Sunday the Tar Heels will face Maryland for the ACC final. The noon match will be hosted in Germantown, Maryland, and will be broadcast live via ESPNU. The two teams have already faced one another once before this season, a home game for Maryland on a drowned pitch which ended 1:0 in their favor, but tomorrow’s game may well end very differently.
Sunday’s game will effectively be a home game for Maryland. No doubt they will have a strong showing from their home fans, and the long trip north coupled with cold weather courtesy of a nor’easter will likely dissuade many Carolina fans from traveling to see the team. One might question the decision to hold the final in Maryland, but only last year it was played in Cary, North Carolina, where the victor was North Carolina, so this is only fair.
That being said, this is not a repeat of the last game. On October 16th, the teams played on a soaked pitch in driving rain, a game which the Maryland groundskeeper advised the teams to abandon. This factor almost certainly favored Maryland, who played more crosses and dribbles than passes on the ground. The Tar Heels’ offense is based entirely around passing, and that was a major factor in their offense barely firing on the night. The forecast for tomorrow is clear, though the temperature is not expected to rise out of the 60s.
Tomorrow we should see a much more even encounter, with the game being played on a more level playing field. (Literally, the Maryland home field on which the last match was played was not remotely level, and the Maryland players could not keep the ball from rolling as they tried to take a corner.) Expect the Tar Heels to hold possession more, as their passing won’t be halted by pools of water. Additionally, no matter how dangerous the Terrapins look, the Maryland modus operandi in attack is to cross into the box, a tactic the UNC defense can handle.
The Terrapins will likely be confident coming into the game having won the previous matchup, but it was a near thing which the Tar Heels might have won had Rob Lovejoy not struck such a tame last- minute penalty. The Terrapins attacked relentlessly in the game, but the Tar Heels beat them off every time but once, and managed to get a few good opportunities of their own.
Both coaches are of the highest caliber, so if the players are so even in quality that the game turns into a chess match, the coaches will also be pretty even chess players. With both teams knowing how much is at stake, I think the game is very likely to see some chess playing and stratagem based play. It should still, however, be a thrilling match even if it is personified by the three t’s of Tight, Tense, and Tactical.
Hard as it is to separate the teams, I’ll hazard a prediction, and even a scoreline…
3:1 Carolina. I said it and meant it.
The “Twerps”, I mean “Terps” have the highest scoring offense around, but the Tar Heels held it for 99 minutes in October despite not being able to relieve the defense with some attacking of their own. I still think the Terrapins score, but the Heels will overcome the deficit with some brilliant attacking, the way they’ve shown they can this year. Danny Garcia is brilliant as ever, and Rob Lovejoy has fully recovered from his layoff, meaning that he has finally become consistent in his performance. (His performance is also briliant) Players from all over the Carolina roster have been scoring this year, and a few boys have chipped in with some real Golazos. The Tar Heels may be known more for their defense, but I think that tomorrow they’ll come off victors for their offense.
Whatever the outcome, you can follow it all here at KeepingItHeel, as we continue to cover the Heels into the NCAA Tournament.