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Dec. 11, 2011
HOOVER, Ala. - Junior Ben Speas turned in the goal of the tournament Sunday to provide Carolina with a 1-0 edge in the 65th minute and the Tar Heel defense stepped up in the final minutes to give UNC its second national title in school history with a 1-0 win over Charlotte at Regions Parks in Hoover, Ala. The title comes 10 years after UNC won the championship in 2001.
Speas gathered a free ball in the middle of the field and attacked a retreating 49er defense. After making a run at the right corner of the box, Speas reversed course and dribbled the ball to his left before unleashing a left-footed shot over the Charlotte goalkeeper Klay Davis. The ball dipped over Davis and below the cross bar to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 advantage it would not relinquish.
The goal was Speas' third of the tournament and earned the junior forward Most Valuable Offensive Player honors.
Speas nearly put the Tar Heels ahead just minutes before his goal as he worked his way down the left flank before moving to the middle of the field and floating a ball to the far post. Sophomore Rob Lovejoy was making a run down the right and connected on a diving header as the cross got over the Charlotte defender but Lovejoy's header sailed wide of the target.
The Tar Heels struggled to control possession early on as Charlotte controlled the tempo early on in the contest. The 49ers had four shots in the opening 17 minutes of play but the Tar Heel backline made sure that none reached goalkeeper Scott Goodwin. Center backs Boyd Okwuonu and Matt Hedges combined to block three of the early opportunities.
Neither team was able to register a shot on goal in the opening 45 minutes but the Tar Heels turned in the best opportunity when midfielder Mikey Lopez forced a turnover and started a counter attack.
Lopez gathered the turnover at midfield and made a run with Billy Schuler on his left and Rob Lovejoy on his right. Lopez played a perfect ball to a cutting Lovejoy who worked his way into the box and chipped a short cross to Lopez who hit the ball with his right foot but the ball missed the near post and went out for a goal kick. The Tar Heel defense came up big 10 minutes into the second half as they turned away a pair of shots from Adam Kirkbride before Giuseppe Gentile sent a shot wide allowing the Tar Heels to regroup.
The Tar Heels finally broke through in the 65th minute when Speas turned in a golazo with his shot from 25 yards out that changed the momentum of the match.
Carolina held possession after the initial tally and were looking to add to their total before Charlotte mounted a late charge.
The 49ers earned a corner kick in the 84th minute and nearly found the equalizer when Thomas Allen ripped a shot from eight yards out. The ball was destined for the back of the net but defender Jordan Gafa was the last man on the line and headed the ball clear.
The line clearance started a flurry of shots from the 49ers that the Tar Heels continued to turn away. The 87th minute saw Charlotte rip a shot that was saved by Goodwin, the rebound was crossed to T.J. Beaulieu who headed the ball off the crossbar. Jordan McCrary forced his way in front of the next shot opportunity before a shot went side of the goal for a goal kick.
The Tar Heels held off three final shots from the 49ers to claim its second national championship in school history.
Carolina was outshot for just the second time all season but were able to find the back of the net to provide the 1-0 final.
The Tar Heels are the first ACC team since Virginia in 1995 to claim the treble as UNC won the ACC regular season and tournament titles in addition to the NCAA title. Carolina finishes with a 21-2-3 mark which equals the school record for wins with the 2001 team.
Head coach Carlos Somoano becomes just the second coach in NCAA history to claim a national title in his first year since Mike Freitag claimed the 2004 title with Indiana.
In addition to Speas earning Most Valuable Offensive Player honors, the Tar Heels placed Billy Schuler, Enzo Martinez and Kirk Urso on the All-Tournament team.