First-year coach leads UNC to title
Somoano guides youngest team in tournament to championship
First-year North Carolina men’s soccer coach Carlos Somoano isn’t one to sling one-liners in a press conference or blow a gasket at a referee.
His leadership style is understated yet effective, as evidenced by the confetti machine raining yellow, blue and white down on the Tar Heels on Sunday following the championship match of the NCAA College Cup.
“He gave us a little pre-game speech and after he left the field, the players looked at each other and were like, ‘Great speech,' ” said UNC senior captain Kirk Urso of the man players simply refer to as ‘Carlos.’ “We were all motivated and ready to go. He has his moments.”
The top-seeded Tar Heels beat unseeded and upset-minded Charlotte 1-0 in front of 8,777 fans at Regions Park.
Somoano (pronounced Some-WAH-no) became the second coach in NCAA history to win a national title in his first season, joining Indiana’s Mike Freitag, who accomplished the feat in 2004. He is only the third coach to reach 20 wins in his inaugural campaign, joining San Diego State’s Chuck Clegg (1982) and Santa Clara’s Mitch Murray (1991), as the Tar Heels finished 21-2-3.
“The fact that we won the national championship is extremely rewarding, but more so than anything is my experience working for these guys and them working for me and us working as a team for each other,” the 41-year-old Somoano said. “That’s what makes me feel great inside.”
His devotion to the sport had paid off for Somoano, who grew up in football-crazy Texas and was a former two-time captain at Division II Eckerd on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Although North Carolina made the College Cup for the fourth consecutive season, only three current players -- Urso, goalkeeper Scott Goodwin and midfielder Enzo Martinez -- started for the Tar Heels at the event last season. The Carolina coaching vacancy was created on Feb. 9 when former coach Elmar Bolovich, who led UNC to the 2001 title, left for Creighton after 21 seasons in Chapel Hill. After serving as the interim coach following nine seasons as an assistant, Somoano was named the program’s fifth head coach on April 25.
Urso said that from day one during the preseason, every minute of the day was organized. To Goodwin, discipline and focus have been hallmarks of the Somoano tenure.
“He kept us week by week on who we’re playing, who we’re facing,” Goodwin said. “I think now we can kind of celebrate a bit, which is nice.”
Somoano also welcomed two standout transfers including Ben Speas, a junior who won a national title last year at Akron and scored the game’s lone goal on an unassisted 25-yarder in the 65th minute on Sunday in what the coach called a “moment of inspiration.” UNC featured the youngest starting line-up of the College Cup field.
“He made sure we were in check all the way through the season,” said Speas, named Most Oustanding Offensive Player for the 2011 College Cup. “I think a big reason we won this thing is because of Carlos, for sure.”
In Friday’s second semifinal, UNC battled UCLA to a 2-2 tie in 110 minutes and claimed a 3-1 penalty shootout victory. The Tar Heels faced a team with a completely different style Sunday with the 49ers, who outshot them 19-10. It was the first time all year his team wasn’t able to dominate the ball, Somoano said.
“That happens sometimes in soccer, but we always believed that we could find a way to win the game because we’ve done that all year long,” Somoano said. “We don’t get stressed if things don’t go our way. We’ve had a great attitude in that all year long, whether it be the referees’ decisions or mistakes that we make or an opponent getting after us a little bit.”
The Tar Heels were upset in their ACC opener by Virginia Tech and lost a nonconference match to Davidson, but became the first team since 1995 to win ACC regular season, ACC tournament end NCAA titles in a single season.
“This year, there was something extra about this team that we had,” Urso said, referring to the Tar Heels as a family. “If we would have had the worst season in the world, we’d have still loved each other.”