CARY, N.C.—Fourth-ranked North Carolina scored a go-ahead goal with 3:13 remaining in the second half and held off a furious final charge from the eighth-ranked Blue Devils to earn a 2-1 victory in the ACC Men’s Soccer Semifinal tonight at WakeMed Soccer Park. The Tar Heels advance to the ACC Championship game with the win.
Duke falls to 10-6-2 overall and will await its selection in the NCAA Tournament field. North Carolina improves to 14-2-1.
It was a thrilling final four minutes of the game that included two goals in a span of 29 seconds as well as two fantastic efforts in the final 90 seconds from the Blue Devils.
After the Tar Heels led for 69:38, ACC Rookie of the Year Issa Rayyan equalized for the Blue Devils with 3:42 remaining in regulation. The Duke speedster got open in the box and capitalized on a deflection that fell to his feet and put it away for his fifth goal of the year.
The excitement, however, was short-lived as North Carolina responded 29 seconds later on a Jelani Pieters individual effort off the restart for what proved to be the game-winner. Pieters dribbled down the left side and took a chance and got a fortuitous deflection to beat Duke goalkeeper Will Pulisic.
“I think we weren’t organized and we got caught out of position in maybe thinking we were going to get a second goal for the 2-1 win,” said head coach John Kerr. “Jelani Pieters is fast and he made a good move to go inside and cut back to his left and an unfortunate deflection to go over Will’s [Pulisic] head.”
The Blue Devils didn’t hang their heads and came right back down the field and nearly tied it again with less than two minutes remaining. Matthias Frick had the ball on the post, but couldn’t quite get his touch on it to finish. The sophomore defender again had a chance on a through ball that just escaped his touch as time ticked down to zero.
It was a tale of two halves for the Blue Devils overall. Duke struggled to get into the game in the early going before starting to put together quality possession midway through the half.
“We started off slowly again in the first 15 minutes,” Kerr said. “There were moments in the first half where we had some good possession, but it wasn’t enough.”
The Tar Heels broke through for the 1-0 lead in the 28th minute. After All-ACC second team goalkeeper Will Pulisic made an incredible diving stop, giving North Carolina a corner kick. The ensuing service deflected it off a Duke defender and fell to the back post where Giovanni Montesdeoca put it away.
Duke was outstanding in the second half, giving North Carolina’s stalwart defense fits. The Blue Devils moved the ball all over the field, but struggled to get the final finish around the goal. The Tar Heels regularly recovered well and goalie James Pyle made a couple crucial saves, including a one-on-one stop against Rayyan, to preserve the victory for the ACC’s No. 2 seed.
“I thought we were really really good in the second half,” Kerr said. “We were courageous and brave and took initiative and created some unbelievable opportunities.”
Pyle finished with four saves for the Tar Heels, while Pulisic was stellar for the Blue Devils with five saves, including a couple point-blank stops.
The NCAA selection show will take place Nov. 12 at 1 p.m., on NCAA.com.