CARY— Cam Lindley couldn't wait to play NC State. The Carolina midfielder missed his chance at the Wolfpack a year ago, when Hurricane Hermine swept through the Triangle and postponed, and eventually canceled, the game. And so the sophomore was chomping at the bit to get a bite of the Pack.
"It's a rivalry," he said. "It's different than Duke. It's a lot different than I thought it was. We get after each other. It's something that I want to be a part of for the next three years and hopefully be on the winning side, every single year."
He made the most of his opportunity Friday night, playing all 90 minutes and helping dictate pace from the midfield. The turf was tilted toward the Tar Heels' goal in the first 45, with the Wolfpack seemingly content to pack in the defense and try for the occasional run-out, never really possessing the ball and thusly never mounting a serious counter-attack. But when Tar Heel senior forward Alan Winn was pulled down in the box late in the period, Lindley scored on the penalty to net the game's only goal.
Senior captain David October is typically the player assigned to take penalty kicks, but with him off the field, it was up to Lindley.
"Carlos tells me to go to my strength," he said. "We practice it, me and David October, we pick our spots and we hit it there every single time. I had my spot picked, and I think if [NC State keeper Leon Krapf] would have went that way, I still would have scored it. That's how we think and I didn't even look at him, I just put it in the back of the net."
But the 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year isn't just on the field to pick up stats; he's a vocal presence on a team with multiple leadership styles, and he steps up for his teammates. When Winn was pushed down again late in the match, it was Lindley who had his back.
"The guys kind of look to me," Lindley said afterward. "I'm the vocal guy on the field, as I'm sure you can tell. The guys respect me. We have a great leader in David October, but Alex Comsia and myself are kind of the guys next to him, and that's my job to step in and say those things. Guys look to me. Guys respect me. If I play well, they usually play well, and if I push hard, they're going to push hard. If I step up and I say something, they know that 'Cam's got my back,' and that's important to show the rest of the team."
"Cam, he's an interesting cat," Tar Heel head coach Carlos Somoano said. "You're not going to find too many sophomore captains or leaders, but I think the reality with Cam is, his vision, or concept or ideas for the game are exceptional for somebody his age. They're exceptional for any player of any age. He's gifted in that regard, and he's got the personality and the will, so it's a nice combination, so having him have that confidence to express himself, I also have confidence in him to allow him to express himself. He's just got an unusual, crazy, witty sense for the game that you certainly don't see every day."
Carolina played NC State at WakeMed Soccer Park in front of an official attendance of 3,206. It was a terrific atmosphere, Friday Night Lights of a different kind. Competing with high school football and even a college football game in Durham, the soccer match drew fans who packed the stands, then one side of the bleachers, then another. They sat 15 deep on the berm just outside the stadium gates, and they crowded the concourse as well. It was an outstanding showing for a team making its home away from home in Cary this season, and a credit to the soccer culture in the Triangle.
"It was unbelievable. I couldn't hear myself think tonight. That's one of the first times that I've had that this year. To look off and see both hills filled, it gives you chills. It shows that the Triangle is a great soccer area and it's going to continue to grow, and if Carolina keeps winning games, it's always a good thing for the area."
And Somoano was quick to credit the fans who have trekked east with the Tar Heels down 40 and 54 from Chapel Hill. "I do appreciate every Tar Heel fan that came out and made that atmosphere," he said, "because this year has been unique and a challenge for us to have anybody here. Every person that comes to any game here is behind us and makes a difference, so all I can say is thank you to the fans that came out to support us."
•Somoano was presented with a '100' jersey following Friday's win, as it was his 100th as a head coach. "That was pretty cool, because obviously it was a bit of a surprise," he said. Somoano expressed appreciation for the administrators, coaches and staff that have helped him along the way, but he said that he was never striving for a certain number of wins in his career. "I don't know how to put it," he said, Somoanoily. "I don't coach to accumulate wins; I coach to help our student-athletes achieve their goals, and I can say that with 100 percent sincerity and confidence. I just want to see these guys enjoy their experience and love playing and representing Carolina."
•Tar Heel goalkeeper Alec Smir registered the team's (and his) second consecutive shutout. The freshman's three saves preserved the clean sheet.