In UNC’s first game at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, which will be their primary home stadium this season, the fourth-ranked Tar Heels looked right at home. In their second game of opening weekend, UNC raced past Rutgers, 6-1, for a 2-0 start to the season.
The standout performance of the game belonged to Jelani Pieters. He made his mark on the game early, drawing a penalty against the Scarlet Knights in the eighth minute after beating his defender into the goalkeeper’s area with an excellent display of class. Team captain David October converted his second penalty of the year to give the Heels an early lead, and the Heels never looked back. Two minutes later, Jeremy Kelley doubled the Tar Heel lead with a strike. Cam Lindley assisted him with a pass on a free kick that took the entire Rutgers defense by surprise.
The Heels had a hiccup after that with an own goal due to poor defensive spacing in the 17th minute, but that was as close as the game would get. After another Tar Heel goal in the 30th, this time from freshman Alex Rose on a tap-in off a missed shot, the score at halftime was 3-1.
At this point, Pieters decided to shut the door on the opposition instead of giving them a chance to recover a two-goal deficit like in the previous game. In short order, he picked up a brace with goals in the 51st and 61st minutes, the first off a gorgeous cross from Lindley and the second an empty-netter after the Rutgers goalkeeper got caught out of position. With the score at 5-1, the Heels gave their substitutes a chance to play. With 10 minutes remaining to play, the entire starting lineup except for goalie James Pyle had been subbed out
The action wasn’t done yet, though, as Andy Lopez found the back of the net from distance on what may or may not have been an attempt at a cross. This closed the scoring, and Carolina walked away with the 6-1 victory. Standouts included Pieters, with an assist to go with his brace, Lindley, with his two assists, and Rose, who put pressure on the goal throughout the game. Pieters was named ACC Co-Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in this and the previous game.
The Heels will take a trip to Wilmington for their next game, a match against UNCW on Saturday.