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UNC Men’s Soccer: Two Big Tests to End Conference Play

The division-leading Tar Heels will finish ACC against second-place Duke and third-place Virginia.

NCAA Soccer: Men’s College Cup-North Carolina vs Stanford Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The #5 North Carolina Tar Heels are on the brink of yet another ACC Coastal Division Championship. This would be the fourth such title under head coach Carlos Somoano and the second in three years. But before the Tar Heels can celebrate, they will have to overcome two major hurdles against top-tier competition.

First, an update: The Tar Heels were dealt their first ACC defeat of the year on October 12th by NC State. It was a gut-wrenching affair in which the Heels dominated the run of play, outshooting the Wolfpack 18-2. The Pack managed only one shot on goal all night, but it proved to be the game-winner, ending the Tar Heels’ winning streak and handing them a 1-0 defeat.

Since then, UNC has bounced back, routing Winthrop 4-0 last Tuesday night, and getting a dramatic victory on the road against Boston College, courtesy of two late goals from Nils Bruenig and Jack Skahan. The Heels are now 11-2-1 (5-1) and still control their destiny in ACC regular season play.

Carolina can wrap up the Coastal crown tonight with a win at #14 Duke. The Blue Devils are 4-2 in conference play and can rip the advantage away from the Tar Heels if they can get the victory on their home field. The Blue Devils are led by the goal-scoring Daniele Proch, who has 11 on the year, and playmaker Kristofer Gardarsson, who leads the team with 5 assists. In goal is Will Pulisic, younger brother of USMNT and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic.

A Carolina win would clinch the title, but if they fall to the Blue Devils, they’ll need to knock off #6 Virginia in their season finale at home. The Cavaliers are 3-2-1 in conference play, courtesy of a thrilling defeat to #1 Wake Forest in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers took a 2-1 lead in the 73rd minute and looked to be headed to a defining victory, when the high-scoring Demon Deacons scored goals in the 77th and 78th minutes to rip the game away and stun the Wahoos. The Cavaliers play Notre Dame tonight, then will turn their sights to the Tar Heels.

Virginia, like Carolina, sports an elite defense, so far allowing 9 goals on the season (THAT’S how good Wake Forest is btw; they scored three goals against one of the top defenses in the country). On offense, they are led by Cabrel Kamseu and Nathaniel Crofts, while Colin Shutler is a steady hand in goal.

The Tar Heels kick off against Duke tonight at 7:00 pm. You can catch the action on ESPNU.