Tar Heel fans, take heart: you’re going to be just fine, as evidenced by UNC’s thorough 3-0 win over Texas A&M tonight. The University of North Carolina’s conveyor belt of quality American women’s soccer talent remains in high production.
Aggie fans came out in full force tonight and remained vociferously faithful to their side, despite the result.
The Tar Heels laid down the law early as senior full-back and requisite work horse Meghan Klingenberg scored the first goal of the evening in the 3’. “I came through the middle and came out to the side,” Klingenberg recounts, “ I saw that [my defender] was stepping to the left so I went inside, took a chance and luckily it went over the ‘keeper’s hands and in.”
The visitors doubled their lead in the 20’ courtesy of an Ali Hawkins header from a Rachel Givan corner. Texas A&M had trouble interrupting UNC’s momentum and by the time holding midfielder Amber Brooks converted a glancing header off a Klingenberg cross in the 12’ of the second half, the battle was won.
Texas A&M forward Merritt Mathias, fresh off a transfer from UNC, had the best chance for the Aggies as she blasted a shot from outside the box but UNC freshman goalkeeper Anna Sieloff was up for the challenge as she skillfully parried the shot away. University of North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance called the save, “one of the greatest saves I’ve ever seen at the collegiate level.” Sieloff seems to have sealed the starting goalkeeping position after the departure of longtime UNC goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
The Aggies seemed totally devoid of ideas. They resorted to hoofing up speculative long balls for speedy forwards Whitney Hooper and Mathias to run on to, but the defensive work of nippy freshman Crystal Dunn and red-shirted senior Rachel Wood mitigated any kind of threat. Wood had a particularly fine game in central defense. She was the fulcrum in UNC’s signature three-back system. After being forced to sit out the entire 2009 season due to a bout of intestinal colitis, the center-back was UNC’s ultimate gatekeeper.
Texas A&M head coach G Guerrieri conceded that his team had been “outcompeted”. He acknowledged that A&M’s offense was limited by UNC’s defense-by-attack mode of play. “Our ability to try to build things just didn’t happen just because the pressure that was on the ball all the time.” Coach Guerrieri continues, “It made it to where we very impatient in the way we got the ball behind them. We’d much rather get the ball behind them in a much more controlled type of passing game.”
The night wasn’t totally scot-free for UNC, however. Soccer America Preseason All-American and only returning defensive starter Rachel Givan went down early with a knee injury. Her status is unknown.
Texas A&M has widely been considered to be contenders for the NCAA National Championship this year. But they were beaten handily by a UNC side teeming with both garnished veterans and fresh talent. Only five seniors return to a line-up that had previously been decorated by the likes of current WPS players Casey Nogueira, Tobin Heath, Whitney Engen, Kristi Eveland, Ashlyn Harris, Nikki Washington and Jessica McDonald. Klingenberg credits that team for, “not leaving [the current line-up] high and dry. It’s a credit to them because we learned so much from them last year. They left us in a good place.”
That corps of players had helped the program win three of the four previous NCAA Women’s College Cup. Their understudies – Crystal Dunn, Meg Morris, Amber Brooks, among many others – showed that they’re ready to pick up where the old guard left off. UNC head coach Anson Dorrance concurs, “This recruiting class had to be an extraordinary one. And after today’s match I can tell you it is.”