SBI College Preview: After last year’s success, Tar Heels want to win it all

Boyd Okwuonu by UNC Tar HeelsPhoto by the University of North Carolina

By AARON CRANFORD

When asked what the North Carolina men’s soccer team goals were this season, junior Jonathan Campbell’s answer was simple: the team wants to win everything.

He wants to win the ACC regular season title, the ACC championship, and the NCAA championship.

Last season, the Tar Heels were built around defense. Campbell, a second-team All-ACC defender, helped the Tar Heels rank sixth nationally in goals-against-average and 11th in shutout percentage.

The Tar Heels, ranked No. 7 in SBI preseason Top 25, will have the likes of Campbell and defender Boyd Okwuonu to solidify their back line. Okwuonu played for the USMNT U-20s in 2012, starting in nine out of 10 matches. Last season, he was named second team All-America by College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer, and was also named ACC Defender of the Year.

Although they had an outstanding year defensively, the Tar Heels are focusing more on this season’s overall performance rather than last year’s successes.

“We have been a little bit shaky on defense in these preseason games,” Campbell said.

The Tar Heels won their opening preseason match against Gardner Webb, 7-0, but they have lost their last two preseason matches against the NASL’s Carolina Railhawks and Wake Forest by the same score line, 2-1. With the preseason in the rear view mirror, Campbell said he is set to do more to help out the rest of the team.

“The main thing for me is, last year, it was a little easier because I was a little bit younger, so I was able to be a leader by example,” he said. “It is a little bit harder when you have to lead by example and lead vocally. If I’m having a bad game, I still need to be vocal.”

More than 10 players are graduating after this season, so for them, it is their last opportunity to win the title.

“This season we have a lot of returning guys and also some older guys,” Campbell said, “so combining those two, we feel like we have a good shot at making a great run.”

Senior forwards Andy Craven and Rob Lovejoy will return to action this year after missing the entire 2013 season due to injuries. In the 2012 season, Craven led the Tar Heels in goals scored, and Lovejoy was tied for the second most goals on the team.

The Tar Heels have many players returning this year, but they also have talented freshmen joining the squad.

Zach Wright, a Sporting KC U18 Academy player, will try to help the Tar Heels score this upcoming season. He led Sporting KC Academy with eight goals in 15 games during the 2013-14 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season. Another Sporting Academy player, Andy Lopez — brother of Sporting KC player Mikey Lopez, a former Tar Heel — scored seven goals as a midfielder in 15 games in the same season as Wright.

Head coach Carlos Somoano said he is excited to have Lopez, although a hamstring injury will sideline Lopez at the beginning of the season.

“Zach Wright has done very well,” Somoano said. “I’ve been very pleased with his preparation. I suspect he will be seen on the field for sure.”

Campbell would like to score a goal this year because he was unable to last season. He said the team usually practices set pieces before a game, but recently, they have been doing them nonstop.

“We try to prepare for what (opponents) will do. However, we practice set plays all the time,” he said. “We go over throw-ins all of the time, and it may seem repetitive, but a lot of teams will give up goals on set pieces.”

Somoano said the team has gone through a physically demanding preseason, which is why he has the team focusing on set pieces days before their first regular season game.

“We had two more days before a two-game weekend,” he said. “It’s one of the exercises we can do that won’t physically demand as much as some of the other exercises.”

Somoano said good leadership is a must in order to have a successful season, and he wants his team to maximize their opportunities as well.

Last season, the Tar Heels were defeated in the first round of play in the ACC tournament and the second round of the NCAA tournament, but with many players returning from injury, Somoano said they will be a very different team than last year’s.

“Focusing on the day to day is essential,” Somoano said, “so when these opportunities are given to us we give ourselves a chance to be successful.”

The SBI’s No. 7 Tar Heels will play No. 14 Cal-Berkeley on Friday and SBI’s No. 1 UCLA on Sunday.

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