Soccer preview: NCAA Tournament Edition

The Bulls are fresh off an uplifting American Athletic Conference championship victory, and have just one more day before their matchup in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in Chapel Hill against ACC at-large North Carolina (ranked #20). The Tarheels enter the game ranked 20th nationally, with their most recent game a 2-1 loss in the ACC quarterfinals to Clemson.

North Carolina finished the 2013 season 8-4-5, with a majority of those ties coming against very notable teams. In total, UNC had five games against teams who finished in the top 15, compiling a record of 1-1-3, not including an exhibition win over Michigan State (#11) before the season began. The secret to the Tarheels' success has been a very stingy defense, led by keeper Brendan Moore, who recorded a total of 9 shutouts in the regular season. Even more integral to the shutouts than Moore, though, has been the defensive front. In a stretch of three 1-0 victories toward the end of the season, Moore only had to make one save total, thanks majorly in part to Junior defender Boyd Okuwonu, who was voted as the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year. Throughout the season, the defense surrendered 0.667 goals per game.

UNC's offense is not quite as potent, however. In their 17 games this year, they managed to score 2 or more goals in only two games, averaging a 0.078 shot percentage. Tyler Engel is the team's offensive workhorse, accounting for 6 goals and 2 assists this year. They'll be met by another stout defense in USF's backfield, which should prove to be a worthy adversary.

USF, while still high on their dramatic conference victory and 6-game unbeaten streak, may be a bit exhausted after going into double overtime in three of their last four games. In order to beat UNC, the Bulls will want to stay fresh and keep the ball on the opposite end of the field so as to maximize their shooting potential. If they can manage to keep the offense at a high tempo, they'll have a chance at advancing to face 12 seed UC Irvine.

The game will be at 7:00 on Thursday night in Chapel Hill, NC. It will likely be viewable on www.goheels.com

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