UNC Men's and Women's Soccer both face big tests this weekend, as their (intended) Road Back to the Final Four continues. Both teams have already faced some adversity early in the season, having suffered some tough losses, but victories this weekend against an old rival and a new one could have major implications for their ACC campaigns. Here are two match-ups you're not gonna want to miss:
Men's Soccer: vs #23 Duke, Saturday, 7:00 pm
The Tar Heels are now ranked tenth in the nation, having rattled off 3 straight wins after their loss to UNC-Wilmington. Their latest win came 3-2 against William and Mary, behind two goals from senior Alan Winn. The Tribe gave the Heels a strong fight and left them with a few questions to address before squaring off with the Blue Devils, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Heels have now conceded a goal in every competitive match so far this season and when their revolving door of goalkeepers will grind to a halt is anyone's guess.
The positive takeaway for UNC is that, loss to UNCW excepted, the offense has been clicking. Through six games, the Heels have scored 17 goals, all of them assisted, and have spread the wealth around. Jelani Pieters has led the Heels in scoring with 4 goals to go with two assists, preseason Hermann Trophy candidate Cam Lindley has been brilliant thus far, scoring twice and tallying five assists already. Alan Winn's brace on Wednesday gives him three goals on the year and senior Zach Wright has three assists.
The Blue Devils come in unbeaten and ranked in the top 25 for the first time in two years. The Blue Devils (4-0-1) have played their first five games at home. This is technically their first road game, but the game will be played at McPherson Stadium in Bryan Park, not in Chapel Hill or even at the Heel's temporary home in Cary. The Blue Devils are largely untested and the Heels will be the prohibitive favorites to deal the Blue Devils another defeat.
Women's Soccer: vs #16 Florida State, Sunday, 1:00 pm
"On the road again..." The Tar Heels will play their sixth straight game away from home, temporary or not, when they visit the Seminoles in Tallahassee. The Heels have had a few stumbles in the last month, with the surprising early season loss to Central Florida in late August and two weeks ago against 5th-ranked Penn State. The good news? That is now behind them and a grueling ACC schedule begins.
The Tar Heels have been led so far by strong midfield play by senior Joanna Boyles and junior Dorian Bailey. Boyles has tallied three goals (a couple of which have been absolute class) as well as a pair of assists. Her deadball strikes and crosses are always dangerous and she'll be a key player going forward if Carolina's offense is to really get rolling. Bailey leads the team with three assists to go with two goals of her own. Both were particularly effective during the Heels' 5-0 rout of Auburn at the Duke Nike Classic.
Preseason Hermann Trophy candidate Bridgette Andrzejewkski has had to deal with the agony of having 11 shots on goal so far this season and seeing only one of them find the net. Her attacking form has been strong nonetheless and once she inevitably starts putting away her chances, both she and the Heels will really take off. On the defensive side of the ball, Goalkeeper Samantha Leshnak has put in several clutch performances, particularly in the overtime thriller against Duke to open the season. She'll be needed on Sunday if the Tar Heels are to come away with a win in Tallahassee.
Getting the W on the Seminoles' home field will take some doing. The last four years in particular, the Noles have become the Tar Heels true rival in ACC play, purely on the basis of merit, not history. There's even a legitimate case to be made that Florida State, not Carolina, is currently the true power in the ACC, a statement that would have been utterly absurd just a few years ago.
But there's no arguing with the numbers. The Seminoles are the four-time defending ACC Champions, the last of which came at the Tar Heels' expense in a gut-wrenching penalty shootout. The Seminoles won their first National Championship in 2014, two years after the Tar Heels won their last. The Seminoles are favored to win the ACC this year and had four players named to the Preseason All-ACC team to Carolina's two. Outside of Anson Dorrance, FSU coach Mark Krikorian has accomplished as much as any head coach in Women's Soccer since taking over the FSU program in 2005. Carolina has a true, long-term rival in the ACC for the first time in program history.
The Seminoles are led by all-world striker Deyna Castellanos. The Venezuelan forward broke every record in the book playing for her country's U-17 team, and put together a fantastic freshman season last year. She's picked right up where she left off, with 8 goals already on the year. She's been virtually unstoppable and represents the best player the UNC defense has faced so far this year.
Castellanos has been supported by solid play from second-leading goalscorer Megan Connolly (another projected All-ACC player) and freshman defender Clara Robbins, who leads the team in assists. The Noles only blemish was an upset away loss to Alabama. But they righted the ship by thrashing Kentucky 4-0 at home. They will be eagerly anticipating the Heels' arrival.