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Tuesday January 18th

For UNC men's soccer, a No. 1 recruiting class comes with big expectations

Junior midfielder Mauricio Pineda (2) celebrates his goal against Virginia Tech.  UNC defeated Virginia Tech 3-0 at Finley Field on Sunday Nov. 4.
Buy Photos Mauricio Pineda celebrating a goal against Virginia Tech. The senior midfielder will be on of the leaders of a men's soccer team trying to capture a national championship

For the North Carolina men’s soccer team, the weight of expectation is nothing new. 

The Tar Heels enter the 2019 season ranked No. 6 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll, marking the ninth consecutive year in which head coach Carlos Somoano’s squad has entered the season ranked in the top 10. This comes as no surprise after a 2018 campaign in which UNC captured its fourth straight ACC Coastal Division championship and finished the season with a record of 14-4-1. 

Despite these routine preseason accolades, this year’s team enters exhibition play with last year’s disappointing second round exit from the NCAA tournament still lingering on the minds of many. But a shimmering new stadium and 11 new roster additions have UNC primed to erase any doubts about their status as title contenders. Here’s what to expect from Somoano’s squad this season. 

Senior leadership

Returning to the field for their final season in Carolina Blue are seniors Jack Skahan and Mauricio Pineda. 

Skahan brings offensive firepower to the Tar Heel attack. In his junior campaign, he netted seven goals and notched a career-high three assists on his way to a third-team All-ACC distinction. 

Pineda, a defenseman and midfielder, is coming off of a stellar junior season where he was named a second-team United Soccer Coaches All-American and earned a first-team All-ACC selection. The standout from Bolingbrook, Illinois, was also named to both the 2019 ACC Preseason Watch List and the MAC Hermann Watch List. If Pineda captures the MAC Hermann Trophy, which honors the nation’s top collegiate soccer player, he would be the first male player in UNC history to do so. 

Youth movement

After losing eight seniors last year, UNC is primed for a major reload of talent with this year’s incoming class. Made up of 10 first-years, TopDrawerSoccer has named Somoano’s new batch of players as the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, along with one sophomore transfer.

This influx of young talent and their ability to adapt to a faster pace of play at the collegiate level will be crucial in determining whether the Tar Heels will be able to capture their first NCAA Championship since 2011. 

Big home games

After a two-year stint of playing home games at WakeMed Soccer Park – 30 minutes away from Chapel Hill – UNC will regain a true home field advantage at the new state-of-the-art UNC Soccer Stadium. 

A competitive conference schedule will provide some exciting home games for Tar Heel fans. No. 9 Notre Dame will come to town on Sept. 20 in a matchup between two teams ranked in the preseason top 10. 

A week later, UNC will face another conference powerhouse, the No. 10 Duke Blue Devils. Their Sept. 27 match will put the Tar Heels to the test in a rivalry game filled with both talent and emotion. 

@fleetwilson

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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