The UNC Tar Heels fought hard, but ultimately couldn’t break through a stout Oregon State back line in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, falling 1-0 to end quite a roller coaster of a season. Dante Williams’ goal in the 36th minute was the difference for the Beavers, who will advance to their first ever College Cup after defeating three straight national seeds on the road.
It was a tough game for UNC, who seemed to have turned an offensive corner in the postseason. They had scored two or more goals in all but two of their postseason games, but in this one, chances in the attacking third were few and far between as the Beavers seemed to outnumber them every time they got near the box. The Heels only managed two shots in the first half and didn’t possess the ball much, and after a sustained run of possession by the Beavers that included one shot glancing off the post, Williams got on the end of a cross and lofted it into the back of the net. The Heels managed to reverse the run of play to open the second half, creating a couple of chances including a shot off the post of their own and UNC’s only shot on goal of the entire game, off the foot of Ahmad Al-Qaq.
The Beavers settled down a little bit after that and the well dried up for both teams save for a couple of breakaway opportunities for OSU that were snuffed out by Andrew Cordes. With things getting desperate in the last 10 minutes, the Heels, led by Andrew Czech on the right flank, started advancing the ball and earning corners, but the Beavers kept blocking shots and getting timely clearances without troubling keeper Luis Castillo.
UNC’s two offensive stars, Quenzi Huerman and Martin Vician, had easily their quietest games in some time. Vician had an early shot opportunity in the box after boxing out his defender to get on the end of a pass, but that defender got enough body on Vician that he went down as his shot went well wide of the post, with no penalty given. Huerman made a few things happen, but ended with just one shot attempt. He left the game early in the second half with an apparent knee injury, but returned not too long after. His most notable moment came late in the game, when an altercation with an Oregon State player away from the ball ended with him lightly pushing his opponent backwards, his opponent flopping to the ground, and, after a VAR check, giving Huerman an incredibly soft red card in the 86th minute. Even playing a man down, the Heels made a couple more stabs at goal, but they unfortunately came up empty, and the final result was a frustrating 1-0 loss.
It’s worth saying that this ended up a pretty successful and very above-expectations season for this UNC team, who were coming off an incredibly disappointing 2022 and picked to finish fourth in the Coastal this year. Through heavy use of the transfer portal, head coach Carlos Somoano retooled his roster, found two of UNC’s best sources of offense since 2017 in Huerman and Vician — for a team that after last year badly needed scoring — and, after an initial few draws that maybe should have been wins, this team got a huge win against Duke and established itself as among college soccer’s best teams, especially on defense and in goal, in the middle and end of the season. Nearly every team ends a season disappointed, but these Heels gave us some good matches before running into one of the hottest teams in the country.