Experience is key to men's soccer season

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In its 2010 season, the North Carolina men’s soccer team is picking up right where it left off.

Last year’s Tar Heels were bested in a 5-4 penalty-kick loss to undefeated Akron in the NCAA College Cup semifinals. And the first team on deck for UNC’s 2010 season is none other than the Akron Zips again, who were recently ranked No. 1 in the nation by the NSCAA.

But the No. 4 Tar Heels aren’t worried about the matchup. After playing three exhibition games — one of which resulted in a 1-0 win against UNC-Wilmington on a last-minute goal by redshirt freshman Josh Rice — the rematch scheduled for Sept. 3 will be looked at as just another game for the veteran team.

“We’re not preparing for them any different than we prepare for anyone else,” coach Elmar Bolowich said. “The fact that we play Akron is fine but doesn’t necessarily do anything — we are just excited to play. Akron will be a great measuring stick.”

After finishing last season with a 16-2-4 record, UNC returns 18 highly experienced players to a team led by six seniors.

“We have gone twice to the College Cup, and most of the players on the team have experienced this,” Bolowich said. “Going through playoffs and matches where you make one mistake and you could be out, and you make one good play and you could go through, is crucial in learning how to manage games.”

The Tar Heels will also benefit from returning two of their top three leading scorers from last season. Senior Michael Farfan and junior Billy Schuler were recently named to the College Soccer News Pre-Season All-America first and second teams, respectively.

Although North Carolina’s defense took a hit when two key defenders, Zach Loyd and Jordan Graye, were drafted to the MLS in the offseason, Bolowich is confident that the position is shaping up before the start of the season.

Senior Jalil Anibaba, who transferred this year from UC Santa Clara for his final year of eligibility, brings collegiate experience to the central defender position, while senior Dustin McCarty is adjusting to his new position at outside back after making the switch from the midfield.

Scott Goodwin, a sophomore who notched a 3-0 record in four appearances in goal last season, will serve as the last line of the Tar Heels’ defense, using his experience to fill the void left by keeper Brooks Haggerty’s graduation.

Along with the changes in the lineup, nine true freshmen round out the team’s roster, and Bolowich is eager to see who will step up to make plays as the team takes the season one game at a time — beginning with Akron.

“It’s not really redemption (now), but it would be nice to beat them,” Farfan said.

“All the games matter, but hopefully we’ll make it through the season, and our redemption will be winning the national championship.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@unc.edu.

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