Tonight the Tar Heels played Virginia in Germantown, Maryland. The game kicked off at 5:30 Eastern Time and was played in 40o cold. The Heels won on penalties by a score of 4 to 3, after 110 minutes (90 regulation and two 10 minute overtimes) went scoreless. The Heels will proceed to play either Maryland or Clemson on Sunday at noon, a match to be carried live on ESPNU.
Tonight’s game was a terse encounter, with both teams making themselves very difficult to break down throughout the match. Despite worries that the game might become heated and chippy due to the strategies of both teams and the importance of the match, both teams kept level heads, and the referee had few tough decisions to make.
The game started with both teams trying to feel the game out. The Tar Heels established themselves well by getting into good passing rhythm and spreading the field. The first encounter this season between the teams saw Virginia try to boss the middle of the park and shut down the Tar Heels’ passing, but the Heels came very well prepared tonight, meaning that this tactic was ineffective for the Cavaliers.
Regulation saw few clear cut chances, but the first came in the 13th minute as a cleared free kick from Virginia was headed back into the box, forcing Scott Goodwin to punch it out and then defend two crosses into his box from the run of play. Virginia’s Darius Madison then tried to play in Will Bates, but was prevented from doing so by the Tar Heel defense. (Which, I add, is yet to be breached in the post-season.) The Tar Heels responded quickly, as an unmarked Rob Lovejoy found Andy Craven in the box with a low cross. Craven flicked the ball just wide of the net with a spectacular volley. Darius Madison continued to pester the Tar Heel defense, but the next good chance before the half came again to Andy Craven. He spotted the UVA keeper off his line and nearly snuck a curler into the top corner, but was foiled by a last second save.
The second half started with a UVA shot from outside the box, and the driven curler had more on it than it seemed. Scott Goodwin was really tested for the first time in the night, but he made the save comfortably as he is, after all, Scott Goodwin. The Heels responded with pressure in the Virginia half, and Martin Murphy single handedly broke down the UVA defense when he barged into the Cavalier box along the left byline, but his cross evaded two open Tar Heels. The 67th minute saw the Tar Heels win a corner and manage to connect from the cross with two Tar Heels in the box, but neither could bury the shot.
Regulation ended with Tar Heel pressure, but surprisingly the Cavaliers had the better chances. On three separate occasions in the last 15 minutes, UVA stole the ball from the UNC defense and had a run on goal. Darius Madison was instrumental in all three cases, but the Tar Heels were only spared by a Will Bates miss and a daring slide tackle outside of the box from Scott Goodwin, who had no defender between himself and the attacker. The Tar Heels almost ended with a bang, as Martin Murphy’s lobbed attempt found Andy Craven open in the box, but Craven’s shot was expertly snatched out of the air by UVA keeper Spencer LaCitiva, who gave a rock solid performance all night. The Tar Heels had three late corners, but were unable to convert to avoid overtime.
Overtime produced almost no clear chances, as the Tar Heels held the ball and attacked relentlessly only to be foiled again and again. In the 104th, Danny Garcia picked out a storming Jordan Gafa with a cross, but Gafa headed over. The game ended in the 110th minute and went on to penalties.
Before the shootout began, the Cavaliers made a substitution, replacing Spencer LaCitiva at goalkeeper with Matt Miscione, who is a penalty specialist. The change did not avail them in the end, as only Rob Lovejoy from Carolina missed a penalty, whereas Scott Goodwin tipped one UVA shot into the post and away and flat out caught another, a breathtaking snatch which ended the game at 4:3 I nthe shootout.
As the game was a semifinal, it was expected to be tight and tense, but tonight we were spared any Machiavellian tactics or chess playing. It came down to the players in the end, and after 110 minutes it was a test of composure, meddle, and goalkeeping. Scott Goodwin can go down the hero of the Heels, and he will lead them to the conference title game Sunday. Look to KeepingItHeel for a preview of the final as well as analysis and recap.