Life in the ACC isn’t easy, but the 2010 North Carolina men’s soccer team has jumped out to a 4-0 record in the conference (7-2-0 overall) and a No. 4 ranking – not to mention the program’s first win at Virginia in 33 years.
They’ve achieved all this despite losing forwards Billy Schuler and Cameron Brown for essentially the entire season. Schuler only played twice before undergoing season-ending surgery for a shoulder problem, and Brown injured his ACL over the summer.
Navigating the Tar Heels through these injury problems is coach Elmar Bolowich, in his 22nd year as coach at the University of North Carolina. Under his tutelage, 28 players have been drafted to MLS since 1996.
Bolowich was kind enough to speak to MLSsoccer.com about the 2010 college soccer season.
MLSsoccer.com: How has the Tar Heels’ season gone so far?
Bolowich: So far very good. We have already established ourselves in the ACC. Our record is 4-0. Of the four games, we’ve won three away. We’ve won at NC State, at Duke and at Virginia, and beat Maryland at home. I think that’s an outstanding feat for our program, and certainly have established ourselves in the national picture.
MLSsoccer.com: How important were those early ACC wins?
Bolowich: Every win in the ACC is important, no matter if they are home or away. But the fact we had never won at Virginia, that was huge to break the ice there with a deserved win. It was not a lucky win.
The same goes for NC State and Duke. The Maryland game at home was an even game, but fortunately we pulled out of that one with a win as well, and gave us a good start.
MLSsoccer.com: How have you responded to the injury problems?
Bolowich: We threw a couple of guys around in the lineup – moved Eddie Ababio to forward, so that hurt us in the back, so we used him as a defender again, and we wanted to see if some players would step up.
The other problem is Alex Dixon, our other starting forward is out now as well with a hamstring injury. So the last couple of games he hasn’t played 100 percent to his strength and yesterday against Radford he didn’t play at all.
With Cameron Brown, Billy Schuler and Alex Dixon, we have three starting frontline players out. That’s a killer. We hope to pull through. We have some guys we can move up in the attacking positions: Michael Farfan, a midfielder, Enzo Martinez and Josh Rice.
We can fill for now, but how potent we will be throughout the season, I don’t know. But the guys so far are doing a good job.
MLSsoccer.com: Have there been more injuries than normal this season?
Bolowich: Last year we had three starting defenders out right away, before we even kicked the ball around. They were out for the whole year, so we had to reshuffle our lineup last year, and moved Zach Loyd (now playing for FC Dallas) from a midfield position to the center back position and that solidified things.
Last year it was the three defenders, this year it is the three forwards, so I don’t know what we’re doing here.
MLSsoccer.com: How do you try to inspire confidence with these players missing?
Bolowich: That comes with hard work. That’s something the players have to work on. They have to do it in practice, and have a positive attitude and just keep trying despite some discouraging plays here and there, missed opportunities, you just have to stay positive.
Other guys now do have an opportunity, and that in itself should be exciting for them. There’s a reason they were recruited, so now is their chance to perform and step up to the plate.
MLSsoccer.com: How helpful is it having an experienced group of seniors on the team?
Bolowich: That is huge. That is what we are relying heavily on now, that our seniors are setting the tone. That has gone very, very positively so far.
We have outstanding leadership on the field and off the field. It ensures we have a certain focus when we approach games, don’t have to change a whole lot – we are not constantly searching for answers or new options, we are basically looking at the players and looking at the qualities we have in the players, and our seniors then know how we want to play, and just go out and perform.