The North Carolina men’s soccer team has high hopes of making it back to the Final Four.
After a long training season and an undefeated spring and preseason, UNC will kick off the regular season on Friday night against East Tennessee State at 7:30 p.m. in Greensboro.
Recap of last season
Despite the unexpected 2-1 knockout in the ACC Quarterfinals against Notre Dame, UNC powered through the NCAA Tournament to reach the Final Four. It finished the 2017 season with a strong 17-4-1 record with notable wins against top-25 teams Virginia (OT 2-1), Duke (2-1), SMU (2-0), and Notre Dame (3-0).
During the fall season, the Tar Heels outshot and outscored their opponents, scoring 2.41 goals per game and compiling a 53-290 goals-to-shot-attempts ratio. Out of those shots, 134 were on goal.
Fast forward to 2018, UNC finished the season as undefeated champions of the U.S. Soccer Spring Program. Now, the Tar Heels are ranked No. 3 in the United States Soccer Coaches preseason poll.
Who to watch for this season
Strong players left for professional teams with three of UNC’s top players signed to play in the MLS — Zach Wright, Cam Lindley and Alan Winn.
But don’t expect this to be a rebuilding year. Four current players were named to the Premier Development League 50 Players to Watch List after the spring season — junior transfer Taff Wadda, sophomore midfielder Alex Rose, senior defender Alex Comsia, and sophomore goalkeeper Alec Smir.
North Carolina also added some new additions, bringing nine more players to the roster. The total includes six upcoming first-years and three transfers, including Wadda and Matthew Constant, who hold a lot of promise.
Constant, a defender from Dallas, Texas, was a four-star recruit from Top Drawer Soccer. He started all 18 games and 1,666 minutes for New Mexico as a sophomore. He also played with the U-20 Canadian Team in the World Cup qualifying competition, the U.S. U-17 National Team and was ranked the 27th prospect in the U.S.
Wadda, a forward from Bracknell, England, has soccer in his blood as his father was a Gambia International striker. The younger Wadda scored 26 goals and tallied 11 assists in 35 games with Bethel University. In high school, he scored 102 goals with 66 assists, leading to his jersey number being retired.
As far as returners go, the defensive line has key players in Jeremy Kelly, Jack Skahan and John Nelson. Since coming to UNC, Kelly, a junior, has played in every game, while classmate Skahan played in all but four. Both had 7 points last year.
Nelson, a sophomore, also played in all 22 games last season, earning his spot on the 2018 Preseason Best XI team by TopDrawersoccer.com. He had one goal and one assist, but placed third on the team in minutes with 1,923.
What to expect
Out of 12 ACC teams, UNC is ranked highest in the top 25 and is the favorite to win the ACC Championship after 10 coaches predicted a top finish in the preseason poll.
North Carolina will face an early challenge this season in a battle against No. 2 Indiana on Sunday, Aug. 26 at WakeMed in Cary, N.C, and will play other big games against No. 10 Duke, No. 11 Clemson, No. 15 Virginia and No. 17 Notre Dame.
While UNC will face tough matchups, they have another obstacle in their path for the second season in a row — no home field. Prolonged construction of Fetzer Field forces the team to split its home games between WakeMed and Koskinen Stadium in Durham.
If the construction timeline holds true to finishing in November and the Tar Heels play well, UNC has the chance to have a true home field advantage in the early College Cup.