Unfortunately Clemson's great run through the final two months of the season came to an end tonight with a 2-1 defeat. Before getting into the match details, hats off to Coach Noonan and this team, especially the seniors. Their season could have come to an end much earlier but they fought their way to an ACC title. They put Clemson soccer back on the map nationally this season. As the completely packed house showed, the roar was restored this season.
This game, like all Clemson games was very physical and chippy. Clemson is one of the national leaders in fouls committed, and that really isn't a negative. It fits the team's aggressive defensive style and attitude. They talk a little bit of trash to try and get into the opponents's heads and it usually works. They take the game to the opponent and make them feel uncomfortable and commit dumb fouls, which lead to yellow cards.
The Tigers were able to use that aggressive system successfully throughout the first half, controlling possession for most of the first 45 minutes. UNC scored first, before Clemson could really establish control, off of a corner. The corner came from a poor pass by Amadou Dia that Ara Amirkhanian had to kick out of bounds. The UNC goal scorer was left relatively unmarked on the ensuing corner and headed into the goal.
The Tigers came close to equalizing about ten minutes later. Off another Tar Heel corner the ball was cleared to Austin Burnikel, who played a great through ball to Manolo Sanchez. Unfortunately Sanchez's touch was too heavy and Moore, the UNC goalie, was able to collect it. Clemson was able to get the equalizer a few minutes later however. Alex Happi, who got the surprising start of Iman Mafi, made a run down the right side of the box, cut back towards goal, and was dragged down. Kyle Fisher drilled the penalty kick straight down the middle while Moore dove to the side. Moore was actually able to get a partial deflection with his legs.
The game was still physical throughout the second half but North Carolina saw a lot more time of possession. While Clemson had dominated the first half, the Tar Heels controlled the second half. They're a good side, and were riding a wave of momentum into the game just like Clemson was.
Their second goal came off a turnover from Manolo Sanchez. He was unable to win it back from UNC's Lovejoy, who cut towards the middle at the top of the box and sent a low curling shot to beat Tarbell at the back post.
Their keeper, Moore, played a heck of game. Two of his saves stood out in particular. Moore saved an Austin Burnikel shot from point blank range towards the end of the first half. Amirkhanian had gotten down the right side before whipping in a cross. Burnikel got a foot to it but Moore was able to get his right hand on it. In the second half, Manolo Sanchez zipped in a low cross right in front of the 6-yard box. Diego Campos got a foot to it but Moore was able to get down and knock it away. When a guy plays that well you just have to tip your cap to him.
Ultimately, Clemson ran into a team that was just as hot and could have been a national seed. The Tigers had plenty of opportunities to score, especially with Campos's final opportunity, but were unable to capitalize. They were also hurt by a few mental mistakes throughout the game on both the attacking and defensive end
Regardless of the disappointing outcome this team had a successful season. This group of seniors will really be missed going forward. Both captains, Phanuel Kavita and Bobby Belair will be graduating. Kavita started every single game in his career at Clemson. Belair played all season with a knee brace and a torn ACL. Those are some big shoes to fill but Coach Noonan has this program set up for future greatness.