FORT WAYNE – It was clear early Saturday night that this wouldn’t be a typical exhibition soccer game.
Depending on who you talked to, there was anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 fans jammed into Hefner Fields for the marquee match of the Shindigz National Soccer Festival. They were huddled so close to the field that corner kicks were challenging because there wasn’t enough room for the players.
The game featured the 2012 NCAA champions, the Indiana Hoosiers, and the 2011 champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels, teams that didn’t seem to be treating it like any old preseason game, at least not judging by the number of undercuts, body checks, slide tackles and yellow cards.
In the end, the Tar Heels won 1-0, thanks to forward Cooper Vandermaas-Peeler’s low crossing shot from the right side of the box early in a second half that was dominated by the Hoosiers in time of possession.
Both teams have a lot of pride and want to win, North Carolina coach Carlos Somoano said, when asked about the physicality of the match. We tried to temper that and say, OK, let’s make sense out of this. It’s a preseason game.’ But nobody wants to back down. Both programs have a lot of pride and that’s just what comes with it.
On Thursday at the Festival, Indiana tied Marquette 3-all. And North Carolina defeated Michigan State 2-1.
After those games, Indiana professed its desire to defeat North Carolina, while the Tar Heels downplayed the importance of the exhibition match.
In hindsight, maybe the Tar Heels were selling something they didn’t believe.
It was a good game, in general, for both teams, Somoano said.
And what about the obstacles provided by the fans?
It was a little old school, but it was fun, he said.
The physical play was old school, too.
I kind of (expected it) and I kind of didn’t. It is a preseason game, Indiana midfielder Nikita Kotlov said. We knew we were going to give it our all and they were going to give it their all. Sometimes we’d get the calls and sometimes we didn’t.
Indiana had its respect for the Tar Heels – who the Hoosiers beat in the Elite Eight last year – heightened by the game at Hefner.
Obviously, North Carolina is a very sharp team, Kotlov said.
In my opinion, they were the best team we played last year, and they’ve got a lot of their talent back. They’re very similar to us. They’re very quick and fast and like to spread (the field) a lot. It’s good to see that early because they’re definitely a tournament-type team.
(Losing) makes us stay more humble because they’re obviously a great team, and we can learn from this experience. It was a tough, close game. and we had a lot of chances that could have gone either way. This teaches us that things won’t always go our way and we have to fight for every possession. Hopefully, we’ll learn from this.