When senior forwards Andy Craven and Rob Lovejoy missed all of last season with injuries, the offense on the North Carolina men’s soccer team suffered without its two leading goal scorers.
The suffering ended Friday night.
Craven and Lovejoy each tallied a goal and an assist, and last year’s leading scorer, Tyler Engel, also got a goal as the No. 6 Tar Heels knocked off No. 7 California 3-1 in the season opener of the Carolina Nike Classic. The victory begins a busy weekend against Pacific-12 Conference teams for UNC, with No. 1 UCLA in town Sunday night.
UNC has figured among the nation’s best defensive teams the past two years, but the Tar Heels could be noted more for their offense this season.
“You can see more attacking personalities on the field for us, and that makes us different,” UNC coach Carlos Somoano said. “We could score a lot of goals. … Last year we were a gritty defensive team.”
None of the goals was bigger than Lovejoy’s, which came with the Tar Heels clinging to a 2-1 halftime lead with 7:01 left to play. The redshirt senior from Greensboro put together a highlight-reel dribbling effort, collecting a pass in the Cal end and maneuvering through the defense before beating Cal goalkeeper Kevin Peach from eight yards for an insurance goal.
“It was a hard-working, blue-collar type of goal,” Lovejoy said, downplaying the effort. “What you can expect from me.”
The goal gave UNC some breathing room after the Golden Bears had regained momentum in the second half. Cal, despite being outshot 17-13 overall, forced UNC goalkeeper Brendan Moore to make eight saves, six in the second half that included two from point-blank range off Stefano Bonomo.
Craven did his damage in the first half. He set up Engel, the third member of the front line, for a close-range goal at the 18:04 mark, then scored one himself 14 minutes later when Lovejoy found him with a nicely timed breakout pass. Craven ended up one-on-one with Peach for the breakaway finish.
Craven said it felt natural to be back on the field with Lovejoy and Engel after a year’s absence.
“Tyler and I had an instant connection, and Rob and I had played together before. Me, Robbie and Tyler, and even our midfield players, like to take the ball forward,” Craven said. “Trying to score – that’s the point of the game.”
The Bears pulled one goal back on Christian Thierjung’s close-range shot, on a pass from Paul Salcedo at 35:48 but were unable to get another past Moore. All-ACC defenders Boyd Okwuonu and Jonathan Campbell each saved a ball off the goal line after initial saves by Moore.
“It wasn’t the busiest I’ve ever been, but it was definitely a busy night for me,” Moore said.
Around the Triangle
Georgetown 6, N.C. State 0: N.C. State’s women played played their second straight ranked opponent, falling to the undefeated Hoyas.