When the national soccer team calls a player, the response is usually swift and affirmative.
So it was all the more surprising when sophomore midfielder Omar Holness declined a trip to Japan last week with the Jamaica national team.
His North Carolina teammates are glad he did, however.
Holness scored the match’s only goal on a strike in the 76th minute, Brendan Moore recorded his fourth consecutive shutout, and No. 15 North Carolina won its fifth straight, blanking host N.C. State 1-0 Friday night before a vociferous red-clad crowd of 2,358 at Dail Soccer Field.
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It was the first goal of the season for Holness, who had just taken the ninth corner kick of the night for the Tar Heels (10-4, 4-2 ACC). The Wolfpack initially cleared the ball to midfield, but Rob Lovejoy channeled it back to a waiting Andy Craven at the top of the penalty area. Craven slipped a pass to his right to Holness, who ripped a shot from 12 yards into the left netting for the score. It was Craven’s second assist and the eighth for Lovejoy, who ranks second in the ACC.
“Definitely it was being in the right place at the right time,” said Holness, who had moved upfield from the corner after his kick. “I was watching their back four, keeping myself onside.
“I had a decision between crossing the ball and finishing, and I decided to finish. I think I made the right decision.”
His teammates also appreciated his decision to pass on national team duty. Holness said he might have been back in time to play against N.C. State (5-5-3, 1-3-2), “but it would have been a tough schedule, and I would have been tired.
“At this point, I’m a key member of this team. I didn’t think I should be leaving my team (even though) playing for my country is a big deal.”
Holness had a team-high five shots as the Tar Heels outshot the Wolfpack 11-9, but UNC couldn’t capitalize until late on a whopping 11-2 advantage in corners.
“They were very sturdy in the back on set pieces,” Holness said of the Pack.
N.C. State coach Kelly Findley agreed, even though he was missing four starters to injury, including leading scorer Nick Surkamp.
“I felt our guys executed the game plan very well,” said Findley, who saw State’s three-game unbeaten streak end. “We kept the game compact and had enough chances to win.
“No excuses, the guys who played stepped up and played well.”
State’s best scoring opportunity came in the 21st minute, when Reed Norton’s pass found Yanni Hachem in the penalty area. But Hachem’s shot from 12 yards was cleared over the crossbar by UNC midfielder Verneri Valimaa, who was standing on the goal line.
“It was a game-defining play,” UNC coach Carlos Somoano said. “That’s exactly what I felt it was. N.C. State was really good, and I thought we were gutsy.”
Alex McCauley collected four saves for N.C. State, and Moore had two others for UNC, but he made two head’s-up plays in the final minute to preserve his eighth shutout of the season and extend his scoreless streak to 426:41.
State sent in a cross to the near post, but Moore battled Conor Donovan for the ball and cleared it away.
With 13 seconds left, another through ball found its way into the UNC penalty area, but Moore beat an onrushing Philip Carmon to the ball and safely cradled it before punting it away.