Men’s Soccer Overcome by Bruening, No. 9 North Carolina

Last Tuesday, Boston College men’s soccer’s midweek match with Albany was a tale of two halves. The Eagles fell behind early, conceding two goals and trailing 2-1 at the break. But they responded after the half, storming back in a 5-3 victory on the shoulders of Maximillian Schulze-Geisthovel and Zeiko Lewis, who tallied two goals apiece.

Flying to Chapel Hill to face No. 9 North Carolina, fans wondered: which BC would they see on Friday night?

Unfortunately for Eagles fans, it wasn’t the good one—BC fell 5-0 to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, N.C.

From the opening whistle, the Tar Heels (6-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) controlled the pace of the game. In the 33rd minute, Alan Winn caught the Eagles (5-3, 1-2) defense off guard as he made a run down the left side of the pitch. Just as he was about to run out of room near the sideline, he laid the ball off for Nils Bruening right in front of the goal. Bruening beat BC goalkeeper Cedric Saladin to the left on his first touch, giving UNC a 1-0 lead. The Tar Heels, notorious for seldom allowing comebacks, struck again just two minutes later.

Once again, it was Bruening who found the back of the net. This time, midfielder Nico Mela dribbled down the right side and floated a beautiful cross over the back line and directly onto the foot of Bruening. The sophomore slotted home his third goal of the season past Saladin for a 2-0 cushion before halftime.

After being outshot 8-4 in the first half, the Eagles finally broke through UNC’s defensive wall in the midfield and created some scoring opportunities. In the 67th minute, Schulze-Geisthovel weaved through several Tar Heels before the ball rolled to winger Ike Normesinu. But his shot deflected off of UNC keeper James Pyle, who blanked BC with five of his six saves coming in the final 45 minutes.

With 10 minutes remaining, the Eagles earned their fourth corner of the night and the set piece nearly cut the deficit in half, but Pyle stood on his head again to preserve the shutout. The clock continued to wind down, and it appeared as if BC would suffer a only a modest loss to one of the nation’s best teams.

Then, the wheels came off.

Bruening, determined for a hat trick, received a feed from Zach Wright and finished in traffic to push the Tar Heel lead to 3-0. A minute later, Bruening brilliantly placed a strike off the right post and in from about a dozen yards out. His fourth goal of the match, and fifth of the season, left the Eagles searching for answers on defense.

Before time expired, Winn tacked on a fifth UNC score thanks to a screamer from beyond the 18 yard box that found that top left corner of the net. Ed Kelly’s squad couldn’t stop the bleeding.

For members of the ACC, who are surrounded by the nation’s best teams, losses like these are almost inevitable. It happened to BC last year around the same time to Wake Forest, which similarly dismantled the Eagles with superior technical play and had a big day from an individual phenom: No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft, Jack Harrison.

There’s no cause for immediate panic. The Eagles should’ve had at least two goals against the No. 9 team in the country and outplayed the Tar Heels for most of the second half. Once Len Zeugner is back to full strength, the defense—which also struggled against Albany—will be more reliable and can ease some pressure off of Saladin. Kelly still has a core of explosive scorers and one of the best midfielders in college soccer, Zeiko Lewis, at his disposal.

But BC needs to prove it is mentally prepared to deal with adversity. Back-to-back goals are often a show of a lack of focus, a sign that the players were still thinking about the last score instead of preventing the next one. Experienced teams know how to stop the bleeding rather than allowing three goals in the final eight minutes.

After two consecutive Friday night road games against conference opponents, Kelly will bring his lineup back home to Newton Campus Field to take on Louisville next week. Once again, the question remains: Which brand of Eagle soccer will we see?

Featured Image by Amal Agrawal / Heights Staff

September 24, 2016