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No. 4 men’s soccer hosts North Carolina in regular season finale

Virginia looks to clinch the ACC Coastal and home-field advantage heading into the postseason

<p>Junior defender Henry Kessler will anchor Virginia's defense against North Carolina.</p>

Junior defender Henry Kessler will anchor Virginia's defense against North Carolina.

No. 4 Virginia men’s soccer will host North Carolina in its final regular season game Friday night. The Cavaliers (13-1-1, 5-1-1 ACC) have a chance to clinch the Coastal Division and home-field advantage through the semi-finals of the ACC tournament with a win.

Despite being ranked for much of the season, the Tar Heels (7-6-3, 3-4-0 ACC) slipped following consecutive conference losses earlier in October. However, the Tar Heels certainly have had Virginia’s number in recent years with the Cavaliers only mustering one win since 2008. However, since 2005, 14 of the 15 matches between the two storied programs have been decided by one goal or less.

While the two teams have taken two very different paths this year, the upcoming game will likely be very close and be decided by several key factors.

Key Players to Watch

Junior defender Henry Kessler and freshman defender Andreas Ueland

Virginia’s center-back pairing will play a major role in limiting North Carolina junior forward Alex Rose. Kessler and Ueland have played every minute of every game for the Cavaliers, shutting down opponents match after match.

Rose — the Tar Heels’ leading scorer — will be yet another test for the duo, as he has logged seven goals this year on just 11 shots on goal. Kessler and Ueland must limit Rose’s opportunities to keep the North Carolina attack in check. 

Sophomore forward Daryl Dike

Dike leads the Cavaliers in goals with six on the season. He’s coming off a spectacular week in which he recorded three goals and earned ACC Player of the Week honors.

Dike’s large frame means he is capable of physically dominating any backline, while his technical ability makes it difficult for defenders to keep up with him. The North Carolina defense has shown vulnerabilities throughout the season, allowing 18 goals, so the powerful forward will certainly have a chance to make his presence felt.

North Carolina senior midfielder Mauricio Pineda

Pineda has been a vital cog in the Tar Heels’ offense this season — scoring five goals and adding two assists. Listed as both a midfielder and defender, Pineda’s offensive prowess combined with his defensive ability makes him difficult for any team to handle.

However, Pineda has struggled to finish his opportunities. The senior racked up 46 shots — 22 of which have been on frame — but has only found the back of the net five times. If he can capitalize on more of his opportunities, Virginia will have a hard time limiting his influence on the game.

Keys to the Game

Control possession and beware of the counter-attack

Throughout the year, Virginia has been able to control the ball. The Cavaliers’ possession not only leads to countless scoring opportunities but also severely limits the opponent’s scoring opportunities.

However, controlling the game is not always enough. In the Cavaliers’ lone loss to Pittsburgh, they dominated possession, but the Panthers still managed to strike twice. Both of Pittsburgh's goals were a result of catching Virginia off-guard on a counter-attack. It’s crucial that the Cavaliers are constantly aware of this possibility even in a game against a lesser opponent.

Score early

In what has historically been a tight rivalry, the team that can find the back of the net first may very well be the winner. Especially for Virginia, an early goal could deplete the energy of an upset-minded North Carolina squad.

If the Cavaliers are able to strike first, they would be able to settle into a possession-oriented game and slowly put the game away. Regardless, the team that can gain the momentum first will put themselves in a good position to win. 

Friday night, Virginia will seek to claim sole possession of the Coastal Division while the Tar Heels aim to hold on to key seeding heading into the ACC tournament. Kickoff at Klockner Stadium is set for 7 p.m.


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