Today the Tar Heels faced Maryland for the ACC final. The game was played in Germantown, Maryland, which made the match an effective home game for Maryland. The Heels lost 2:1, conceding twice against the run of play but winning a late goal back. The loss means that Maryland are the ACC Tournament champions, while both teams shared the season crown.
The Tar Heels started the game well, pressuring high up the pitch and rapidly switching the point of attack, but could not keep their early form. The Heels got steal after steal early and forced the Terps into a strategy of simply playing long balls forward. Alas, the Heels could not keep this play up, though it would return for them in spurts.
Early defensive nerves showed for the Heels in the 5th minute when a long ball forward forced Scott Goodwin off his line, and his run took him straight through his center back Campbell. Then the game took a decisive shift, as a Maryland corner against the run of play resulted in a low cross bouncing around the box and falling to Maryland’s Dakota Edwards, who lashed it home at point blank range.
The goal was the turning point. At first, the Heels showed no fear and continued their strategy, but more Carolina nerves began to show as they gradually dropped their pressure and began to attack more quickly. Dropping pressure and failing to keep pressure on the Maryland defense played into Terrapin hands, and the Terps were able to keep pressure on the Heels for most of the game after their goal.
Maryland also showed that they’ve learned the one lesson that none of UNC’s other opponents have. Instead of playing balls to their forwards’ heads, the Terps played low crosses to the feet, and these low crosses were much harder for the Tar Heels to defend. The Tar Heels did manage to get a shot off before the break. They managed to inject some intensity with the introduction of Josh Rice (even though he was booked immediately after entering the game), and in the 30th a great inside cut from Rob Lovejoy allowed him to feed Danny Garcia, who pirouetted and fired just over.
The Heels ended the half with a bit of pressure, but overall they had been outplayed in all moments save the rare periods when they held the ball and pressed. Coach Somoano remarked to his players that they needed to step up their work ethic and win more 50/50 balls, but they really needed to get back to their style: slow down the attack to relieve the defense and allow the defense to press whenever the forwards lost the ball.
The Heels opened the second half with more pressure, and they managed to get off their second shot on goal in the game in the 60th when Rob Lovejoy cut inside and fired from outside the box. His shot was dropped by the Maryland keeper, but Jordan Gafa’s attempt to put away the rebound was cut short by the offside flag.
Unfortunately, it took only 2 minutes after Lovejoy’s play for Maryland to turn the game back around. Maryland forward Schillo Schuma got into the box, and his square ball was deflected off a Carolina defender past Scott Goodwin. From this point until the very end of the game it was all Maryland. They pressed the Heels back with a cascade of attacks and kept the Heels from ever getting forward.
It was an Andy Craven shot which set up an exciting finale. He turned and fired on the Maryland goal, and the Tar Heels from this opportunity managed to force some pressure. Josh Rice came back into the match late. In the 86th he muscled the ball away from three Maryland players, allowing Jordan Gafa to play in Rob Lovejoy, who scored at the far post. The Tar Heels put pressure on the Terrapins for the last five minutes of the game, but were unable to score. Rob Lovejoy got a cross to his feet in the last 20 seconds, but was unable to get a shot off.
The Tar Heels showed that when they played their game and held possession whilst pressing high up the pitch, they could be very dangerous, but Maryland did a good job to control the style of the fame, whilst the Tar Heels seemed to back down a bit. 2:1 was a fair result, and while the loss hurts, the Tar Heels remain in a good position for the College Cup.
The draw for the College Cup will be held on Monday, and you can continue to look to KeepingItHeel for coverage of the draw as well as coverage of the Tar Heels’ NCAA run.