Tonight the UNC Men’s Soccer team played Indiana in the NCAA Tournament. This was a 4th round match and consequently the last match before the College Cup in Hoover, Alabama. As consequence of their higher seeding, the Tar Heels had the privilege of hosting the game. The Heels lost by a score of 1:0, and Tar Heel fans will doubtless feel hard done by not to be headed to Hoover. The Hoosiers were unranked ahead of the tournament, but a strong late season showing enabled them to earn the 16th overall tournament seed. They were dangerous enough to knock off Notre Dame, and now will head to the national semifinal at the Tar Heels’ expense.
The match began with surprising aggression from both teams. Both the Heels and the Hoosiers tried to attack and press one another. This style of play gave the Tar Heels the early advantage, as it is nigh impossible to effectively pressure our defenders since they are all comfortable on the ball. It was almost comical watching the Indiana forwards try to dispossess UNC full back Jordan McCrary, who is a more effective attacker than the forwards trying to pressure him.
The first real chance of the game fell to the Tar Heels as Danny Garcia made a long run across the box, dashing past three defenders and firing. He narrowly missed at the near post. The next good chance was for Rob Lovejoy, who tracked down a deflected cross and shot at close range, but his shot was straight at the keeper. The Hoosiers finally registered a shot 30 minutes in when a cleared corner was lofted back in towards goal, but the shot proved no real challenge for Scott Goodwin. The Tar Heels responded not a minute later, as Danny Garcia measured a lovely entry pass to Lovejoy, who wheeled and fired but shot wide.
In the 36th the game added some spice in the form of controversy. UNC Forward Cam Brown had scarcely been on the field a minute before going down clutching his face after being struck by Indiana number 10 A.J. Corrado. The UNC fans bellowed for a straight red card, but the referee consulted with his linesman and elected not to punish Corrado. Corrado went on to make himself Chapel Hill’s Public Enemy over the course of the night by trying to illegally take a free kick too early, trying to move a free kick several yards forward before taking it, and getting in Cam Brown’s face immediately after fouling him, not to mention his earlier offense on Brown. The Tar Heel fans booed his every touch, and his actions after escaping ejection only made the case for his removal stronger.
The first period ended tied at nil- nil, and chances for both teams would be few and far between in the second. Rob Lovejoy gave the home fans a start when he stopped short on a run for a knee issue, but he was able to continue. The 58th minute saw more controversy injected into the game as the Indiana defenders shoved Danny Garcia down in the box, but the match official again chose not to punish Indiana, though it looked a clear penalty. The Hoosiers then managed to launch a counterattack, helped in no small part by some debatable fouls called against the Heels. This counterattack produced a corner, from which Indiana nearly opened the scoring. The corner kick was deflected towards goal off a Carolina head, but was cleared off the line by another Tar Heel defender. The ball continued to bounce around the box but was eventually cleared.
Only three minutes later, the Tar Heels conceded a shock goal which would prove decisive. A weak cross into the UNC box was fumbled by Scott Goodwin and fell fortuitously for Indiana, who managed to head home on the second attempt. Goodwin probably should have done better with the cross, but I challenge anyone to find another error in his performances all season. It was cruel of fate that he should be the hero of the second round but be at fault for conceding a decisive goal in the fourth round.
The goal put some spark into the Heels, who attacked Indiana for the last 15 minutes of the game but came up dry. A saved Rob Lovejoy shot from a Garcia cross, a Jordan McCrary cross snatched in front of goal, and headers over the bar from Josh Rice and Rob Lovejoy all failed to equalize, but the Tar Heels had another two legitimate penalty claims denied after the 8oth minute. A defender climbed on top of Andy Craven in the 80th to clear a cross, and in the 85th Rob Lovejoy was bowled over off the ball, but no spot kicks for either challenge. Naturally, the Tar Heel fans were incensed, but their cries went unheard.
The Heels were unable to equalize before time was called, and thus game ended in defeat. The season is over with elimination from the NCAA Tournament.
Tar Heel fans will feel conspired against by fate. The combination of conceding a howler due to Scott Goodwin’s first real mistake all season, failing to capitalize on several great opportunities in front of goal, and being denied three penalties and a red card may have contributed to defeat, but the blame must still lie with the Heels. Though they could not have expected to concede under such circumstances, their control of the game and the imbalance in chances should have resulted in at least a draw, if not a win. But this is the nature of sport, and fans may be proud of the performance of the team this year. The Heels lost only 4 times, twice to Maryland, and shared the ACC regular season whilst making the ACC final and the NCAA round of eight.