By Ells Boone
There were no late-game heroics this time around from Stanford men’s soccer (10-3-1, 7-2-1 Pac-12) Thursday evening in Cary, N.C. The No. 4 overall seed Cardinal struggled to break down a strong North Carolina (8-4-4, 7-2-3 ACC) defense, eventually falling victim to the Tar Heels’ upset bid by a final score of 1-0.
The match was a physical one, with a few hard fouls from both sides and each team with a player who received a yellow card.
Stanford got the proceedings started with the opening kickoff and saw most of the possession early on, but it was UNC who had the first chance of the match. In the seventh minute, a cross was whipped into the box right in front of Cardinal redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Thomas, who was able to push the ball out of harm’s way. At the other end of the field, junior midfielder Will Richmond’s shot attempt was hit over the goal.
Just five minutes later, the Tar Heels found the opener. Milo Garvanian sent in a corner kick that Joe Pickering was able to get on the end of and head into the goal, past the outstretched fingertips of Thomas. It was Pickering’s first-ever goal for UNC.
The rest of the half saw the two teams trade possession back and forth. Stanford was unable to generate any substantive attacks thanks to some stout defense from UNC, even though the Cardinal possessed more of the ball. The Tar Heels were fierce in their attacks, but also did not come close to adding to their score total in the opening period. The half ended with North Carolina outshooting the Cardinal 3-1.
The second half was chippy, but Stanford was on the front foot from the start, trying to get back into the match. In the 52nd minute, Garvanian earned a yellow card for two hard tackles on Cardinal players.
Four minutes later, Stanford had its largest chance of the game. Richmond found an opening in the box and unleashed a low shot that bounced back off of a Tar Heel defender. Richmond and the other Cardinal attackers called for handball but the referee waved away their claims. Meanwhile, the ball was still in play in a dangerous area for Stanford. Sophomore defender Keegan Tingey was not able to find space with it and UNC was able to clear the ball.
In the 76th minute, Cardinal junior midfielder Ryan Ludwick took out a Tar Heel attacker just outside the box, earning himself a yellow card. The ensuing free kick bounced off of a Stanford wall and was kicked to safety.
Despite their tireless efforts for the final 14 minutes, there was nothing the Cardinal could do to break down UNC’s defense, missing the speed and skill of sophomore forward Ousseni Bouda who has been injured all season. Stanford did outshoot North Carolina in the second half 3-1, a reverse of the first half’s stat line.
This loss in the third round of the NCAA Tournament marks the end of the Cardinal’s season. The team did not even know if it would have a season this year, with the fall season having been pushed to the spring. While the team did have success this year in capturing the Pac-12 Title, ultimately it will be disappointed that it did not progress further to its ultimate goal, the College Cup.
Nevertheless, the future is bright on the Farm with only two players expected to depart the program this offseason: senior forward Charlie Wehan and senior forward Jack O’Brien. Last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year — Bouda — will be back in the squad in the fall, fully recovered from the injury that kept him out of commission this time around.
With its win, North Carolina advances to the Elite Eight, where the team will take on the winner of a match between Kentucky and Wake Forest.