The opportunities were there for North Carolina men’s soccer team Friday night against Marshall. The goals were not. The Tar Heels fell 1-0 to the Thundering Herd in the NCAA Tournament College Cup semifinals.
Marshall advanced to Monday’s national title game to face the winner of No. 2 Pittsburgh and No. 3 Indiana. The Herd (12-2-3) are trying to become the first unseeded since UC-Santa Barbara in 2006 to win it all.
The Heels (9-5-4) wrapped up their season in which all five of their losses were by 1-0 scores. Defensively, they played well enough to win the game.
“We tried to figure out ways to be more efficient in front of the goal, but we weren’t a prolific scoring this team this year,” said UNC coach Carlos Somoano. “That is not to say that we didn’t have great players that left it out there. It just wasn’t something that was characteristic of this year’s team.”
Marshall hadn’t been credited for any shots on goal, but it made its first one count. The Herd attack was set up by a back heel kick from Vinicius Fernandes, who had his back to the goal and caught Carolina’s defender by surprise.
Milo Yusef then made an entry pass into the box where Victor Dias’ dummy set Jamil Roberts up with only UNC goalkeeper Alec Smir to beat. Robert’s slipped it past Smir in the 60th minute for the game’s only goal.
Or at least, the only goal that counted.
Carolina thought it tied the game in the 87th minute when senior forward Alex Rose battled for a header to keep the ball inbounds on the left side of the goal. Jonathan Jimenez then pushed the ball past Marshall goal keeper Oliver Semmie and the Heels’ brief celebration turned despair quickly when a referee indicated the ball Rose thought he saved was out of bounds.
“One of those moments where we’d love to have VAR (video assistant referee),” Somoano said. “I don’t know. I mean, maybe it was clearly out. I tell you what, looking at the replay on the big screen there it was pretty close. If it wasn’t out we were unlucky, if it was out then we didn’t deserve to score.”
There were plenty of other shots that Carolina wished it could replay. Twice the Tar Heels nearly punched it over Semmie only to come up empty.
UNC striker Giovanni Montesdeoca had a shot in the 64th minute that hit the top of the crossbar. Pickering hit a blast from about 30 yards out that Semmie managed to tip over the goal in the 80th minute.
“Sometimes you get one shot and win the game,” Montesdeoca said. “But at the same time, we had opportunities that we should have pounced on and we didn’t.”
Carolina’s loss was characterized by its missed opportunities. The Heels dominated possession in the first half, with six of their 11 total shots, but could not capitalize. They also finished with eight corner kicks to Marshall’s 0.
Some of the credit has to go to Semmie, who finished with five saves. Marshall coach Chris Grassie believed Semmie was snubbed from inclusion on all-region and all-American awards.
“I dont know what these people are looking at,” Grassie said. “Becasue he is clearly the best goalkeeper in the country.”
Grassie didn’t think too much of Carolina having a home field advantage playing so close to Chapel Hill. The Herd brought a lively contingent who were loud and involved all game. Grassie said he couldn’t hear UNC’s fans “at all.”
“We weren’t concerned about them, the Herd Nation traveled,” Grassie said. “We made this place our own, we’ll make our own again on Monday. It felt like a home field for us. And we performed like the team with the history and they didn’t.”
The Heels kept the pressure on Semmie in the final 20 minutes with a free kick from Santiago Herrera that sailed over the goal and one from Milo Garvanian that would give way to a corner kick that didn’t produce anything.
And in the 81 minute Herrera missed placing a ball to Montesdeoca right in front of the goal in yet another potential chance to tie that UNC came away empty.
“One of the guys put their legs out and I tried to react to it,” Montesdeoca said. “I take fault in that. I should have done better with that in putting that away.”