Limbo: A Profile of UNC’s Carlos Somoano

(From the annals of last year’s sports journalism class comes this feature on current UNC men’s soccer head coach Carlos Somoano. At the time, he was just the interim coach and wasn’t sure if he’d land the top position. This piece caught him in flux.)


Carlos Somoano’s early dreams didn’t include Chapel Hill.

He spent his youth in Texas, the epicenter of American football. But while an entire state looked to the gridiron, Somoano and his friends traveled an hour and a half just for a few good hours on the soccer pitch. Everyone else called it a “sissy sport,” but Somoano was devoted. So devoted, in fact, that he made his way to a Division 2 program when college seemed like a distant possibility. So devoted that he played in Europe before suffering a career-ending leg injury. So devoted that he took his first job as an assistant coach for no pay, and his second for a mere $16,000 per year.

That devotion may be on the verge of paying dividends. With the sudden departure of UNC men’s soccer coach Elmar Bolovich for Creighton University, a vacancy has opened at the top of the program. Somoano, an assistant at the school for the past nine seasons, was named interim head coach. A final decision is pending, and the 42-year-old from Seabrook, Texas hopes to become Carolina’s permanent leader.

Somoano is a young man, only 41 years old, and he looks younger still. Tan and clean-cut, he’s every bit the sun-stroked, hands-on assistant. The flat, considered quality of his baritone adds gravitas to his words, and his right eyebrow, which dances when he speaks, lends his features an air of sincerity (and perhaps- but only perhaps- a hint of mischief). Somoano retains the slim form of younger days, and the athleticism that propelled him on this lifelong journey is still in evidence. But though he may look and act the part of a career man, his final destination wasn’t always obvious.

“To say I dreamed of that was impossible,” Somoano said of the head coaching position on Monday. “It certainly wasn’t something I dreamed about 20 years ago or even thought about.”

After a youth committed to soccer, Somoano made his way to Eckerd College in Florida. He’s still grateful for that opportunity, since another degree was not, for him, a foregone conclusion. “I didn’t have any clue what it meant to play college soccer,” he said. “I’m just happy I ended up playing somewhere and got an education.”

Somoano wasn’t gone from Eckerd for long. He spent a brief stint in Europe, hoping to spark a sustainable playing career, but he broke his leg before he could gain any traction. Back in America, after re-connecting with his old coach at Eckerd, he took a job as an assistant for no pay, remaining there until 1995.

“At that time, there were not assistant coaches at schools,” he said. “We didn’t have a full-time assistant.”

Somoano made money by creating a media guide for the school and selling advertisements. He also became involved in youth soccer, earning a few extra dollars working with kids. Somoano felt a connection with his young charges, and it would become a lifetime involvement.

“The reason it’s so important to me is because where I came from, I always felt like I was at a disadvantage,” he said. “The coach who I grew up with gave so much to me, and I wanted kids to have that opportunity.”

Somoano left Eckerd to earn his Master’s in Sports Management at Richmond University. Before he had even completed a year, he took a job as an assistant coach with Tim O’Sullivan at Virginia Commonwealth University. He stayed for six seasons, and the team reached number seven in the national rankings.

He came to UNC as an assistant in 2002, and his career in powder blue has been a success by any measure. His various strengths, particularly on the recruiting trail, helped the program land six different top-six classes in nine seasons. In that span, the Tar Heels made the NCAA tournament eight times. College Soccer News named Somoano one of the top assistants in the country in early February. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America recognized him as the top assistant coach in the south region this year, and he also won the U.S. Soccer Academy U15/U16 National Coach of the Year award.

For such a dynamic character, accustomed to movement and action, the recent waiting game has not been easy. It’s unclear whether he’ll be named permanent head coach, and if he’s not, a new destination may be in the offing. And though the opportunity is tantalizing, the uncertain future eats at the stability of his life.

“I think I have one day of fun, one day miserable, and one day when I’m not sure what’s going on,” he said. “And it just continues to cycle that way.”

But Somoano has never been a man to wallow, and he’s not about to begin now.

“The first day, I was excited. I thought this could be great for me,” he said. “Afterwards, I felt a lot of anxiety. But I realized I just can’t operate that way. I’m going to do what I think is appropriate for this program as if I’m going to be here. And if I’m not, I’m not.”

In the meantime, an evolving dream hangs in the balance.

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2 Responses to Limbo: A Profile of UNC’s Carlos Somoano

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  1. marvin says:

    i would liek to know head coach Carlos Somoano email so i could talk to him about joining the unc males soccer team in 5 years

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