2019 did not go according to plan for the North Carolina men’s soccer team.
Despite a No. 6 national ranking by United Soccer Coaches before the season started and a recruiting class considered by TopDrawerSoccer as the best in the nation, UNC struggled to live up to expectations. The team endured three wins and five losses in conference play. They knocked out penalty kicks in the first round of the ACC Tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
Now entering his 10th season at UNC, head coach Carlos Somoano and his squad have something to prove, but they must do it without a few key players. Graduation stole the talents of Jack Skahan and Jelani Pieters — who tied for first on the team with five assists each — Jeremy Kelly with four assists, and the scoring prowess of Mauricio Pineda, who notched the second-most goals on the team with five.
Luckily, 2020 could see a prolific play from forwards Alex Rose and Giovanni Montesdeoca returning for their senior years. Rose was the top scorer for UNC last season with seven goals, while Montesdeoca — who lost his 2019 season to injury — was the top scorer in 2018.
Add that offensive firepower to returning junior goalkeeper Alec Smir — who is pegged by the Preseason ACC Coaches Poll as a player to watch this season — and a strong recruiting class of All-Americans and U.S. Youth National Team representatives. The only unproven area of the roster is playmaking midfielders.
Despite this, this season won’t be a return to normalcy for UNC or any program. UNC's schedule has just six games, and the Tar Heels will only travel outside of North Carolina once this season.
ACC play is split into two regions this season — North and South — with the Tar Heels competing in the five-member South. This includes UNC, Clemson, N.C. State, Duke, and Wake Forest. If UNC can make the top-two in the South region, they will compete in the ACC Championship with the top-two teams from the North region at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. beginning on Nov. 15.