The UNC defense has been shaky at times this season. This wasn’t helped earlier in the season with the rotation at goalkeeper, but Alec Smir seems to have secured the position, and now, UNC has gone from allowing a goal in every match to blanking two straight opponents.
They didn’t necessarily need to hold Winthrop scoreless, seeing as the team was able to score basically at will, but on Friday night, every bit of the defensive effort was necessary, as the Heels ground out a 1-0 win against the Wolfpack for coach Carlos Somoano’s 100th career win as a Tar Heel. Cam Lindley scored on a penalty late in the first half for the only score of the game, and a combination of offensive domination and late defensive stands kept NCSU from equalizing.
The first half was all UNC. The ball stayed in NC State’s half of the field for nearly the entire half, and the Pack could not keep possession for more than 60 seconds at any time. UNC put up seven shots in the half to NCSU’s none. The continuous offensive pressure culminated in a called foul against the Wolfpack in their own penalty box, which drew a yellow card in addition to giving the Heels the penalty that eventually won the game.
The NC State bench evidently disagreed with this decision and let the referees know about it, as they were shown a red card soon after the penalty was taken. Yes, the bench can be carded. Yes, that means that NCSU’s head coach had to leave the field of play. NC State lost a bit of its already scant composure at this point, but managed to tighten up the defense so that the last 10 minutes of the first half were fairly uneventful.
In the beginning of the second half, their unsteadiness started to show. Several fouls were called on NC State in the first five minutes after halftime, including another yellow card. The run of play continued to favor the Tar Heels, and a brilliant counterattacking run by Alan Winn ended with a Jelani Pieters shot doinking off the post in the 62nd minute. This might have deflated the Carolina attack a bit, because from that point, UNC only took one shot the rest of the game, and the ball started to spend more time on the Tar Heel side of the field.
NC State started to string together some quality possessions, and finally put their first shot on frame in the 80th minute, which was saved by Smir and then quickly followed by a header that Smir tipped over the crossbar. Smir’s final save came late in the game on a close-range shot, and once the ball was cleared from the area, the game was all but over.
Cam Lindley was the standout performer of the game, scoring UNC’s only goal and maintaining control of the middle of the field for the vast majority of the game, frequently dazzling with his footwork while dribbling and passing. Winn also had an excellent game, continuing his incredible September. He was the player taken down for the game-winning penalty, nearly had the assist to Pieters, and led the Heels with two shots on goal.
The defensive lineup as a whole had a solid day, dispossessing almost every NCSU attacker who came into their defensive third and allowing very few shots until the last 11 minutes. From that point on, Smir showed why he is now the permanent starting keeper, with all three of his saves having at least a moderate degree of difficulty.
Next week, the Heels will stay at home, first hosting James Madison before welcoming the #2 team in the country, Wake Forest, in a battle for ACC sovereignty.