EAKES ATHLETIC COMPLEX/ BUIES CREEK—It looked like a mismatch. The No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels Men’s Soccer team, in the wake of last Friday’s draw with ACC rival Maryland, strolled into what figured to be a midweek tune-up against the Campbell Camels. The Tar Heels were undefeated on the young season, while Campbell had only one win out of four games.
But although UNC soundly defeated Campbell last season in Chapel Hill and led the all-time series between the schools 17-6-1, the Camels had actually won three of their last five meetings since 2006. Moreover, the last time the Tar Heels won in Buies Creek was Sept. 26, 2002. That streak ended last night, as an overtime goal by Raby George gave North Carolina a 1-0 victory over Campbell. It was the Tar Heels’ fourth overtime game in five matches this season.
The setup at Eakes Athletic Complex positions the press at the midfield scorer’s table approximately five feet from the touchline. The location forces you to be mindful of two things: errant balls and onrushing players who threaten to careen into your laptop computer, and mosquitos the size of, well, camels thwarted only with the help of a communal can of OFF!
It also provided a vantage point to observe a visibly frustrated Carlos Somoano. The Tar Heels’ head coach was peeved, among other things, at his team’s lack of potency in the attacking third throughout the first half. UNC dominated possession but struggled to combat a Camels defense bent on lying back and looking for intermittent counterattacks.
Indeed, Somoano and his players didn’t emerge from the locker room for the second half until after the halftime clock had already expired and Campbell was already on the field ready for play.
“I got a little emotional in there,” Somoano said. “I try not to be emotionally based, but sometimes it happens.”
North Carolina responded from their presumed tongue-lashing with renewed focus and vigor. However, their increased chances remained wanting. A promising free kick by George just outside the box in the 71st minute curled around the defensive wall but sailed a tad wide right.
Campbell’s best scoring opportunity came in the 72nd minute when a through ball ahead to streaking Jhuvon Francis gave the junior Jamaican with a one-on-one with UNC goalkeeper Brendan Moore. Francis’ short-range blast was blocked by Moore’s reflexive right arm to preserve his clean sheet.
The game dynamics altered in the 87th minute when UNC’s Jordan McCray—who was already carrying a yellow card—and Campbell’s Reafe Anderson became entangled along the UNC endline. Referee Daniel Fitzgerald rushed in and sent both player off with straight red cards.
Somoano, who was seen after the match still bending Fitzgerald’s ear over his decision, was disappointed by the referee’s harsh response.
“I saw only the tail end when Jordan got up and pushed him,” Somoano said. “They said Jordan got stomped on and then lashed back. I don’t think he should have gotten a straight red, but the linesman told me even if he got a yellow that would have been his second. And that’s probably a good point. I would have rather seen a yellow or nothing. Even in a college game I know some kids lose their emotions. But I think most of them are good-natured kids, and you try to not see red cards at these events.”
North Carolina nearly snagged a regulation victory in the 89th minute when a header by Omar Holness off a corner kick sailed mere inches wide of goal.
With both teams down to 10 men and in search of a golden goal, the overtime period was end-to-end action. A Camels header in the 93rd minute flew barely wide left. On the other end, a slow roller across the face of goal in the 94th failed to find the foot of any Tar Heel attackers.
Finally, in the 97th minute, a Tar Heels corner kick eventually landed at the feet of forward Josh Rice in the box. Rice’s blast was blocked by Camels keeper Ethan Hall, but George volleyed the loose orb back at goal. His shot deflected off Campbell defender Eduard Rodriguez and past Hall for the game winner.
“We were trying to press up in overtime,” George said. “Josh gets a shot, it’s a deflection, and I took it on volley and it went in the goal.”
There was some debate pitch-side whether the score was an own goal. To the chagrin of at least one Campbell assistant coach, the official scorer ruled that it was a goal by George. Indeed, it appeared that George’s shot was on-target and only misdirected by the defender.
Somoano, who credited Campbell’s performance afterwards, analogized Tuesday’s match to the James Madison loss last season, another midweek nonconference road game sandwiched between two weekend conference matches. The difference, of course, is that UNC found a way to win this year.
“Midweek [games] between ACC games are always tough psychologically,” Somoano explained. “We try to, I guess, brainwash our guys into thinking that there’s no big games, there’s no little games. Every game is an opportunity to get better and compete.”
That next big game is this Friday, when North Carolina (3-0-2, 0-0-2 ACC) travels to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels return to Fetzer Field next Tuesday, Sept. 24 to host William & Mary, which defeated then top-ranked Creighton last Friday. Meanwhile, Campbell (1-4-0, 1-0-0 Big South) travels to UNC-Charlotte this Saturday and UNC-Wilmington the following Tuesday.
“I think we underestimated [Campbell],” George admitted, “which we can’t do because everyone in America is a good team and we have to go out and perform every game. This was a step back, and we just have to do a better job in practice now and hit the road to Virginia and do much better than we did today.”