Sports fans everywhere claim UNC is a basketball school, often when disparaging the football team, the campus culture, or whatever is annoying them about Carolina this week. True Tar Heel fans know that UNC has always been a women's soccer school. Anson Dorrance led the team to claim twelve of the first thirteen NCAA championships, at one point winning 92 matches in a row (and 101 games without a loss), and twenty championships in twenty-eight seasons. He also coached the men's team for eleven years, where he compiled a record of 175-65-21 and coached the team to one College Cup appearance.
Dorrance was replaced on the men's side by Elmar Bolowich, who would coach the Heels for the next 22 years. He led the team to one national championship an four College Cup appearances. All in all a very impressive slate, until you compare it to the women's team, who won fifteen national titles over the same time period. Then Bolowich left Chapel Hill for Creighton of all places, and has since spoken of his time with UNC in less than glowing terms.
Without a coach and playing second fiddle in attention to the women's team, UNC men's soccer could have easily gone off the rails. Instead, new coach Carlos Somoano, who had been a Carolina assistant since 2002, refocused the team and lead them to a 21-2-3 record and the university's second national championship. And he did with some serious youth on the team, earning 1st Team All-Freshmen national awards for three Carolina starters. It marked the team's fourth straight College Cup, a marked contrast to the women's teams two straight years of stumbles in earlier tournament play.
And this season looks to be more of the same. Although the Heels did lose some good players to the pros, such as National Player of the Year forward Ben Speas, All-Americans Billy Schuler, Matt Hedges, and Enzo Martinez, as well as Kirk Urso, there's still a strong core remaining. Boyd Okwuonu is one of the best defenders in the country, as evidenced by his slot on the U20 national team, and he's only a sophomore. Scott Goodwin, rising senior, is generally considered among the top goaltenders in the country. And the pair will be joined by three other returning starters and one of the best freshman classes in the nation. The new group is led by midfielder Daniel Garcia, a former club teammate of Okwuonu who is expected to contribute immediately. There's a reason people were talking about a repeat as soon as the trophy was hoisted in the air.
Meanwhile, the competition on the women's side has ramped up considerably, especially in the ACC. And the Heels have lost the best member of their incoming class to the French professional leagues. It will be years if not decades before the men's squad is seen on the same level as the dominant women's team, but is this the year we'll look back and see the scales tilt over to the other side?