ELON – No. 4 Carolina men's soccer officially got the season underway with a 4-2 win over Providence at Elon Universiy's Rudd Field on Friday night.
The Tar Heels took a 2-0 lead and looked to cruise against the Friars after first-half goals from freshman John Nelson and sophomore Cam Lindley. But Providence clawed back, and defensive lapses late in the first half allowed the Friars to tie the score headed into the break.
"What we talked about mainly at halftime was, we bail each other out," said sophomore forward Jelani Pieters. "One guy makes a mistake, we bail him out. And we did that in the second half."
Pieters was part of an emphatic answer in the second stanza, as he scored the go-ahead goal off his head from Zach Wright. Well, Pieters was credited with the goal; it certainly took a funny angle into the net. "I got a little touch from the defender," he said with a smile. "I like to think it skimmed my hair a little bit. I heard they're giving it to me, so I'll happily take it."
The game got more physical as time wore on; the teams combined for five yellow cards, and senior David October scored the Tar Heels' insurance goal of of a penalty kick in the 86th minute. These teams are familiar with one another as they met in the NCAA quarterfinals a year ago, with the Tar Heels prevailing.
"When there are two good opponents, there's always going to be tension, but I think it's important to stay calm, play our game and let us do us. We try not to worry about the other team. Just go out there and try to do what we can do, and that's play good soccer," Pieters said. "As a team, it's important for us to keep our heads. A couple of us lost our heads, but a couple more of us came in level-headed and were able to get the guys away, end the game and get away with a win."
Senior forward Alan Winn sat out Friday night's game to rest a sore back, and the Tar Heels turned to John Nelson to provide a spark on the left wing. The freshman made his presence felt early, as he opened the scoring in the 15th minute and pushed the pace for the duration of his time up front. For Carolina, it's comforting to know that they have at least two first-year sparkplugs in Nelson and Alex Rose who can step in and impose pace on opponents.
This weekend presents a quick, tough turnaround for the Tar Heels as they host Rutgers in Cary on Sunday. But the test that Providence provided served two important purposes: it got the season started off with a win and it gave Carlos Somoano and his coaching staff a lot to work on.
"Providence, clearly, is a very good team, so we had to dig down deep to get a positive result tonight," Somoano said. "We did very well at times, but we have a whole lot to work on, and the great thing about playing a Providence is we did get a good result, but they also exposed a lot of the things that we need to get better at, so we'll take that a positive that they were able to show some of the things that we're able to work on and do better next time out."