to the lineup, shooting fifth.

With a lineup of Sam Williams, Huerman, Bawa, Martin Vician and Czech, the Tar Heels exuded confidence.

“They can practice one thing but when you get up there you have to go with your gut,” Somoano said. “But it’s hard. If you second-guess yourself you’re done for, so you gotta be ready for that moment.”

The Tar Heels were indeed ready. The team converted all five penalty kicks, with Speel unable to touch any shot. 

Crediting the power of mind games, Huerman — who took UNC's second penalty — said he believed his chip shot made the Hofstra goalkeeper second-guess himself during the following penalty kicks. 

“A Panenka is going to make the keeper rethink about his strategy because he dove a bit early, and maybe that helped my teammates afterward,” Huerman said. 

Whatever the case may be, UNC was able to find redemption for its shortcomings in the ACC Championship. Now one win away from the College Cup, the Tar Heels can refocus their attention — moving past the skepticism that's been looming over the team this past month.

In the words of Somoano, "Any looking back is putting yourself at a disadvantage.”

You don’t get credit for past wins, and you don’t get debits for losses when you’re in the moment."

@cadeshoemaker23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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