It’s rare that North Carolina can consider itself the underdog in women’s soccer. Yet that’s the situation for the fifth-ranked Tar Heels (10-2-1, 7-0 ACC) when they host second-ranked Florida State (14-1, 7-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Fetzer Field. The match will be broadcast on ESPN3.com.
The Seminoles are the only team to have beaten UNC four times in a row. The Tar Heels haven’t won 2011, when their current seniors were freshmen. Since then, Florida State has won two regular-season and two ACC tournament matchups.
The reason for Florida State’s dominance has been defense. Since a 2-0 loss to the Tar Heels during the 2011 regular season, FSU posted three consecutive 1-0 victories before prevailing 2-1 in overtime in last year’s ACC tournament.
“Obviously I think (FSU coach) Mark Krikorian does a great job with his team,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. “His kids play with a certain level of sophistication. He does a great job of figuring out every team’s weakness. I think they have the tactical chops to formulate a game plan, and the technical chops to execute it.”
The FSU defense remains nearly airtight, as goalkeeper Cassie Miller has posted a league-high 10 shutouts and allowed a league-low seven goals.
Tournament outlook: With two ACC games remaining in the regular season for the men and three for the women, the postseason is coming into focus.
North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia (6-1 ACC) and Notre Dame (5-2) have the inside track on making the four-team ACC women’s tournament, although Clemson (4-2-1) and Duke (3-3-1) remain in contention. The biggest surprise is that Virginia Tech, ranked 14th nationally but only 3-4 in the ACC, probably won’t make the Greensboro field.
Ten teams will comprise the ACC men’s bracket, and none have been eliminated yet, but Duke (2-4) and N.C. State (1-3-2) are hanging dangerously near the cut line in ninth and 10th place.
Reigning NCAA champion Notre Dame (4-1-1) leads the Coastal Division, while three teams share the Atlantic lead at 4-2 – Clemson, Louisville and Syracuse. Louisville has the best tiebreaker path, as the Cardinals host Clemson on Friday.
World Cup update: With seven former ACC players taking part, the U.S. women’s team went 3-0 in Group A and advanced to the semifinals of the CONCACAF championship this week, the last step in World Cup qualifying. The U.S. is one victory away from earning an automatic berth to the 2015 World Cup in Canada and will play Mexico on Friday in Chester, Pa.
Crystal Dunn, the 2012 Hermann Trophy winner, was a last-minute scratch from the U.S. roster because of an ankle injury. But her fellow UNC alums took up the slack in victories over Trinidad and Tobago (1-0), Guatemala (5-0) and Haiti (6-0).
Forward Tobin Heath and center back Whitney Engen got into the scoring column Friday against Guatemala, with Heath scoring two goals and Engen one.
Meghan Klingenberg started at left back in all three U.S. group wins and got her first international goal in the win Monday over Haiti. Backup goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris got the shutout of Haiti, and Heather O’Reilly made her presence felt on the flank in all three group matches.
Virginia’s Morgan Brian, the only current collegian on the U.S. team, got her third international goal against Haiti. UVa alum Becky Sauerbrunn anchored the defense at center back.
Meanwhile, N.C. State redshirt sophomore forward Alexa Allen scored for Jamaica in its 6-0 rout of Martinique in Group B play. She also played 45 minutes off the bench in a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica. A 3-1 loss to Mexico on Tuesday eliminated Jamaica.
Campbell’s return: The North Carolina men’s team got a big boost to its postseason hopes when junior defender Jonathan Campbell returned to action after missing six games with a leg injury.
The second-team All-ACC pick logged 66 minutes in the 1-0 victory against N.C. State last Friday and helped extend UNC’s defensive streak to 426:41 minutes without allowing a goal, or nearly five full games.
“It’s good to have him back,” said coach Carlos Somoano, who had shifted to a 3-4-3 alignment with three defenders in Campbell’s absence. Rollins College transfer Walker Hume replaced Campbell in the starting lineup and has been playing right back. Campbell subbed for Nick Williams on the left side midway through the first half and stayed there the rest of the night.
Somoano might stick with the three-back look, which has allowed him to start freshman Alan Winn at forward and move Tyler Engel to the midfield.
Looking ahead: The No. 9 UNC men (10-4, 4-2) return to action Friday when they visit Boston College (5-5-3, 1-4-1). Duke (5-8-1, 2-4-0) will host Pittsburgh (4-7-4, 0-4-2), also at 7 p.m. Friday, and N.C. State (6-5-3, 1-3-2), coming off a 2-1 overtime win at South Carolina on Tuesday, entertains No. 5 Syracuse (13-2, 4-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday. All three wrap up the home portion of their regular-season schedules with nonconference games at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Duke, which lost 2-1 at Elon on Tuesday night, has Georgia State, UNC has Georgia Southern and N.C. State gets Liberty.
There are lots of chances to see the local ACC women’s teams this week, as all three play twice at home. Duke has No. 3 Virginia and Boston College, UNC matches up with Florida State and Miami and N.C. State gets Miami and Florida State. Game times are 7 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Sunday.