Syracuse, N.Y. – The Tar Heels score one in the first half which proved to be enough despite a stronger second half effort from the Orange.
Coming into this ACC battle both sides were 0-1 in conference. Syracuse was coming off a heart breaker against the Blue Devils where Maggie Graham found the back of the net on a corner in the 89th minute. The Tar Heels also tasted a similar disappointment in their loss to current #2 Virginia. After leading 2-0 at the half North Carolina conceded three unanswered goals in the 2nd half to allow the Cavaliers to leave Chapel Hill with a win. The Tar Heels were the stronger side and outshot Virginia 13-6. This was their 2nd defeat of the season with the other coming at home against #1 UCLA.
The only common opponent between the Orange and Tar Heels so far is Duke who North Carolina played as a non-conference game and won 3-0. North Carolina was commanding in their win while Syracuse had a tale of two halves. They were the better side for all of the first half but needed more quality around goal. The halftime adjustments made by Duke were just too much and their relentless, well-conditioned attack were rewarded. Both sides come in with amble rest considering how chaotic the rest of the schedule gets so it was safe to expect the best from both of these sides. They did not disappoint.
This game started out all North Carolina. The weather made for a relatively sloppy 90 minutes as a whole, but the Tar Heels managed it better to start. In the early going they knew that getting balls on net as frequently as possible would lead to an eventual mistake to no fault of anyone on Syracuse. The way North Carolina play and the amount of talent they have makes it inevitable that they’ll control the ball more often than not which made it easier for them to execute.
One thing cannot be understated. Shea Vanderbosch was incredible. She made two very early saves in quick succession and would finish with a whopping 8 saves. Even that number doesn’t account for all the corners, set pieces and crosses she was pivotal in clearing.
The one mistake from Vanderbosch would come in the 32nd minute and would be the lone goal of the contest. The slippery ball got away from the Orange keeper and Tori Dellaperuta was there to put it in the back of the net. A goal did seem inevitable the way the Tar Heels were playing and how consistently they were able to keep the ball in their attacking third, but that was not the one Syracuse wanted to concede. Vanderbosch may beat herself up for that one but not only was it a product of the weather, she also played so well outside of that one mistake that it hardly takes away from her performance as a whole.
At the break Syracuse was getting outshot 10-3 and 4-0 in shots on target. While the Tar Heels certainly continued to get their chances, the Orange were far better in the 2nd half. They would put 3 of their 4 shots on frame and had another few chances that could have challenged the Tar Heel keeper. The Orange were finally able to connect their backline to their forwards and generate a menacing counterattack.
The key to this game was always going to be who managed the conditions better. In the first half it was North Carolina. In the 2nd half both teams tried to take advantage by playing lower, skipping balls near the goal.
The first Syracuse look of the half came from Maya McDermott in the 52nd minute when she got the ball on the right side of the box. She tried to beat the defender but ultimately ran out of room before she let the shot go and hit the side of the net. 6 minutes later Emmie Allen was forced to make a save after Erin Flurey took a shot from the top of the box. This was one of those chances that Allen made look easy but the spin and speed the ball picked up showed that Flurey had the right intention.
Avery Patterson let one fly for the Tar Heels in the 62nd minute that had some promise. The shot from outside the box was struck well and had the right spin, but she just could not get it to bend in time to challenge Vanderbosch.
After a bit of a stalemate Domond created a chance for the Orange. A mistake, one of few, from the North Carolina backline gave possession to Domond who played it to Machtens far post, but it was left just out of her reach. Bella Sember turned around for North Carolina just 3 minutes later and made Vanderbosch pick up another save. Avery Patterson continued the Tar Heel effort, but it was again Vanderbosch who turned her chance away.
Syracuse had two more chances, and both had serious potential to end up in the goal. The first came in the 85th when Blue Ellis put a low shot on goal that gained speed and bounced away from Allen. Just a second or two before it bounced away Chelsea Domond had pulled up her run, but had she continued she likely would have been onside for a chance at the equalizer. In the 88th Gianna Savella put her free kick practice on display and forced Emmie Allen to make an ESPN Top 10 worthy save. This ball was perfectly placed but the outstretched arms of the 5’ 11” Allen was just enough to get it over the bar and keep their lead.
Back-to-back 1-0 loses to top 5 opponents hurts. This team however should be more encouraged than ever. They competed with the very best the ACC has to offer. The only losses that the Tar Heels have are to the #1 and #2 teams in the country. To give a team like that a serious scare should be a point of pride. #2 Virginia and #14 Clemson are still on the Syracuse schedule but after seeing how this team played against Duke and North Carolina it would be no surprise if both sides are worried. The results are coming and, although no ACC game is an easy one, Miami has not looked as strong as the Tar Heels or Blue Devils. RPI currently places the Hurricanes at 34th in country and a win like that could provide some serious momentum to an already improved Orange side. That game will be played at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday and can be seen on ACCN Extra.