Preview: UNC women’s soccer aims to advance to regional semi-finals against Georgia

The North Carolina women’s soccer team passed their first test of the NCAA tournament on Saturday with a comfortable 5-0 win over Old Dominion.

Next up, the Tar Heels return to Dorrance Field to face Georgia on Thursday night. The Bulldogs, No. 7 in the region, enter the matchup after their previous 2-0 win over Samford.

With every game being a must-win scenario for the Tar Heels, here are some keys to success for the upcoming competition:

Create an “Elaborate Attack”

After a 2-1 loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Finals, head coach Anson Dorrance urged his players to diversify attack and play with less predictability. The Tar Heels seemed to take that message to heart in the win over Old Dominion as four different players found the back of the net.

North Carolina has proven for most of the season they’re capable of pulling off those kinds of offensive blasts — which shows in the team’s eight regular-season games with three or more goals. However, this success has often resulted in opponents putting up multiple walls of defenders, which has sometimes stunted the team’s creativity at the top.

If the Tar Heels hope to break down a Georgia defense ranked 24th nationally with .66 goals per game allowed, All-ACC forwards Avery Patterson and Ally Sentnor will need some help from the supporting cast.

First-year forward Maddie Dahlien, who has made several starts this season, has assumed her new role as a weapon off the bench and scored shortly after entering Saturday’s competition. Her speed on the right flank allows her to act as a playmaker on the outside, which should give the others in the penalty area better scoring chances.

Dominate the midfield

The Tar Heels suffered a hard blow ahead of their matchup against the Monarchs when it was announced that First Team junior All-ACC midfielder Sam Meza would miss time with a stress fracture. Although North Carolina pulled away easily, it might not be that easy against more challenging opponents, especially since Meza’s status is still unknown.

Throughout her career, Meza has been the lynchpin behind Tar Heels’ strong midfield unit. Perhaps the team’s most dynamic dribbler and passer, her creativity is essential to creating scoring chances. At the same time, their defensive efforts have also helped a back line that has been dealing with injuries of its own.

In her absence, Talia DellaPeruta started in her place and was effective on both sides of the ball. The Georgia junior has made 25 starts in her three seasons at Chapel Hill, proving to be more than a reliable option should Meza ever sit out.

Stay strong defensively

After a midseason streak in which the team conceded six goals in four games, North Carolina’s defense has mostly regained its early-season form to become productive over the long run.

Since Oct. 6, the Tar Heels have kept all teams except Florida State off the scoreboard. While the two goals the Seminoles lost in the ACC championship seemed like a step backwards, holding Old Dominion with just four shots and a corner kick attempt marked an easy rebound.

The North Carolina backline, led by senior All-ACC first-team pick Tori Hansen, will be tasked with holding down Georgia’s Dani Murguia, who leads the Bulldogs by eight goals.

Murguia has now scored in three straight competitions so she will arrive at Chapel Hill with a surge of momentum. Marking them accurately and letting other players create their own offense will be a top priority for UNC to progress to the next round.

@hunternelson_1

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