Carlos Somoano’s North Carolina Tar Heels started off the 2018 season with a lot of goals: An ACC Title, a return to the College Cup, a long-awaited National Championship. Only one of their goals could be accomplished in the month of October: A fourth consecutive Coastal Division championship, which the Heels successfully locked up on Tuesday night. Doing so on the field of their arch-enemies had to have given this one an added sweetness.
The #5 Tar Heels overcame a tough challenge from the Blue Devils in a very even affair at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils had a few early probes at Carolina’s elite defense, but the Heels were never truly threatened by the Duke attack. The real challenge came in breaking down a stout defensive performance from the team from Durham. The Tar Heels only managed 8 shots all game, 4 of them on goal, with the eventual winner coming from a red-hot Jack Skahan in the 56th minute.
Midfielder Jeremy Kelly used a skillful series of moves to elude the otherwise dogged Blue Devil defenders around midfield and put in a long pass towards Skahan. It should have been dealt with, but the Blue Devil centerback collided with Skahan and both momentarily lost track of the ball. Skahan located it first and, more importantly, saw that Blue Devil keeper Will Pulisic had come forward off his line. One quick volleyed strike put the ball over Pulisic and into the net for a 1-0 Tar Heel lead. This is Skahan’s sixth goal on the season and his fifth in three games.
Giovanni Montesdeoca nearly doubled the lead one minute later when he used a dazzling series of jukes to freeze his man and fire a curving shot from the edge of the box, requiring a terrific save from Pulisic to keep it out. Nils Bruenig nearly had a goal of his own in the 80th minute on a headed shot off a Mauricio Pineda cross, but it just barely clipped over the bar. Skahan’s effort proved to be the difference.
The Tar Heels now head home with the Coastal title already secured, going into Friday’s matchup with #6 Virginia. The ACC Tournament begins next week, with the Tar Heels standing a chance of seeded anywhere from #1-3 in the tournament, depending on how they, Wake Forest, and Louisville end their finales.