Men's Soccer

No. 8 seed Syracuse men’s soccer falls in Sweet 16 to No. 9 seed North Carolina, 1-0

Tony D. Curtis | Staff Photographer

The Orange's season came to a screeching halt on Sunday. SU had started the season with a program-best 8-0 record.

Miles Robinson draped his jersey over his head and several players knelt around midfield. SU goalkeeper Hendrik Hilpert sat alone, head down, trying to fathom the brutal loss. North Carolina’s players flocked to celebrate. Syracuse’s remained motionless.

The Orange players on the bench stayed put, shielded from the cold by heavy jackets they wore all game. But the chill of the drizzle turned snowfall paled in comparison to the sting of Sunday’s season-ending defeat.

After starting the season with a program record eight wins and no losses, eighth-seeded Syracuse’s (12-4-4, 3-2-3 Atlantic Coast) year was cut shorter than once expected in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 by ninth-seeded North Carolina (13-3-3, 5-1-2), 1-0, at Onondaga Community College’s Murphy Field.

Next weekend, the Tar Heels will host unseeded Providence, which downed No. 1 overall seed Maryland in the second round. The winner gets a trip to Houston for the College Cup, soccer’s final four.

“We felt we were in a pretty good spot going into halftime,” SU head coach Ian McIntyre said of the Orange’s one-goal deficit. “Now having said that, UNC did a pretty good job nullifying. They managed the game extremely well … they kind of took the air out of the game.”

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Tony D. Curtis | Staff Photographer

The score that ended Syracuse’s season left Kamal Miller flat on his butt. The ball had slotted to UNC’s Jeremy Kelly in front and center of the net, where the freshman midfielder navigated his way through a scrum to boot home the goal. Hilpert had crept up near the 6-yard box, left only to turn and watch Kelly’s shot whiz by to the left corner.

From kickoff, the Tar Heels parked in SU territory, but the Orange had not conceded much: Hilpert saved five shots in the first half. Yet on this try, off a pass from Cam Lindley, the Tar Heels converted.

UNC, the ACC Coastal Division champions, owns the nation’s third-best defense in terms of goals-against average. It showed against the Orange. Save for a Johannes Pieles shot on goal, SU generated little offensive flow. Snow flurries dusted the field, limiting second and third touches all game. UNC cut off SU passes, rendering any halftime adjustment Syracuse made meaningless.


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Up front, 6-foot-5, 204-pound forward Tucker Hume imposed his size, strength and skill on SU’s backline. He found openings in the middle, flashing to open space before slotting passes within the 18-yard box. Tar Heels players looked to the redshirt senior, who scored in both SU-UNC matchups last year, to initiate movement, open up the field and give Syracuse’s back line difficulties. Much of UNC’s scoring flowed through Hume, the goal included.

“The battle was the first entry ball,” UNC head coach Carlos Somoano said. “Even though we lost the majority of them, the ones that we did win made the difference.”

In a game where Ian McIntyre strayed from his usual starting lineup (neither Chris Nanco nor Liam Callahan started), Hilpert recorded a career high in saves, with eight. The sophomore’s season ended just shy of his 12th shutout of the season, which would have tied SU’s single-season record.

Syracuse was shut out, adding to its 110 minutes of scoreless action against the Tar Heels from the teams’ 0-0 draw in September. SU’s sputtering offense on Sunday rekindled memories of the team’s four-game winless streak earlier in the year — the longest such span in five years.

Syracuse resurged from that midseason slide. Until Sunday, it had not lost since Oct.7, its only blemish coming earlier this month when Clemson advanced past it on penalty kicks. With each victory, SU’s quest for back-to-back College Cup appearances resurfaced.

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Tony D. Curtis | Staff Photographer

In making sense of a career during which Syracuse blossomed from a middling program to perennial contender, Alseth was optimistic. Until recently, a run this deep would be considered an accomplishment.

“Looking back to freshman year three years ago,” he said, “we didn’t make the postseason at all. We didn’t think of that as a disappointment. Now three years later, we’re one of the top teams in the county.”

But now, a third-round loss is a letdown. A year that showed so much promise with the program’s best-ever start came to a crashing end.

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