Tar Heel goalies play for keeps
For the last three seasons, one player — and one player only — took to the 24-foot-wide space between the two 8-foot goal posts at the start of each game for the North Carolina men’s soccer team.
Wearing the No. 1 jersey, given every year to the team’s starting goalkeeper, Scott Goodwin made 73 starts and logged more than 6,800 minutes in goal.
But last year, Goodwin’s four-year career came to an end with a loss to Indiana in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. And for the last time, the veteran goalkeeper took off the jersey he wore when he broke both UNC’s single-season and all-time records for shutouts in 2012.
For now, redshirt junior Brendan Moore — the only current Tar Heel goalie to have registered collegiate minutes — is listed on UNC’s roster as the bearer of the No. 1 jersey. Moore played in goal only once for the Tar Heels — in a 2011 game for 19 minutes.
But coach Carlos Somoano said the starting job is still up for grabs heading into this season, calling for Moore, redshirt sophomore Sam Euler and redshirt freshman Cole Brooks to compete for the position in the preseason.
“We don’t look at it as a tough thing to lose Scott Goodwin,” Somoano said. “I’m going to miss him, we’re all going to miss him. But now it’s an opportunity for somebody else and that’s exciting.
“We have three goalies … and they’re all capable.”
With Goodwin playing every moment of UNC’s 2012 season in goal, Brooks said there wasn’t much of a battle between the team’s three current goalkeepers to be the next in line.
For Euler, the time the three goalies spent behind Goodwin was valuable. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound goalkeeper, who is the smallest of the group but most similar in size to Goodwin, said the three were able to form a strong relationship with one another last year, making this season’s competition a friendly one.
“It’s odd. People are always questioning why goalkeepers are such good friends,” Euler said. “We use each other to get better and learn from each other every day.
“We’re best friends off the field and help each other on it, using that camaraderie to help us get better.”
Fortunately for the contending goalkeepers, UNC has returned all three starting back line members — sophomore Jonathan Campbell and juniors Jordan McCrary and Boyd Okwuono — to a defense that led the nation in shutouts last year.
“Three of the back four on that line have been there so they know what the expectations are,” Somoano said. “And whoever fills in that fourth spot (in goal), it’ll be new in terms of on-the-field experience.
“But as long as our team is functioning as an 11-man unit, and beyond when they’re out there on the field, then we’ll be OK on D.”
While the Tar Heels are looking to match the success they had on defense last season, Okwuono said starting the preseason without a sure starter at goalkeeper is the least of the defense’s worries.
“We have good talent (in the position) this year,” Okwuono said. “All three keepers are doing really well and I’m sure any one of them would be a good fit for the job.
“I am not worried about it, to be honest … I just look forward to keeping zeros — clean sheets — (on the scoreboard) every game and basically do the same thing we did last year, maybe even better.”
In the team’s first several practices, each goalkeeper has looked to develop a cohesive relationship based on constant communication with the team’s starting back line.
“Left shoulder! … right shoulder!” Moore said to multiple defenders as the opposing Tar Heel offense threatened his team’s back line during a scrimmage at last Wednesday’s practice.
After making a routine save and attempting to clear the ball, Moore was then met with a piece of advice from junior defender C.J. Odenigwe.
“Take your time,” Odenigwe said to the prospective starting goalkeeper.
Somoano said he will not choose a starter for UNC’s Aug. 30 regular season opener against Monmouth until after its three exhibition games.
“Each one of us, I think, feels the same way,” Euler said. “We’re just going to keep working and Coach is going to make a decision.”
Until then, the counsel Odenigwe lent Moore — patience — may be valuable to all three young goalkeepers as they attempt to earn the coveted No. 1 jersey.