At this point, it doesn't matter that the North Carolina men's soccer team has played to three straight ties in the NCAA tournament.
The important thing is that the Tar Heels are returning to the NCAA College Cup for the third straight year, coach Elmar Bolowich said.
Bolowich knows how his team could be perceived after advancing on penalty kicks for the third straight game. The Tar Heels are the first team to reach the College Cup without having won a tournament match in regulation or overtime.
"When people look at that, they might say, 'Oh, that's just a team that only plays defense. They're not out to win. They just don't want to lose,' " Bolowich said. "That doesn't describe us."
Junior midfielder Kirk Urso said the team's strength is that it's like a family.
"I think it's our fight, and our will to win," he said. "We call ourselves a family. A lot of teams say that, but I think our actions show that we are a family. We'll fight for each other to the end."
The Tar Heels (16-3-4) have played from behind in their past two games in the tournament, against Michigan State and Southern Methodist.
Last week, sophomore forward Enzo Martinez recalled the painful 20 or so minutes before he tied Michigan State with nine seconds left.
"I remember looking at my teammates, the seniors," he said. "[I thought], 'Please don't let it be the last game.' "
Against SMU on Friday night, the Tar Heels gave up the quickest goal they had allowed all season but recovered quickly when Urso, on an assist from Martinez, scored the teams' second-fastest goal of the season to tie.
North Carolina went on to dominate the ball and scoring chances and outshot the Mustangs 25-10, but 110 minutes still weren't enough.
" I would say it's the composure and execution in the final third," Urso said. "We just haven't been finishing.
Bolowich said he's tried to keep his team loose.
"I just try to reassure them that we are doing a lot of things right," he said. "It's a matter of remaining calm when you pull the trigger."
This Friday night, UNC faces top-seeded Louisville (19-0-3). Bolowich said his team is mentally preparing itself to score more goals.
"I think one goal may not be enough," he said. "If you're not capitalizing on opportunities, it may nip us in the bud this time."
The team hopes to draw from its experience playing in the past two College Cups.
Last year, the team lost to undefeated Akron on penalty kicks in the semifinals.
If it comes to penalty kicks this time, the Tar Heels should be ready.
North Carolina has converted all nine of its penalty-kick attempts in the NCAA Tournament.
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