North Carolina received a bid to the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship for the 16th time in the last 17 years, but Duke and N.C. State remained on the outside looking in at the tournament.
The Tar Heels (14-1-3), who won the ACC’s Coastal Division, were seeded fifth, the sixth time in the last eight years they have received a national seed. In men’s soccer the top 16 seeds in the 48-team field are seeded Nos. 1-16. Those 16 teams receive a first-round bye.
UNC coach Carlos Somoano, whose Tar Heels were a consensus top-five team all season, said he was happy with his team’s position. UNC will host a 6 p.m. Sunday game against the winner of Thursday’s first-round matchup between host Coastal Carolina (12-2-4) and North Florida (10-6-1). Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. They can be purchased at GoHeels.com.
The Tar Heels played both teams this season, beating Coastal 2-0 in a preseason exhibition and edging North Florida 2-1 on Sept. 21.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
“Going into this there was a whole lot of expectation, but it’s so unpredictable,” Somoano said of the bracket. “We played both teams this year. … As you would expect in an NCAA tournament, either one is going to be a challenge.”
Six other ACC teams also made the field, the largest representation for any league, with four also getting national seeds. They were Wake Forest (1), Clemson (2), ACC tournament champion Syracuse (6) and Notre Dame (7). Boston College and Virginia received at-large bids but were not seeded and will play first-round games Thursday. The Eagles (9-7-1) meet Vermont (11-6-3) at 6 p.m., while the Cavaliers (9-4-3), the reigning NCAA champions, will host Rider (14-5-1) at 7 p.m.
Three other leagues had four teams each in the field: the American Athletic, Big Ten and Conference USA.
UNC will play in the NCAA tournament for the 23rd time. Last year the Tar Heels were not seeded but reached the quarterfinals before losing out to UCLA on penalty kicks.
“You can’t look at who you could play, or who you should play,” Somoano said. “The bottom line is you have to look at who you’re playing and prepare for that.”
Looking ahead at the bracket, however, it is possible that, barring upsets, UNC could host 12th-seeded Creighton in a third-round game. Creighton is coached by former UNC head coach Elmar Bolowich, who led UNC to its first NCAA title in 2001. Somoano succeeded him five years ago and took the Tar Heels to the 2011 NCAA crown.
“They’ve got a game to win first, and so do we,” Somoano said, laughing. “We’re light years away from that (game), as far as I’m concerned. But if we have that, I’ll be happy because it will mean we won our first game.”
Although the top seven teams in the ACC made the NCAA bracket, Somoano said the league might be under-represented.
“To be honest, we should have had more,” he said. “I don’t want to criticize (the selection committee), because it means somebody else had to be left out. I think all the teams in are deserving. But there are some teams in the ACC that should still be playing that won’t be.”
Duke missed out on the postseason for the fourth straight year, while N.C. State hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2009.
Although the Blue Devils finished eighth in the ACC with a 10-7-2 record overall, their RPI of 50 probably hurt their chances. The Wolfpack (8-6-3), only 10th in the ACC, had an RPI of 34 that was marginally better than one at-large team in the field, Connecticut (36, 9-5-6).
Duke coach John Kerr is a member of the NCAA men’s soccer selection committee.
Like UNC, four other ACC seeds will host second-round games Sunday. Wake Forest (15-2-2) will play either Charlotte (10-5-3) or Radford (14-3-2). Clemson (15-2-2) gets Elon (13-5-1) or Winthrop (10-6-2). Syracuse (13-5-3) awaits Dartmouth (11-5-1) or Hartwick (11-5-3). And Notre Dame (11-4-5) will draw Tulsa (7-6-6) or Florida International (12-6-1).
The tournament continues with third-round games on Nov. 28 and 29 and quarterfinals on Dec. 4 and 5, at the site of the higher seed. The College Cup, soccer’s final four, will be Dec. 11-13 at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.