The best defense is a good offense. It's a saying as old as time itself. It's been attributed to master strategists like Sun Tzu (The Art of War), George Washington, and Niccolo Machiavelli. It is generally applied to combat, politics, and martial arts. It also applies to the 2017 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Tuesday night, the Tar Heels eviscerated a Winthrop team to record their seventh straight victory. They dominated so comprehensively that by the 80th minute, Head Coach Carolos Somoano subbed off Alec Smir. Alec Smir is the goalkeeper. I've racked my brain trying to recall a time a healthy goalkeeper in a shutout has been subbed out of a game. I couldn't do it. The 4-0 margin of victory is impressive. The 17-0 advantage in shots taken is downright staggering.
To be sure, Winthrop is no one's idea of a top team (the Eagles are now 2-6-1). But this offensive dominance has been a staple of Carolina all season long. The Heels have out-shot their opponents in nine of their ten matches, usually by a wide margin. They have scored at least two goals in all but one of their games. Their scoring rate through ten games surpasses both the 2001 and 2011 National Championship sides. They have 29 on the season, the most in all of college soccer.
Carolina is very much a tale of two teams. The defense is young, inexperienced, and at times inconsistent. The first few games of the season saw three different starting goalkeepers before the freshman Smir secured the regular assignment. Of the listed defenders on the squad, none are seniors and six are freshman. The win over Winthrop was the first time UNC hadn't been scored on in competitive play. The defense isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but they have conceded 11 goals already. Last year's Final Four squad gave up 15 all season.
But the offense. Oh, the offense. They're Manchester City. Another sky blue-clad well-oiled machine. Aguero, Jesus, Silva, De Bruyne? Meet Winn, Pieters, Wright, and Lindley.
Alan Winn is Sergio Aguero. Explosive veteran striker, missed the start of the season, now he's scoring goals at a red-hot pace. He was named National Player of the Week two weeks in a row in September. He has 7 goals in 7 matches.
Jelani Pieters is Gabriel Jesus. The younger striker who carried the scoring load in the early stages of the season, now he's part of the high scoring duo with his senior striking partner. He has 6 goals on the year.
Zach Wright is David Silva. The wily veteran who opens things up for his brilliant strikers. He has 7 assists on the season and scored his first goal on Tuesday.
Cam Lindley is Kevin de Bruyne. The playmaking savant for whom the sky is the limit. His season began with tremendous expectation (Hermann Trophy Watchlist) and he's lived up to the hype. He has 7 assists as well, to go with two goals.
That's not say that the Tar Heels are a four-man team. English-born Captain David October sets the tone in midfield, and has three goals of his own on the year. Chapel Hill-born sophomore Jeremy Kelly has two goals and two assists. Freshmen Lucas Del Rosario and Giovanni Montesdeoca have two goals and an assist each. Twelve Tar Heels in all have put a ball in the net this year, also most in the nation.
The Heels sit at 9-1 overall, 3-0 in the ACC. They are in sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division. Their next match comes Friday against NC State. It's a long road back to the Final Four, but if this offense keeps dazzling like it has and the defense is able to hold their own, this Carolina team has the potential to not only return, but to win the whole blessed thing. Perhaps in a manner no UNC men's team has done before.