By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
@Tim_Linafelt on Twitter
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — On paper, there’s not much that separates the women’s soccer teams Florida State and North Carolina.
Each has a top-five national ranking, a sterling overall record and an unblemished mark in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Still, when the No. 2 Seminoles visit fifth-ranked UNC tonight (7 p.m., RSN/ESPN3), FSU coach Mark Krikorian will still see it as a barometer for where his team stands as the regular season nears its conclusion.
That’s just the way things go when facing the Tar Heels, who for years have been the preeminent program in college soccer.
“Every year we look at it as being a very important game for us in determining where we are as a program,” Krikorian said. “I think the measuring stick every year is how do you compete with Carolina? Because they’re the ones that have been the best.”
UNC’s dominance over the years is overwhelming. The Tar Heels (10-2-1, 7-0 ACC) have won 21 national titles, been runners-up twice more and have long owned the ACC.
But FSU (14-1, 7-0) in recent years has more than measured up.
The Seminoles own four straight victories over the Tar Heels – two in the regular season and two in the ACC tournament – dating back to the 2011 season.
And if they win Thursday, they’ll become the first team ever to claim seven all-time victories against the Tar Heels.
Krikorian, naturally, doesn’t expect that to come easily.
Despite their run of success, the games have been close. Each has been decided by just a single goal, and twice the contests went into overtime.
Krikorian said that UNC’s unique playing style is what makes them so difficult to play.
Whereas lots of teams – FSU included – like to possess the ball and build a gradual attack, the Tar Heels are constantly pushing the pace and playing aggressive defense in hopes of creating a mistake.
They play only three defenders (most teams use four) and employ three forwards to put pressure on opposing defenses.
Not many teams have the caliber of players necessary to compete with the style. The Tar Heels do.
“Their playing style is so different than ours,” Krikorian said. “We really are much more interested in controlling the tempo at a slower pace. And they’re much more interested in amping (up) the tempo.
“They want to play the game at a sprint. Where we want to play the game sometimes at a sprint and sometimes we want to slow the tempo down.”
The Seminoles’ starting 11 even practiced against 14 players in hopes of simulating the UNC’s attack.
“The pressure is so strong,” FSU junior midfielder Carson Pickett said. “Whenever we get the ball there’s about three people around us, so we have to be ready right when we get the ball to know where we’re going next.”
Thursday’s game carries implications beyond bragging rights. With only three games left in the regular season, a winner would emerge as the heavy favorite to win the ACC regular season title and a No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament.
Even better, from Krikorian’s perspective, is that a win would further boost FSU’s NCAA tournament resume and would likely place the Seminoles among the favorites for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
FSU is currently riding a 10-game winning streak, its only loss a 2-1 setback to No. 8 Florida in September.
And with this year’s College Cup being held in Boca Raton, FSU could potentially navigate all of NCAA play without leaving the state of Florida.
“It’d be very nice,” Krikorian said. “It’d be great to be able to play here.”