Tar Heel men's soccer team seeking continuity

In terms of sheer numbers, Saturday’s match against Gardner-Webb couldn’t have gone much better for the North Carolina men’s soccer team.

In their season-opening victory, the No. 1 Tar Heels launched an offensive barrage, scoring four goals on 17 shots.

And on the defensive end, UNC was even stronger. The Tar Heel backline held Gardner-Webb to just a single shot on the night — and that shot wasn’t even on goal.

But while coach Carlos Somoano was certainly pleased with his team’s efforts, what he saw from the sidelines last Saturday wasn’t necessarily UNC at its best.

“I don’t know if I’d take that as firing on all cylinders,” Somoano said. “It’s the first game. You can’t get too excited for the things that go well, and you can’t get too discouraged for the things that don’t go well.

“We have a lot of work to do to improve, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”

The key area of focus, Somoano said, is learning what the team’s strengths and weaknesses are.

UNC’s season-opening lineup included only four starters from the lineup that won the NCAA championship last season, so this year’s Tar Heels are still learning how to play with one another.

As UNC heads into matches with West Virginia tonight and Boston University on Sunday, the comfort level is already higher than it was a week ago.

“We’ve done a lot better this week, and it really looks like we’re coming together a lot better than in the earlier stages,” junior forward Andy Craven said.

“Just the team chemistry is definitely starting to be shown a little bit more in practice, and I think everybody feels it as well.”

For Craven, the adjustment period is complicated by the fact that he’s coming from an entirely different system. Craven spent the last two seasons playing at the College of Charleston before transferring to UNC.

He admired Somoano and the Tar Heels from afar, and now he’s seeing firsthand what drove UNC to a national title.

“Carlos is a really good coach, and he has a specific style of play that he wants us to play, and it’s different from pretty much any other college team,” Craven said.

“The style is more combination-oriented. More passing, more dribbling … It’s more of like, ‘Let’s think and make the right decision and beat the other team with our skill rather than just running everywhere.’”

While the young Tar Heels work on adjusting to Somoano’s style, they’ll be facing a West Virginia team tonight that has required far less adjustment.

“They’re on the other side of the player pool than we are,” Somoano said. “They have a little more continuity from what they were doing last year to this year, and we don’t have that same continuity.”

Still, Somoano said he’s been encouraged by the growth he’s seen in his players so far.

“Oh my gosh, tremendous — we just had two preseason games, and from Winthrop to Coastal (Carolina) was incredible progress,” Somoano said.

“And from Coastal to Gardner-Webb was just as much. That’s the most positive thing for us, that we have figured some things out that will help us become a better team.

“How good? I can’t answer that.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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