UNC men’s soccer heads to program’s second-straight College Cup

UNC men’s soccer heads to program’s second-straight College Cup

For parents, picking a favorite among their children can be tough. North Carolina head coach Carlos Somoano has a similar struggle when trying to decide which of his UNC soccer teams that advanced to the College Cup were his favorite to coach. The decision became even more complicated for the seventh-year head coach on Saturday.

For parents, picking a favorite among their children can be tough.

North Carolina head coach Carlos Somoano has a similar struggle when trying to decide which of his UNC soccer teams that advanced to the College Cup were his favorite to coach.

The decision became even more complicated for the seventh-year head coach on Saturday. The Tar Heels (17-3-1) knocked off the Fordham Rams (14-6-3) at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, 2-1, to advance to the program’s second-straight College Cup. This marks the third Final Four appearance for UNC in Somoano’s head coaching tenure and the sixth in the past 10 years (Somoano became an assistant coach at UNC in 2002).

“This team is totally different than those [other UNC College Cup] teams,” Somoano said. “This team has been one of my most enjoyable teams to coach. But I’ll be honest, it’s not that easy to coach [them]. They play with kind of their own spirit. And really for me to describe that to you is comparing two other teams. There’s no way. It’s like trying to compare your kids. They’re just different.”

The first half of action featured stellar defense from both teams. However, while the Rams were aggressive defensively, the Tar Heels had a handful of opportunities to score. UNC just couldn’t capitalize.

Two of the team’s most sure-fire scorers couldn’t find the back of the net in the opening half. Sophomore midfielder Cam Lindley missed a wide-open shot on goal in the 22nd minute — the ball soared right above the crossbar. Redshirt sophomore forward Jelani Pieters also had a good chance to give the Tar Heels the first point of the match. In the 38th minute, Pieters’ was left open on a header attempt that just slightly flew over the goal.

Both teams went into halftime scoreless, knotted up at 0-0. It was the third-consecutive game that UNC went scoreless in the first half and came back to win.

Senior leadership showed in the second half of play. Senior forward Zach Wright took over for the Tar Heels.

“We started off slow, but we knew what we had to do to change things in the second half to pick it up,” Wright said.

In the 61st minute, sophomore midfielder Jack Skahan sent a kick sailing toward the box. The ball connected with senior forward Alan Winn’s head before making its way to Wright. Wright met the ball at full speed and blasted it just barely by the Fordham defender. The ball bounced off of the left goal post and into the net for Wright’s fourth goal of the season.

“I got a ball out wide and coach stresses that we just get after our man, no hesitation” Wright said. “I got after him and then I did a little stop-go and put it in.”

However, the Rams punched the Tar Heels back in the mouth quickly. Fordham tied the match two minutes later on a goal from a free kick.

After a stretch of time where things got chippy and both teams saw chances, UNC seized control of the game in the 80th minute.

Lindley found Wright on the right side of the field, who got separation from his defender. Wright shook the defender who closed in on him and sailed the ball into the box. Winn out-hustled two Fordham defenders and headed the ball in for the game-winning goal. This was Winn’s team-best 11th goal of the season. It also gave Lindley his 13th assist of the year, the most by any UNC player in a single-season since 2002.

“Zach was going down the line,” Winn said. “I saw Jelani got tripped up by one of the guys and Zach made a beautiful cross in. Coach has stressed enough to always get in the box and always get those second balls or crossed balls. Zach made a beautiful cross and I was just there to tap it in.”

North Carolina now heads to Philadelphia, looking to capture the program’s third NCAA Tournament championship and its first since 2001. The third-ranked UNC will face second-ranked Indiana in the College Cup semifinal on Friday. The Tar Heels will look to give an undefeated Hoosiers team its first loss of the season.

“It seems like just yesterday [Wright and Winn] showed up,” Somoano said. “We were talking about some funny stuff [from] four years ago and they’ve just grown so much. I’m proud to see the way they played tonight to get us back to the College Cup.”

Parth Upadhyaya
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