FETZER FIELD/ CHAPEL HILL—The North Carolina Tar Heels men’s soccer team demonstrated this weekend that they are a good team. The UCLA Bruins showed that they might be a championship-caliber team.
After defeating No. 11 Wake Forest on Friday, UCLA traveled to Chapel Hill and ground out a 1-0 win over the No. 10 Tar Heels. North Carolina had beaten California 3-1 on Friday and were hoping to notch a victory over the top-ranked Bruins to open their 2014 season with a Cali clean sweep.
However, a match that was mostly evenly matched was decided by a momentary first-half lapse by the Tar Heels. In the 31st minute, the Bruins played one of many long balls forward to freshman forward Seyi Adekoya. As the ball was in flight, UNC goalkeeper Brendan Moore began to rushing out toward the top of the area in anticipation of intercepting the ball. However, the orb found the statuesque Adekoya, who chested it back to star midfielder Leo Stolz stationed just outside the 18-yard box. With Moore caught in no-man’s land, Stolz calmly slotted the ball past defenders and keeper. His shot ricocheted off the left post but nestled into the inner right netting.
It’s the first goal of the new season for Stolz, who was a Hermann Trophy Finalist last year and enters 2014 as the top-rated college player in the nation according to several publications, including Top Drawer Soccer.
“Seyi is a really fast forward … and I saw they were all focused on him,” Stolz said. “I had a lot of space, and I just passed the ball in.”
The Tar Heels dominated possession throughout the first half, but they could not seem to break through a UCLA backline blessed with speed, size and tactical discipline. Meanwhile, the Bruins were satisfied to poach counterattacking opportunities, particularly long balls over the top targeting their tall, strong striker corps of Larry Ndjock, Andrew Tusaazemajja and Adekoya, who scored one goal each in the 3-1 win over Wake Forest.
According to Stolz, that was a concerted strategy for this game.
“[Carolina] plays with more of an attacking midfield,” Stoltz explained, “and Coach [Jorge Salcedo] decided to switch from last game against Wake Forest and play a little deeper.”
The Tar Heels’ back line, particularly Boyd Okwuonu, did a remarkable job containing the Bruins’ potent attackers, limiting UCLA to seven shots on the game.
However, UNC was never able to challenge UCLA goalkeeper Earl Edwards, who was only required to save two of the Tar Heels’ 10 shots. Indeed, half of UNC’s attempts were taken by midfielder Omar Holness, but his were all long shots that didn’t threaten the woodwork.
Despite going toe-to-toe with a talented, top-ranked opponent, the Tar Heels’ performance peeved head coach Carlos Somoano.
“We weren’t good enough,” Somoano surmised. “UCLA was a little better; obviously it was a tight game. Not a lot of opportunities for either team, and they took advantage of theirs. I thought they defended very well and were hard to break down, but we didn’t put enough work into it.”
Somoano believed that his team’s off-season fitness woes caught up to them tonight. Still, he thought the Tar Heels could have played better.
“We moved the ball around too slow,” he said. “It wasn’t effective enough to create the gaps that we needed to create. We need to speed up our play when we move it around.”
The Tar Heels (1-1) opened the season playing two top-10 opponents at home. UNC now hits the road for two matches next weekend at Old Dominion and VCU. However, none of that has altered the high expectations that Somoano has placed on his senior-laden squad, regardless of their opponent.
“Of course [UCLA] is a good team, but we’re a good team, too,” Somoano stated. “If you want to be the best team—and that’s our expectation—you’ve got to be better than UCLA. And we’ve got to perform better than UCLA, and we didn’t perform better than them tonight.”