But for North Carolina men’s soccer head coach Carlos Somoano, the impossible is now a reality. Ten Tar Heels from the 2013 season are back from the 2014 campaign, including leading goal-scorer Tyler Engel, second team all-ACC goalkeeper Brendan Moore and ACC Defender of the Year Boyd Okwuonu.
But what really has Tar Heel soccer fans excited and confident is the return of redshirt senior forwards Andy Craven and Rob Lovejoy. In 2012, Craven and Lovejoy were the team’s top goal-scorers, respectively, with a combined 11 goals. But a foot injury that required surgery for Craven and a torn groin muscle for Lovejoy caused both seniors to miss the entire season. With their top two goal-scorers sidelined for the season, the Tar Heels struggled to finish, scoring just 19 goals in 20 games.
The return of the two seniors adds leadership to a team already littered with veteran talent. No. 22 UNC is by far the most experienced team in the country with 560 total starts. Evansville ranks second with 422 and Syracuse follows with 409.
But the return of Craven and Lovejoy, coupled with Engel’s proven scoring ability, gives the Tar Heels a serious offensive attack to go along with a top-10 defense.
“There’s more attacking personalities on the field and that just changes the whole dynamic of the game,” Somoano said. “We’re so explosive. We could score a lot of goals.”
The three seniors wasted no time showing what might be in store for the rest of the season in Friday’s season opener against No. 7 California, netting a goal a piece in a 3-1 victory.
After Engel put UNC up 1-0, Lovejoy and Craven joined in on the fun. In the 33rd minute Lovejoy played a beautiful through ball behind the Cal defense, hitting Craven in stride. With just the goalkeeper to beat, Craven blasted home a goal from the top of the box, giving the Tar Heels a 2-0 lead.
After a California goal in the 36th minute cut the lead to 2-1, the momentum seemed to flip-flop for the second half. The Golden Bears controlled the ball and played with an added intensity and urgency. Thanks to a handful of eye-opening saves from Moore, UNC clung to a 2-1 lead before Lovejoy put the nail in the California coffin. Late in the 83rd minute, Lovejoy took a shot from just inside the box, fought for his own rebound and this time found the back of the net.
“It was a hard working, blue-collar goal,” Lovejoy said. “You’re not going to get any pretty bangers, but I stuck with it and was fortunate enough to have the ball fall at my feet.”
Lovejoy is glad to be back this season, and a key part of that is his supporting cast.
“Andy and I are similar in the way we play, but Tyler adds a whole new element,” Lovejoy said.”And that’s a good combination of players. I think you saw that tonight.”
The Tar Heels have plenty to look forward to this season, and there will certainly be a lot expected of Craven and Lovejoy, but Craven isn’t looking for a feel-good story. He’s looking for wins.
“I guess it’s cool that we were both out and are back together now,” he said. “But we’re just trying to bring it.”