Good News, Bad News, and Pride: Week Two Soccer Notebook

There are a number of ways to look at a 1-0 win. There can be dismay over not scoring as many goals as a team might be capable of; joy for holding opponents scoreless; or pride for gritting out a close game.

After No. 4 North Carolina women’s soccer’s 1-0 win over No. 23 Central Florida (0-2) on Sunday, head coach Anson Dorrance – a man of nuance – chose all of the above.

First, the bad. After UNC (3-0-1) tied 1-1 against No. 21 Texas (2-0-1) Wednesday, Dorrance chalked up his team’s poor finishing in that game (1 goal on 20 attempts) to fatigue from three games in seven days. Tar Heel forward Taylor Otto shrugged it off, saying “it’s soccer, it happens” as UNC dove into two practices before facing the Golden Knights.

But when the Tar Heels squandered five legitimate goal-scoring opportunities in the first 15 minutes of Sunday’s game, it was clear to Dorrance that finishing in the final third is still “a piece missing” for this UNC team.

“Trust me, we didn’t improve finishing,” Dorrance said after the game. “That box certainly wasn’t checked. It’s not that we can’t finish those, we just gotta be a little more composed and mature in our finishing choices.”

Otto, the lone goal scorer against Texas, redeemed the Tar Heels’ offense against UCF in the 16th minute with a rebound tap-in off Rachael Dorwart’s shot. Otto now leads UNC with two goals, but even she missed a golden opportunity to score on Sunday when she turned down an open shot to pass to Bridgette Andrzejewski who was offsides.

“We’re getting ourselves in good positions,” Otto said. “We’re creating a lot of opportunities which is a really good positive, but we really need to start finishing. I think later in the season it’s gonna be vital to finish. I don’t think we’re gonna get as many chances as we’re more worn out and the time goes on, so when we get those one or two chances we gotta bury them.”

Now, the good. Otto’s 16th minute goal was all UNC needed on Sunday thanks to the Tar Heels’ best defensive performance of the young season. The game against Texas started as poorly as possible when defender Brooke Bingham errantly passed the ball right to Cyera Hintzen who finished her chance to give Texas a 1-0 lead just 72 seconds into the game. The defense responded to its second-minute mistake, holding Texas scoreless for the final 108 minutes and then shutting out UCF on Sunday.

Bingham bounced back against UCF with multiple blocked shots. She, Julia Ashley, and Lotte Wubben-Moy all played all 200 minutes between the two games, keeping the Longhorns and Knights in check. After Wednesday’s draw, Ashley talked about improving communication and on Sunday, Wubben-Moy said she noticed the back line gelling as it gets more time together.

“You could see that we knew the movements that each other were going to make,” Wubben-Moy said. “We’re building relationships all over the pitch but definitely in the back four. If we can verbally and physically build out of the back, it’s invaluable and it sets the whole tempo for the team.”

Otto and freshman forward Brianna Pinto contributed to the defensive effort on Sunday, keying the Tar Heels’ high-pressing defense. That press defines Dorrance’s strategy and allows UNC to control the game. With it, the Tar Heels can send wave after wave to harass and exhaust their opponents, much like they did on Sunday to UCF.

“My front line defended like there was no tomorrow,” Dorrance said. “If we’re gonna become an elite team that presses for 90 minutes, the press is a critical part of our personality but also will be a critical part of our success. That was the biggest improvement.”

Otto has been playing forward for the first time since high school and quickly latched onto UNC’s trademark defense. She, Pinto, and Andrzejewski pushed UCF’s defense back multiple times, forcing turnovers in dangerous areas.

“We’re doing a really great job of making sure our line is high and making sure we’re not late,” she said. “I think if we keep going as a team, the press is just gonna get better and better.”

The offense has been inconsistent, but the scoring will come. Last season’s leading scorer Alessia Russo will return from representing England in the Under-20 World Cup for next weekend’s Nike Classic at Duke, bringing a scoring touch to the UNC front three.

After an unbeaten home stand against three ranked teams (Ohio State, Texas, and UCF), the Tar Heels are far from a finished product, but they know both their strengths and which areas still need work.

Stock Photo from Caleb Jones