It was a rematch that ended as it began: with a UNC set-piece goal. Only this time, Boston College Men’s Soccer didn’t have an answer for the Tar Heels, falling 1-0 in the first round of the ACC tournament on Wednesday night. The loss concludes a frustrating season that’s best summed up in an Eduardo Galeano quote: “sometimes soccer is a pleasure that hurts…”
Tragedy stuck the Eagles in the 82nd minute, coming in the form of a UNC corner kick and Ernest Bawa. Cameron Fisher swung the ball in for UNC, aiming for the center of the box and hoping that a Tar Heel could beat an Eagles defender to the ball. Bawa rose to the occasion, slipping between Javier Gaytan and Ted Cargill before flicking the ball back towards the left post, heading it down and in to give UNC the 1-0 with eight minutes left in the game.
Defense was the name of the game with the Eagles playing in a low block that featured five in the back. BC opted for possession in the hopes of grinding out the match and winning with a goal scored in transition, or possibly lobbed over the UNC backline for Stefan Sigurdarson to run onto. Keeping UNC off the scoreboard was the priority over getting the Eagles on it, limiting offensive creativity and preventing BC from establishing any offensive pressure or game flow.
In the second, as time wound down, the Eagles applied a press, trying to disrupt UNC and give the defense a break. BC’s first shot of the game came 11 minutes into the first half with a chance by Camilo Ponce—but their next shot would come in the 73rd minute, also on a chance by Ponce. 62 minutes elapsed between shots, and three of the five shots came in the last twenty minutes, hardly giving the Eagles a chance to find an answer to the late UNC goal.
Diego Ochoa, in the 90th minute, came close. The defender, pushing forward as the Eagles threw everything at the UNC net, found a pocket of space, and, with his head up knowing a UNC slide tackle was coming, rifled off a dipping ball towards the far post, forcing a diving save out of UNC keeper Marco Saborio-Perez. The dangerous chance proved the Eagles were capable of forcing saves and putting shots on net—skills missing for a large part of the game in favor of defensive play that didn’t allow for offensive play from the Eagles.
But the story of the game wasn’t the Eagles offense—it was the defense, and BC keeper Brennan Klein in particular. Making his postseason debut, Klein did everything in his power to keep the Eagles in the game through tremendous saves, but also by being unafraid to organize the defense in front of him or take the ball and dribble forward himself.
Klein’s most important save came in the 86th minute. The Eagles were caught in transition, with Key White settling a long ball and cutting to his left past defender CJ Williams. A step ahead of both Williams and a sprinting Victor Souza attempting to slow down the play, White looked to be in on goal alone. Instead of hesitating, Klein came even further off his line, closing down on White and lunging towards the far post to force White to pick a side. Even while going to his right, Klein managed to save White’s shot with his feet, pushing the ball away from trouble and preventing UNC from making the score 2-0.
In a game of highlight reel saves, Milo Garvanian’s “de-Kleined” strike in the 54th minute was Klein’s best. In transition, Victor Olofsson fed the ball through to Ernest Bawa, out in space on the left side. Bawa took the ball towards the touchline just inside the box before dropping a pass back to Garvanian at the top of the 18-yard box. Klein, having been tracking Bawa, started shuffling as he tracked the pass to Garvanian. The UNC midfielder fired a one-touch shot towards the upper right corner that Klein knocked over the crossbar with his right hand, complete with some acrobatics.
Defense might win championships, but on Wednesday night, there was an addendum to that rule: defense wins championships when a team is already up by one goal. No defensive slide-tackling or goalkeeping heroics can win a game if the offense can’t also find the back of the opposing team’s net.
The Eagles finish the season 4-7-5 with a 1-4-3 ACC record to end the year with a .406-win percentage. For the sixth straight year, BC finished the season without an away ACC win, failing to win a single match on the road.
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