The North Carolina women’s soccer team made its first try of the NCAA Tournament Saturday with a 5-0 win over Old Dominion.
Afterwards, the Tar Heels will return to Dorrance Field to face Georgia on Thursday night. The Bulldogs, who are the No. 7 seed in the region, enter the matchup after their earlier 2-0 win over Samford.
Since every game is a can’t-miss scenario for the Tar Heels, here are some keys to success for the next contest:
Build a “Sophisticated Attack”
After a 2-1 loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game, head coach Anson Dorrance urged his players to diversify their offense and play with less predictability. In their win over Old Dominion, the Tar Heels appeared to take this message to heart, as four different players found the back of the net.
Throughout much of the season, North Carolina demonstrated the ability to have these kinds of offensive outbursts, evident in the team’s eight regular season outings with three goals or more. However, this success has often resulted in opponents fielding several walls of defenders, which has sometimes hampered the creativity of the team up top.
If the Tar Heels hope to break down a Georgia defense that ranks 24th nationally with 0.66 goals allowed per game, All-ACC forwards Avery Patterson and Ally Sentnor will need help from the cast of support.
First-year forward Maddie Dahlien, who has made several starts this season, has embraced her new weapon role off the bench and contributed a goal immediately after entering Saturday’s contest. Using her speed in the right wing position, she has the ability to be a playmaker on the outside, which should allow for more scoring chances for others inside the box.
Dominate the midfield
The Tar Heels suffered a major blow during their matchup against the Monarchs when it was revealed that First Team All-ACC junior center fielder Sam Meza would be missing time with a stress fracture. While North Carolina pulled away with ease, it may not be as easy against more challenging opponents, especially with Meza’s status still unknown.
Throughout his career, Meza was the centerpiece of the Tar Heels’ strong midfield unit. As perhaps the team’s most dynamic dribbler and passer, her creativity is essential in creating goal-scoring chances. At the same time, her defensive effort has also helped a defensive line that has been dealing with its own injuries.
In his absence, Talia DellaPeruta started in her place and was effective on both sides of the ball. The Georgia junior made 25 appearances in her three seasons at Chapel Hill, so she’s proven to be a more than reliable option should Meza hold on once again.
Stay strong on the defensive
After a midseason stretch that saw the team allow six goals over four games, North Carolina’s defense has mostly regained its early season form to become productive over time.
Since October 6, the Tar Heels have kept every team aside from Florida State off the board. While the two goals surrendered to the Seminoles in the ACC championship seemed to mark a setback, holding Old Dominion to just four shots and a corner kick attempt signaled a slight recovery.
North Carolina’s backline, led by All-ACC First-Team senior selection Tori Hansen, will be tasked with slowing Georgia’s Dani Murguia, who leads the Bulldogs with eight goals.
Murguia has now scored in three consecutive games, so he will arrive at Chapel Hill carrying a surge of momentum. For UNC to progress to the next round, marking her closely and letting other players create their own offense will be a top priority.
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