North Carolina - Five Star Recruiting Class - Look around the Division I landscape and you will be hard pressed to find a team that has been more successful over the past five years than North Carolina. Winning is part of North Carolina's identity. The Tar Heels advanced to the College Cup (Final Four) from 2008 through 2011 and won the National Championship in 2011. Last year they fell one game short of their fifth consecutive trip to the College Cup when they were topped 1-0 by eventual National Champion Indiana in the Elite Eight. The loss to Indiana at Fetzer Field halted North Carolina's forty game unbeaten streak at home. The Tar Heels have finished in the top five in the season ending national polls for the past five seasons.
The good times are expected to continue for North Carolina in 2013. Eight starters return and another impressive recruiting class is on its way to Chapel Hill. Carlos Somoano does have some gaps to fill due to the decision of All-America midfielder Mikey Lopez to enter the professional ranks at the end of his sophomore season and the graduation of midfielders Martin Murphy (5g, 2a) and Cameron Brown (3g, 3a), defender Jordan Gafa, and All-America goalkeeper Scott Goodwin from the 2012 team that was 16-4-3 overall but the talent level remains very high.
North Carolina's nine member recruiting class includes two incoming freshmen rated by College Soccer News as among the top recruits in the country. Defender Colton Storm from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania is rated as the fourth best recruit in the class of 2013 and defender Jalen Markey from Renton, Washington is rated as the twentieth best recruit in the class of 2013. Both are 2012 NSCAA Youth All-Americans. Junior transfer Tyler Engel from SMU is another highly regarded member of the class. Somoano stated, "This is an exciting group. We believe these student-athletes have bright futures as Tar Heels."
Last year the Tar Heels were superb on the defensive side of the ball holding opponents to a total of only seven goals all season. They posted a total of seventeen shutouts and recorded a .29 goals against average to lead the country in both of those areas. On the offensive side of the ball the possession oriented Tar Heels were also very productive finding the back of the net a total of thirty-three times. However, at times they struggled to finish the scoring opportunities that came their way in the attacking third. A little improvement in that area could take the Tar Heels a long way in 2013.
The Tar Heels return plenty of talent up-top which will give Somoano several different line up options and the ability to keep fresh legs on the pitch. Seniors Andy Craven (6g, 5a) and Rob Lovejoy (5g, 2a) return along with sophomore Danny Garcia (4g, 6a) who can play up-top or as an attacking midfielder.
Craven, a 2012 All-ACC Second Team selection, led the Tar Heels in scoring last year. The 2012 campaign was Craven's first in Chapel Hill after transferring in from the College of Charleston. He had two very impressive seasons at the College of Charleston but missed over half of the 2011 campaign due to injury. With a year in Chapel Hill under his belt, Craven should be primed for a very productive senior season.
Lovejoy missed the first twelve games of the 2012 season due to offseason surgery but when he returned to the lineup he made an immediate impact. Lovejoy is a finisher with the size and quickness to be a difference maker. Look for him to hit the ground running in 2013.
Garcia, the 2012 ACC Freshman of the Year, is an impact player and the type of player who elevates the play of everyone around him. Garcia is a playmaker and will be the catalyst of the Tar Heel offense whether distributing the ball, creating space off the dribble, or placing the rock in the back of the net himself.
Junior forward Cooper Vandermaas-Peeler (1g, 0a) who saw action in nine contests last year and redshirt senior forward Josh Rice (0g, 1a) are among other returning players who are very capable of contributing to the Tar Heel offense. Both are value added in that they have the potential to add an additional dimension to the North Carolina attack. Sophomores Nico Rittmeyer and Nyambi Jabang are among other returning forwards who will seek to play a greater role in 2013.
Junior transfer forward Tyler Engel, who was a two year starter at SMU where he tallied eight goals and contributed seven assists last year, has the potential to add another experienced element to the North Carolina offense in 2013 in a manner similar to Ben Speas in 2011 who transferred to North Carolina after two productive seasons at Akron.
The loss of Lopez, Murphy, and Brown takes a bite out of the UNC midfield but a solid core returns that appears to be ready and very eager to have the opportunity to play a greater role. Junior Verneri Valimaa (0g, 1a) and sophomores Raby George (1g, 1a) and Alex Olofson (1g, 0a) are among returning starters who should play key roles in 2013. Seniors Chipper Root (1g, 0a) and Alex Waters, redshirt juniors Glen Long and David Walden (1g, 0a) and sophomores Nico Melo and Nathan Diehl are among others who look to be in the hunt for playing time.
The backline looks to be among the best in the country heading into the 2013 campaign with junior All-American Boyd Okwuonu, junior Jordan McCrary and sophomore Jonathan Campbell set to return. Okwuonu and Campbell give the Tar Heels a solid center back duo while McCrary is a rock solid outside back with the all the skills needed to effectively push forward to add to the attack and create a numbers advantage. Redshirt junior C.J. Odenigwe and highly regarded sophomore Joe Amon are among other returning players who look to be in the hunt for playing time in the back.
The graduation of Scott Goodwin who was a three year starter in goal creates the biggest unanswered question heading into the 2013 season. Goodwin, who ended a very successful tenure in Chapel Hill as the program's all time career leader in shutouts with forty-one clean sheets to his credit, leaves some big shoes to fill. Redshirt junior Brendan Moore and redshirt sophomore Sam Euler are the likely candidates for the starting role in 2013.
The Tar Heels will open the 2013 season with non-conference contests at home against always competitive Monmouth and Coastal Carolina before traveling to face Notre Dame the following weekend to open Atlantic Coast Conference play. They then host ACC foe Maryland the following weekend in a game that could ultimately determine the outcome of the regular season conference race and that will definitely have national implications.
North Carolina will be loaded with talent on both sides of the ball in 2013. If they stay focused and take it one game at a time the sky could be the limit for this team.
Francesco Amorosino - Midfield - Alexandria, Virginia - Washington International School - Played club soccer for the McLean Development Academy. Virginia ODP team.
Tyler Engel - Forward - Orland Park, Illinois - Sandburg High School - Junior transfer from SMU where he was a two-year starter. Second Team All-CUSA. Played for the Chicago Fire Academy.
Omar Holness - Midfield - Kingston, Jamaica - Wolmer's Boys School - Team captain of the Jamaica U-17 World Cup team. Played for the U-20 Jamaican team in the CONCACAF stages of World Cup qualifying.
Charlie Horton - Goalkeeper - Chagrin Falls, Ohio - University School - Played club soccer for the Cleveland Internationals. Ohio ODP team. IMG Soccer Academy from 2009-10.
Jalen Markey - Markey - Defender - Renton, Washington, O'Dea - Seattle Sounders Academy. Ranked the 20th best recruit in the country by College Soccer News. NSCAA Youth All-America.
Warren Marshall - Midfield - Clemmons, North Carolina - West Forsyth - NSCAA Youth All-American. Played club soccer for NC Fusion.
Eric O'Brien - Forward - Wilson, North Carolina - Hunt High School - Netted 118 goals during his high school career. All-Conference. All-Region. Played club with the Capital Area Soccer League.
Colton Storm - Defender - Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania - Cumberland Valley - Ranked by CSN as the 4th best player in the class of 2013. Member of US U-17 Residency Program. NSCAA Youth All-American.
Marco Sunol - Forward - Greensboro, North Carolina - Greensboro Day High School - Played club soccer with NC Fusion. Member North Carolina ODP program in 2008 and 2009.