Last year, I was pretty lax about going to see non-basketball sports at Duke and UNC. I hit up most of the main football games, and I was definitely on the spot come hoops season, but I never went to a single soccer match, and only made it to a couple baseball, tennis, and lacrosse games in the spring. It’s lucky I did, though, because those late experiences kicked me into gear. I remembered how much fun it was to watch elite college sports of any kind, and I vowed to make an effort to get to more games this year.
Still, I didn’t know if I’d like watching women’s soccer this weekend at the Carolina Nike Classic. The defending national champs (Notre Dame) were in town, and sure, UNC has the most successful college program of any sport in the country, and yeah, I’ve been getting really into soccer over the past year and a half. But logic be damned- I was afraid to be bored.
Let me tell ya, I was one misguided dude.
I watched UNC-Notre Dame on Friday night, and Duke-Notre Dame and UNC-Houston yesterday, and I haven’t had so much fun at live sporting events in a while. I don’t think I realized how incredibly skilled the players are at this level. I’m not sure what I was expecting (tiny children clustering around the ball and crying on the field?), but it definitely wasn’t this high quality of play. Which is dumb, because why wouldn’t they be great? Alas, the prospect of being dumb has never stopped me from actually being dumb, and probably never will.
So, let’s go through the highlights. First:
#1 NOTRE DAME – #3 UNC, Friday
By now, it’s fairly well documented that the Irish beat Carolina 4-0 in the tournament last year and went on to win the title. It was the first time in about a 500 matches (or something) that UNC had lost by more than one goal, and it can’t have sat well with Anson Dorrance, the wacky coach with 21 national titles to his name (you can read the account of my only phone conversation with Dorrance, where he told me ‘the seeds of evil have been sown into your soul,’ here). Fetzer Field was good and packed Friday, and I was extra excited because of a video that TarHeelAlex posted in the comments beforehand featuring some of the Lady Heels:
If you don’t want to bother watching it, it’s basically three gals giving you reasons why you should attend the game, including:
1 – Lady Gaga would be in attendance. (Complete lie, it turns out; I want my money back.)
2 – They’re all single. One of them promised to throw a t-shirt with her phone number wrapped inside to a lucky fan.
3 – They have the best food ‘south of the Mississippi,’ including caviar, sushi, and fresh linguine. (MORE LIES. All I know is that water costs $6. SIX FUCKING DOLLARS FOR A NATURAL RESOURCE, GUYS.)
4 – They can help you become a better dancer. (Again, a lie, although they do this strange toe-tapping dance after a game that’s pretty fun to watch.)
When I first saw the length of this video, I didn’t think I’d make it through six minutes. And I was right. But I made it through four, and it was actually funny. Plus, you have to tip the cap to anyone who’s willing to lie over and over to get people to attend a game. Respect.
Anyway, the Notre Dame game was fun. UNC scored the first goal, and it basically looked like ND had no shot to get on the board. UNC’s offense looked a little off, but their defense was stellar. The best player to watch, though, was the girl in the middle of the YouTube video above, Kealia Ohai. She usually plays on the left wing, and is amazingly fast and deft with the ball. It was fun to watch how the defensive strategy changed over the course of the match. At first, the Notre Dame defenders played her normally, but after she smoked them over and over, they switched it up. And by “switched it up,” I mean they would immediately backpedal like 15 yards whenever Ohai got a touch.
Otherwise, I’m not sure what to think of UNC. The main scorer, Courtney Jones, seemed kinda slow to me, but apparently she’s very good, so it’s possible my eyes were deceiving me. Aside from that, it’ll take a few games before I have any great analysis to offer.
It looked like things were in the bag, but then it started to rain. A high ball came in late in the second half, and instead of punching it out, the UNC keeper tried to catch it above her head. Never a great idea with a slick ball, and it predictably went through her hands and into the goal. 1-1.
This is when I turned into a bad fan. I didn’t realize that college soccer had overtime, and I didn’t realize it was sudden death. After 90 minutes, I thought it was a draw. And as you know, ole Shane is a party dude, and party dudes can’t be staying too late at soccer games on Friday night. So I left for Durham, and fuck, because 5 minutes into overtime Ohai passed to Jones for the game-winning overtime goal. You can see both Carolina goals here.
Poor decision on my part, gang. But I wasn’t about to make the same mistake Sunday. It started with…
#17 DUKE – #1 NOTRE DAME
I definitely did not expect this, but Duke basically controlled the entire match. It looked like they were bound to get a goal at any moment, but then, in the 25th minute, disaster struck with one of the strangest goals I’ve ever seen. The Duke goalie, Tara Campbell, tried to clear a ball. Bizarrely, it struck a Notre Dame forward in the face. She went down like she’d been knocked out cold, and stayed there for about five minutes. The ball, though, deflected back, and was slowly trickling toward the net. It was mesmerizing to watch, because you could tell it would be a tight race between the ball and the Duke defenders. The ball won, barely, and the Irish were up 1-0. That’s how the half ended.
Then, in the second, it was all Duke. They finally broke through in the 62nd minute, and then, four minutes later, an Alaskan freshman named Kelly Cobb made some magic. Cobb had scored in her first game ever in a 2-0 win against Houston on Friday, and already the hype around her had started to build, and that was before the goal that I’ll be calling “the sickness.” She started at midfield on the right wing, and her first move was to face her defender, pop the ball over her head, and dash by her on the right side. She proceeded to streak past three defenders, cross toward the middle, and unleash a left-footed shot over the goalie’s head just under the bar. It was absolutely incredible.
(Lindy Brown, the team’s PR guy, told me there will be video later, but unfortunately I don’t have it at the moment.)
Duke scored a third goal, which was especially delightful because there was a man next to me, presumably Italian or Spanish, who was very nice and kept shouting “GOLAZO!” every time Duke scored. There was also some kind of interaction with other fans that led me to believe he might have agreed to get his belly button pierced if Duke beat Notre Dame.
Anyway, Duke scored an incredible victory, 3-1, against the best team in the country. They got a little lucky that Notre Dame didn’t score again at certain moments in the second half, but I have to say: I didn’t see anything to indicate that the Devils can’t beat the Heels come Tobacco Road Derby time. Just saying.
#3 UNC – Houston
This was a laugher all the way, with Carolina eventually winning 6-1. The best goal of the game came from my new hero, Ohai, on a series of jukes at the top of the box that led to a beautiful shot into the upper right corner. Again, I’m hoping for some video later today.
Those were some good times, my friends. And let me wrap it up this way: the defending national champions just left town with two lucky goals, two losses, and a lot of disappointment. It’s looking like a great year on Tobacco Road.
-The #23 Duke men dropped their season opener to unranked UNC-Greensoboro, 3-2. Not a good start. Andrew Wenger (any relation to Arsene?) scored both Duke goals.
-Second-ranked UNC field hockey took it to the Big Ten over the weekend, winning two games and not conceding a goal.
This is football week on TRB, so the rest of this week will be dedicated to the delicate process of getting amped for the season openers on Saturday.