UNC’s seniors in 2012 were the leaders and the heroes. Goodwin and Gafa kept safe the Carolina keep under siege. The juniors were just plain good. Pure and uncomplicated, they held the cutting edge of the Carolina attack. The sophomores were the heart of the team, holding key roles in the defense and the midfield. The freshmen, however, could be the most dangerous of all the classes.
The class holds 4 players already established as starters, but still holds in reserve a number more. While there are 15 total freshmen on the roster, as this is a review series we’ll only be profiling the 8 who appeared in the team this season, those being Jonathan Campbell, Nyambi Jabang, Danny Garcia, Nathan Diehl, Joe Amon, Alex Olofson, Nico Melo, and Raby George.
This year’s recruiting class was ludicrously deep, and while all of the Carolina freshmen came onto campus with great reputations, four of them; centerback Jonathan Campbell, midfielders Raby George and Alex Olofson, and forward Danny Garcia managed to nail down regular spots in the team.
Campbell stepped in from the first game to replace now MLS centerback Matt Hedges. He joined Boyd Okwuonu in an untried defensive pairing yet managed to make a name for himself by taking part in a masterclass of a defensive performance throughout the season. Just as comfortable with the ball as the rest of his comrades in the back line, Campbell even managed to add a goal and an assist this year to compliment his defensive displays. All indicators suggest that he should keep his spot next year and again be an elite defender.
The Tar Heel midfield constantly featured Raby George. The Swede came in after being a standout at the youth level for Swedish club Hammarby IF and did not disappoint. His return of a goal and an assist are by no means reflective of his role in the team, and in the next year we can look for him to add to his first season’s tally from the center of the pitch.
Alex Olofson often challenged his fellow frosh for a midfield spot. He was a major recruit, but not expected to be an impact player. He managed to exceed expectations and get 19 performances as well as 9 starts under his belt, also netting one goal. He was a standout at the CASL Chelsea FC Academy, a group with which coach Somoano is very familiar. Doubtless Somoano was able to use his experience to pluck Olofson from the ranks of the mid majors and into the elite, where Olofson has shown his great caliber.
It is no great secret that I’m a huge admirer of Danny Garcia. The top 25 recruit came into the team as a classy dribbler and a known scorer, but made a name for himself as an assist man. He only found his shooting boots toward the end of the year, but his return of 4 goals and 6 assists this year mark him as one of the top prospective players for next season. As an attacking midfielder, left wing, or even as false-nine he has shown himself to be just the kind of attacking technician which powers the Carolina attack.
The wonderful thing about this class for fans is that while four young players managed to shine this year, the rest of the class is just as highly regarded as the four aforementioned players.
Nyambi Jabang, Nathan Diehl, Joe Amon, and Nico Melo all appeared sparingly this year, but a cursory glance at their respective histories suggests that they may all have big futures in Chapel Hill. Their combined 10 appearances and singular start (Diehl) may not have fans shouting their names, but that can easily change in the near future.
Jabang burst onto the scene after playing for Cobb FC, and while this was his first experience with a top youth club, he was instantly regarded as a top recruit. He was snatched up by Coach Somoano after playing just six months for Cobb, after having lived most of his life in Gambia. Jabang has the potential to be one a real diamond in the rough for the Heels, and we can look for him to take a leadership role as a forward as the junior class graduates next year.
Nathan Diehl missed last season as a redshirt, but was previously a four star recruit and a ESPN High School All American. The defensive midfielder found it hard to get a game in either the midfield or the defense, but certainly has the quality to change that in the future. He could be another super sub due to his versatility, and will certainly be a contributor in 2013.
Amon was a five star recruit and veteran often USMNT U-17 squad, but found it hard to get into the team in his first year behind McCrary, Okwuonu, Campbell, and Gafa. His goal scoring record at the youth level suggests that he may be an able replacement for the graduating Jordan Gafa as an attacking fullback.
Nico Melo was a highly regarded midfielder coming into UNC as well. He is a veteran of the USMNT U-17 team and is one of the top young American prospects. He may have found it hard to displace Mikey Lopez, Raby George, and Verneri Valimaa this year, but look for him to mount a challenge for some minutes in the Carolina midfield in 2013.
With loads of quality and a dollop of potential, this class has the potential to take over the team in the next few seasons. Already possessed of four starlets, the Tar Heel class of 2016 may before long add a few more names to its roster of big time college players.