UNC goalkeeper Scott Goodwin

FETZER FIELD/CHAPEL HILL—Following last week’s nil-nil draw with Wake Forest, North Carolina men’s soccer coach Carlos Somoano sounded the part of winner, pleased with the outcome of a hard-fought, well-played conference clash.

After this Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers (4-3-1, 1-1-0 ACC) in Chapel Hill, Somoano saw things a bit differently.

“These teams [we are playing] are good teams, and you can either manipulate the ball through them or you can’t. And we’re struggling with that. Our decisions are not great and we’ve got to get better. I actually thought last week against Wake [Forest] we did OK. I thought we played better than we played tonight.”

After a back and forth first half, the lone score came in the 47th minute when Danny Garcia played a short through ball ahead to a streaking Andy Craven. Craven gathered his dribble and drove straight at Wahoos goalkeeper Spencer LaCivita before uncorking a seeing eye blast that dissected LaCivita’s legs on its way into the net.

“Josh [Rice] collected the free kick…and Danny Garcia collected the loose ball and found me through,” Craven recalled. “He’s our leading assist guy, so I’m ready to pounce on anything whenever he gets the ball. It was just good timing and great vision from them, and I just put [the ball] through the keeper’s legs.”

A tight win over a conference foe—which brought a sizable and vocal contingent with them from Charlottesville—should always been savored. What’s more, senior UNC goalkeeper Scott Goodwin became the school’s career leader in shutouts, registering the 29th clean sheet of his career to surpass Michael Ueltschey’s previous record.

However, this game was also the exaggerated epitome of a troubling trend running through Carolina’s early-season games. In soccer, it’s not uncommon for a team to collect more fouls than shot attempts in a game. However, Carolina and Virginia combined for fewer shot attempts (16) than the number of fouls committed by either team individually—23 against North Carolina and 18 against Virginia— to go along with five second-half yellow cards. What’s more, this is the fourth Tar Heels match this season (out of seven total) in which neither side tallied more shots than fouls.

Somoano had his own thoughts about this particular game.

“We were getting fouled a lot in the first half, and [the referee] should have been called them. Then in the second half, for some reason, I think he tried to let it go. Maybe he felt bad that he called too many fouls, and once he started letting it go that’s when [the game] got out of hand.”

Still, it is more than arguable that the rules of college soccer also play their part. The combination of a hard, countdown clock coupled with a relaxed substitution system that affords coaches the ability to decrease the chance that a repeat offender will reach an ejection for multiple bookings can foster an atmosphere of time wasting and negative play.

Or, maybe it’s the ref’s fault.

“We won 1-0, so I’ll take it,” Somoano said. “We didn’t perform particularly well, and it was a physical game. Those are tough games to referee, and I think it didn’t help that, in my opinion, [the referee] lost a little bit of the focus. But we didn’t crack, we stayed very solid but we have a lot of things to work on.”

North Carolina (5-1-1, 2-0-1 ACC) returns to play on Tuesday, Sept. 25 when it hosts Wofford—kickoff is 7 p.m. at Fetzer Field. The Tar Heels travel to Durham to take on Duke next Friday, Sept. 28.