Second-ranked nationally, North Carolina stands alone atop the ACC men’s soccer standings following a rain-soaked 2-1 victory Saturday night over Duke that typifies how this series has gone over the past 15 years.
Senior midfielder Alex Olofson scored in the fourth minute and sophomore forward Alan Winn got the eventual game-winner in the 49th as the Tar Heels (7-0-1, 3-0 ACC) collected their fifth consecutive victory and remained one of seven unbeaten teams nationwide. UNC also matched its best start since 2005 and is 3-0 in the ACC for the first time since 2010.
Since 2001 the past 17 meetings of the two archrivals have resulted in a one-goal decision or a draw, with UNC holding a 9-4-4 advantage.
Duke (4-3-1, 0-2-1), which battled back behind a 30-yard strike from senior midfielder Zach Mathers in the 59th minute, suffered its third straight loss.
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“We haven’t been playing badly,” Duke coach John Kerr said, with all three losses coming to nationally ranked opponents. “We’ve been playing well. We just have to get over the hump.”
The Tar Heels got the upper hand early, however. Olofson’s goal was only the third Duke has allowed in the first half all season, and it gave the Tar Heels early momentum and allowed them to dictate the run of play.
“I was pleased with the intensity coming out,” said Olofson, who scored his second career goal and first since his freshman year before many of the 2,010 fans had settled into the wet bleachers at Fetzer Field.
Less than four minutes into the match Colton Storm played a ball into the right corner, Zach Wright crossed it, and Olofson finished from close range with a low shot that skidded through Duke goalkeeper Wilson Fisher.
“It was a big goal, and Duke is a big game,” said Olofson, a Millbrook High grad. “But honestly we approach each game the same.”
Olofson had a team-high five shots on the night, doubling his season total. “That was the way the game played out,” he said. “I was able to find some pockets going forward.”
UNC coach Carlos Somoano said Olofson is versatile enough to give the Tar Heels what they need.
“Alex is going to play his game,” Somoano said. “If it’s offense, he’ll be there. If it’s defense, he’ll be there. If it’s passing, he’ll be there. When the opportunity came for him to score, he was ready to score.”
Winn’s third goal of the season proved to be the difference. With the second half less than two minutes old, his one-touch volley of a cross from Wright, who had settled a long ball on the flank, gave the Tar Heels a 2-0 lead.
Mathers’ blast from distance narrowed that margin to one goal, however.
UNC appeared to have scored a third goal on a free kick by Raby George from 25 yards after a Duke handball in the midfield in the 77th minute. But referee Charles Murphy – apparently in reaction to delaying tactics – had blown his whistle to stop the clock just before George’s kick rocketed into the left corner of the net.
When the kick was retaken, Fisher made one of his four saves to deflect George’s shot around the right post, and Duke defenders blocked ensuing close-in attempts by George and Winn.
The Tar Heels ended up outshooting Duke 20-10, including 12-7 in the second half, but Somoano said he never felt safe.
In the final four minutes, Mathers was high on a free kick and just wide when he got the ball at the top of the penalty area and whirled for a quick shot.
UNC goalkeeper James Pyle stopped Ryan Thompson’s attempt in the 90th minute for his fourth save to ice it.
“Duke is always dangerous,” Somoano said. “You can never feel comfortable.”