The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: No. 10 South Carolina women's soccer suffers first loss of season to No. 3 North Carolina in top-10 showdown

<p>Senior forward Catherine Barry sends the ball of the field during South Carolina’s match against UNC at Stone Stadium on Sept. 7, 2023. The Gamecocks lost to the Tar Heels 2-1.</p>
Senior forward Catherine Barry sends the ball of the field during South Carolina’s match against UNC at Stone Stadium on Sept. 7, 2023. The Gamecocks lost to the Tar Heels 2-1.

The No. 10 South Carolina women’s soccer team suffered its first defeat of the season Thursday night, falling 2-1 to No. 3 North Carolina in a highly-anticipated showdown between two of the nation’s top 10 teams.

The Gamecocks were unable to generate much offense in comparison to its opponent of the night — the team was outshot 19-8, including 5-2 in shots on goal. Though South Carolina had an encouraging start to the second half, it was not enough as the team’s six-match unbeaten run to begin the 2023 campaign came to an end.

“We played an extremely good team in North Carolina, and we showed we can compete with anybody,” head coach Shelley Smith said. “We kind of gave away the first half and that hurt us and eventually led to the loss but thought we responded well in the second half and competed.” 

The Tar Heels started the match on the front foot, pinning the Gamecocks’ defense deep in its own territory when it fended off a relentless barrage of crosses into its penalty area. The visitors were promptly rewarded in the fifth minute when a short-range effort from North Carolina’s senior forward Avery Patterson found the back of the net.

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Throughout the first half, South Carolina relied heavily on counterattacks to generate chances, as North Carolina possessed the ball for most of the opening 45 minutes. The Gamecocks took advantage of the few opportunities they were given, most notably on a through ball from senior forward Catherine Barry that found sophomore forward Shae O’Rourke behind the Tar Heel back line around the 23rd minute. However, the latter’s shot was saved comfortably by opposing redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Emmie Allen.

Just over 10 minutes later, momentum would swing North Carolina’s way after the team passed its way through the Gamecocks defense and sophomore forward Tori Dellaperuta doubled the Tar Heels’ lead. Dellaperuta had another chance to increase that advantage with another goal before the half was over, but fifth-year goalkeeper Heather Hinz came up with a point-blank save to deny her. 

By the half’s end, South Carolina found itself behind in nearly every offensive category. North Carolina held a 9-3 lead on shots and a 3-1 lead on corner kicks. 

Despite its struggles in the first period, South Carolina emerged as the more threatening team after the halftime interval and found the breakthrough the team needed in the 50th minute. Barry dribbled around two Tar Heel defenders before unleashing a cross towards the six-yard box where O’Rourke scored on a first-touch strike for her fourth goal of the season.

“We were very much more positive in our play. We completed passes. We didn’t panic as much as far as turning the ball over and giving it right back to the other team, and we had to put pressure on them,” Smith said. “They threw lots of numbers forward, and we had to find ways to get behind, and we did.”

The Gamecocks’ offense — which began the second half with a burst of energy, as it registered four shots and earned three corner kicks in the first 15 minutes — went silent shortly afterward, going the rest of the match with only mustering one more shot. On the other end of the pitch, South Carolina’s back line held firm after the 60-minute mark, defending six unanswered shots by the Tar Heels to keep the Gamecocks in the game.

South Carolina had one last attacking opportunity in the closing stages of the match when Barry looped a ball into the 18-yard box, but Allen made an aggressive play to corral the ball and keep the Gamecocks’ offense at bay.

With the start of SEC play, where the Gamecocks will frequently face off against high-level opponents, on the horizon, Smith said making some defensive tweaks will be important for the team moving forward.

“We talked about individual defending was key for us, especially as a team like this that’s good 1-v-1 all over the field. The combination play's excellent, so that’s something that we’ve been getting better at but still needs to get better,” Smith said. “I think our movement as far as in the back, tactically staying together, not letting players run across you. The first goal wasn’t good. The second goal we gave too much space. There were some adjustments there we could’ve done.” 

The Gamecocks (5-1-1 overall) wrap up its non-conference slate of matches on Sunday at 6 p.m. when facing off against Furman. The match will be streamed on SEC Network+.


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