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Weekend Soccer Update: Louisville beats North Carolina

Louisville Soccer kicked off their postseason with a massive victory over North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Sunday afternoon.

Ivan Gutierrez' goal secured Louisville's victory at UNC on Sunday.
Ivan Gutierrez' goal secured Louisville's victory at UNC on Sunday.
Jeff Reinking, Louisville Athletics

Here we go. The Weekend Soccer Update could have faced an undesirable turn if Louisville would have had a rough weekend in North Carolina, but in true Louisville Soccer postseason form, they did not disappoint. Instead, the Cards left Chapel Hill with a 1-0 victory that was big in many ways, so let's get to them.

First, your highlights and game recap from the wonderful folks at Louisville.

Ivan Gutierrez will obviously get Goal of the Game honors this week for his game-winning goal (standings in a bit), but let's talk about the goal itself, seeing as it was the only one of the match and was pretty important. Rewind your highlights to 1:40 and buckle up for an in-depth look at this wonderful goal that couldn't have come at a better time in the match. This is a historic moment in Weekend Soccer Update history that will include screen shots, so brace yourselves.

You'll see that Louisville doesn't even have the ball at the 1:40 mark of the highlight, which is important. They'll turn the ball over soon, which brings us to our first freeze frame. Gutierrez is fairly deep in the Louisville end when this happens. Observe:

Gutierrez 1

Pretty soon, he's going to start sprinting right up the middle of the field as Ricardo Velazco starts to find his way down the left side. Velazco's going to see Gutierrez soon, as well as the big space that you'll see behind the Tar Heel defenders. Velazco deserves plenty of credit as well for being patient after the ball turned over, because Gutierrez has a long way to go. Now, here's a look at a few moments before Velazco plays the through ball.

Gutierrez 2

Velazco finally finds Gutierrez with a nicely weighted ball that sliced those three Tar Heels out of the play. As for Gutierrez' part, that run that started nearly half way into Louisville's end is almost over. The decisiveness to sprint roughly 60 yards (extremely roughly, could have been more) to find himself in a position to score was extremely well done. Here's a look at his work just before he takes a touch and finishes it:

Gutierrez 3

Beautiful work, beautiful ball, beautiful goal.

Any victory on the road in the ACC is a big victory, and it's even better when it comes against one of the best teams in the country in the conference tournament. Louisville overcame the rare obstacle of being outshot by North Carolina and finding a way to grind out a victory late in a close match, and they deserve a ton of credit. That formula can be difficult to solve against a team as experienced as talented as North Carolina, but as we've said all season, Louisville has the talent to match anyone in the country. This weekend, we saw what happens when that talent comes together in a big moment.

The postseason road was not going to be easy for Louisville this year, but they took a huge step on Sunday, advancing to the ACC semifinals where they'll face a rematch against Syracuse, a team they beat at Lynn Stadium earlier this season. Notre Dame and Clemson will face off in the other semifinal, and the two finalists will meet on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. on ESPNU. A look at how the whole bracket has shaken out thus far is here.

Now is also a good time to review the GOTG standings, where Ivan Gutierrez may have just embarked on a late postseason push that even the Kansas City Royals would appreciate.

T1. Tim Kubel - 2 GOTGs (Game 6 at UK, Game 9 at NC State)
T1. Ben Strong - 2 GOTGs (Game 11 at Notre Dame, Game 12 vs. FGCU) 
T1. Andrew Brody - 2 GOTGs (Game 1 vs. Maryland, Game 14 vs. Evansville)
T2. Daniel Keller - 1 GOTG (Game 7 vs. Pitt) 
T2. Will Vitalis - 1 GOTG (Game 4 vs. Duke) 
T2. Nolan Moore - 1 GOTG (Game 5 at B.C.)
T2. Jerry Ramirez - 1 GOTG (Game 13 vs. Syracuse)
T2. Ivan Gutierrez - 1 GOTG (ACC Quarters at UNC)

The victory over Syracuse a couple of weeks ago was big, but another on Friday would be even bigger. The Orange's RPI ranking is still very strong (#10), and there's obviously a conference final berth on the line. Syracuse will bring a similar challenge as they did a couple of weeks ago, and this time the equalizer that is a neutral field will be in play. For a brief refresher on all that happened the last time Syracuse and Louisville met on the pitch, head here.

Players to watch for the Orange include goalkeeper Alex Bono, forward Emil Ekblom and defender Jordan Murrell. Bono leads the ACC with 11 shutouts, Ekblom's seven goals are good for third in the ACC and Murrell's six assists are tied for fourth best in the conference. In other words, like North Carolina, the Orange have experience and talent on all levels of the field. For a defender (Murrell) to lead the team in assists likely means that he's dangerous on set pieces and likes to get forward, which is often the mark of a dynamic attacking group. Syracuse will have the added incentive to exact a bit of revenge from a couple of weeks ago as well.

This is the time of year where the postseason tournaments get tense and great teams rise to the top. Louisville took a big step forward with a road win against a very good team, and that same resolve will be required against one of the nation's best this weekend. It's all part of life in the ACC, where soccer is just about as loaded as basketball.

Kickoff from Cary, North Carolina on Friday night is at 8:00 p.m. My plan is to watch the first half hour of the Minnesota game, then set up an auxiliary laptop on the coffee table to simulcast soccer on ESPN3 and basketball on TV. I hope you join me. We'll be back on the Weekend Soccer Update next week to celebrate an ACC championship. See you then.