Clemson fell to the North Carolina Tar Heels 0-1 on Friday night in one of the largest regular season games in Clemson history.
The Tigers lined up in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation. Ximo Miralles once again started in goal and he appears to be the starter going forward. I am a big fan of Miralles. He is fearless at the back, always willing to charge forward to clear the ball. He is also good with the ball at his feet, which allows Clemson to build possession from the back.
Coach Noonan made an interesting decision to start freshman Malick Mbaye in one of the holding midfield positions. Mbaye was only recently cleared to play after an apparent academic issue. Redshirt Freshman Andrew Burnikel also started in the holding midfield. It is pretty interesting that Noonan started the younger players rather than seniors Alex Happi and Thales Moreno.
Clemson, surprisingly, looked rusty offensively throughout the match. The Tigers had numerous turnovers throughout the midfield and, at least in the first half, committed a number of dumb fouls. North Carolina was able to stymie the Tigers through their pressing. The Tar Heels were able to make it difficult whenever Clemson attempted to play out of the back.
The Tigers had the best chance to score when they were awarded a penalty kick in the first half. Michael Melvin had a great sequence of play down the left wing to win the ball, drive into the box, and draw the foul that resulted in the penalty. Melvin has really come into his own on the left and has displaced Saul Chinchilla as the starter there. Unfortunately, Iman Mafi’s penalty kick was saved by the UNC goalie.
Clemson had multiple defensive errors in the game that were covered up by timely play from Ximo Miralles. UNC’s game plan was designed to take advantage of Clemson’s high back line and this resulted in quite a few good opportunities for the visitors.
Ultimately the numerous turnovers and high back line spelled doom for Clemson. The Tigers had been dominating a stretch of possession and had created some quality chances when the game turned. There was a turnover in the midfield, North Carolina was able to quickly get behind the back line on a breakaway, and the Tar Heels scored the winning goal with only a few minutes on the clock.
Clemson has a whole week to iron out their problems before they travel to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. Clemson needs to fix their defensive woes and improve their finishing in front of goal.