After suffering some early setbacks, both North Carolina soccer squads have rediscovered their usual scintillating form over the last couple weeks. Both Carlos Samoano and Anson Dorrance’s sides head into the weekend on win streaks and stretches of terrific defensive dominance. Here is how things stand between the touchlines for both teams:
The #3 Tar Heels (6-1) come into their Friday matchup with Clemson riding a five-game win streak. Since its disappointing loss to Indiana, UNC has outscored its opponents 12-2 and has developed quite the clutch gene.
Two of Carolina’s last three matches have ended in overtime and featured game-winning goals, one by Milo Garvanian and the other from Giovanni Montesdeoca. Montesdeoca was just named ACC Offensive Player of the Week due in large part to his late winner against Notre Dame last Friday. He, along with Nils Breunig and Mauricio Pineda, has scored three goals on the year. Breunig and Pineda are Carolina’s overall points leaders by virtue of two assists apiece in addition to the three goals.
However, it’s Carolina’s defense that has been the story early this year. Long renowned for offensive prowess, Carlos Samoano has constructed a team that has been very strong defensively thus far, allowing just three goals in 7 matches and never allowing more than one in any game. Credit for this largely goes to veteran centerback Alex Comsia and his unit: Goalkeeper James Pyle has been steady in goal, but has only needed to make 10 saves on the entire season. How the defense holds up against heavy hitters like Wake Forest once ACC play begins will be a strong indicator of whether or not the Heels are capable of making a run at a third consecutive College Cup.
UNC takes on Clemson at 7:00 pm on Friday at WakeMed Stadium in Cary.
Like the men’s team, Anson Dorrance’s squad also suffered some early season disappointments. Back-to-back road losses to Santa Clara and Stanford made for a painful weekend in California three weeks ago. But there’s small shame in that: Stanford and Santa Clara are currently both ranked in the Top 5. Since then, #3 UNC (8-2-1) has bounced back fabulously and has a signature win on its resume.
The Heels snapped their losing streak in spectacular fashion by beating 2nd-ranked Florida State on its home field. They’ve followed it up with conference wins over Pitt and Clemson over the last ten days. They now look forward to Louisville on Saturday, in what will be a battle between two of the three remaining unbeaten teams in the ACC. Both squads are 3-0 in conference play.
The Heels are led in points by freshman midfielder and Durham native Brianna Pinto, who has three goals and an assist to her name. Other key contributors have been Taylor Otto and Bridgette Andrzejewski at forward and Julia Ashley as a playmaking defender. Last year’s breakout star Alessia Russo has tallied three assists and a goal, while leading the team in shots with a whopping 27 (14 on target).
On defense, there’s been quite the goalkeeping battle brewing, with veteran Samantha Leshnak and freshman Claudia Dickey exchanging the starting job. Leshnak started Carolina’s first nine matches, but Dickey has started the last two. It’s not as lopsided as it looks, though: Leshnak has logged 540 minutes in goal to Dickey’s 471. It will be interesting to see how Dorrance utilizes both keepers in big matches and later on in the postseason.
The Heels next play Louisville on Saturday at 12:30 pm in Cary.