The 2019 North Carolina Tar Heels Men's Soccer Team A photo story by Peyton Williams

There are few objects more unifying internationally than a soccer ball. In 2007, FIFA estimated there were 265 million soccer players worldwide. Played by youth and older adults across all nationalities, in all languages, and across the socio-economic stratum, soccer is the lingua franca of the world. It is also the sport that conjures more passion and emotions than any other. In 2006, Brazilian scholars Ricardo Pinto dos Santos and Francisco Carlos Teixeira Da Silva succinctly described soccer as the “the secular religion of this era with all its myths, rules, and revered heroes.”

Mauricio Pineda filmed preseason by Bradley Moore

There are countless teams and revered heroes across the world in soccer, but this is the photo story of one team and its heroes, the student-athletes of the North Carolina Tar Heels, a varsity team at the University of North Carolina (UNC), in Chapel Hill.

I’ve watched soccer since I was a teenager, but I never played it and don’t profess to understand it like the athletes that I covered. While with them, I learned more to appreciate the sport, from its technical details to what fires their passion in the sport. I tried my best to respect in this story all the work and sweat they put in their sport, and their passion imbues this story.

Join me as I share their story. I became a fan of each of them after this story; I hope you will too.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed in that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” -- Bill Shankly, Liverpool FC Manager, 1959-1974.

The Preseason

Chapel Hill, a small college town in North Carolina, has been quiet over the summer and that’s not entirely bad. With the students gone, residents have enjoyed less traffic and easier parking. But Chapel Hill springs to life from its summer slumber when the students migrate back to campus. Students are an extension of the town’s soul: Its energy, passion, and excellence.

It’s August 11, 2019, and the soccer team is also back in Chapel Hill. Today I’ve arrived early for my first day to photograph the team and I’m a little nervous. I only know a handful of the guys before today and have had only one meeting to meet the coaches. I’m not sure what to expect about any of this.

My first time with the team is a pre-season meeting at the Loudermilk Center on campus. I arrive early, pull the door and it’s … locked. I’m not the only one locked out. Alex Rose is also trying to figure out how to get in, but after a short wait, Shelley Johnson ushers us in.

Matt Constant presents his talk.

Alex and the rest of the team are there for the Dick Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy, a chance for the team to be introspective and strengthen team bonds. Alex and teammates were given homework assignments that revolved around “we are”, statements such as "we are family" or "we are grateful". Family, because, as one player said, UNC is not a four-year decision, but a forty-plus-year decision; becoming a part of network of past and future players. Grateful, for everything they have been provided. From their trip to Europe this summer to all the staff who work behind-the-scenes to help their program, like Shelley. By having the athletes themselves prepare the presentations and reflect on their values, they felt more organic, and less contrived. More heartfelt, and less forced. The student athletes talked about the values in their own voices, rather than the coaching staff’s, adding a perceptible authenticity to them.

A player works on their presentation to team. A top right, a constant reminder of the ultimate goal.

All the statements and activities coalesced around the team’s ethos: PRIDE. Passion, Respect, Integrity, Discipline, and Excellence. I saw these values drive the team throughout the year.

Alex Rose (right) and David Mejia

Alex arrived early to go over his presentation with Shelley to make adjustments to improve it. He wants every detail to be perfect. His arriving early was emblematic of what it takes to be a successful Division 1 player that Alex proved himself to me through the season: Arriving early and putting in extra work; not being satisfied until near perfection was achieved.

Freshman Move-In

Sebastian Berhalter unpacks luggage during freshmen move-in day.

At the beginning of this project, I knew I wanted to start it by getting some photos of the freshmen moving in. I nearly missed the opportunity though. I was in New York City for work and, after series of thunderstorms, I got stranded there. I came really close to missing the move in, but I was barely able to get home in time.

(L to R) Jonathan Jimenez, Marco Sabario Perez, Cameron Fisher, and Blake Malone get their keys to their dorm rooms.

To help me get these move-in photos, assistant coach Grant Porter helped me link up with some of the freshmen including Blake Malone, Marco Saborio Perez, Sebastian Berhalter, Jonathan "JJ" Jimenez, and Cameron Fisher. The poor guys had been living a few days out of a hotel room and were all excited to move into what they will call home for the next year.

(Left) Marco Saborio Perez and JJ Jimenez get their keys. (Right) Blake Malone and Cameron Fisher put their new keys on their lanyards.

I walk with them over to Parker dorm where they can get their keys to their new dorm rooms in Avery. As they were checking in, I was remembering when I was a freshmen at UNC -- I won’t say how long ago! -- getting my keys to my dorm. I wondered if they fully understood what this moment meant for them, an amazing start to an adventure they will wish later in life to repeat many times.

They got their keys and as they first walked into their rooms their eyes lit up with the possibility of the room. It was much larger than they expected. "Should we bunk our beds?" "Where should the TV go?" "Looks like we could put a couch here, yes?"

A mountain of shoes awaits Blake Malone's unpacking.

I walk over to Blake’s room. He is FaceTiming with his girlfriend back home in Las Vegas, showing her his new room for the next season, while he dutifully folds and hangs his clothes into the closet. At his feet is a mountain of fresh new Nike shoes and team gear that he received as part of the team. (An event I missed, thanks to being stranded in New York.) The fresh gear is definitely one of many highlights to being on any UNC team.

Blake Malone unpacks his belongings into his new room.

While Blake FaceTimes, I wonder to Marco’s room. Born and raised in Switzerland, he has lived the past few years in Costa Rica. That alone may make you think he has some interesting stories to tell, and you’d be right. I found myself lost in conversation with him; hearing his perspective having peregrinated across the world, experiencing soccer through many cultures, was fascinating.

Marco moves into his new room.

Marco arrived to Chapel Hill with only two suitcases. No hangers, no posters for the wall, not even sheets for his bed – just some clothes. I had walked around from room to room of the freshman looking for good photos, but after an hour I didn’t feel like I had anything that compelling. But in the last five minutes Marco jumped onto his bed and rested his head on the wall after unpacking. I knew I finally had the moment for a great photo, so I quickly sat on the bed across from him and captured this moment.

Marco Saborio Perez sits on his bed after unpacking. Having arrived from Costa Rica with few belongings, he lived a spartan life.

I loved how it all came together. There is so much going on in this photo. Without hangers for his clothes, they were laid on the floor. Blank walls and no bed linen tells the story of a fresh beginning, a blank slate, an opportunity for Marco to plot his own destiny over the next four years. Many years from now, the freshmen will look back at these moments, such as moving in on their first day, with nostalgia, recounting some of the best four years of their lives. Until then, they get the chance to live in the moment.

Team Photo and Video Day

Players line up to have their headshot taken.

Another highlight of preseason is the team photo and video day. A few things go on these days. First, the team has both their individual photos taken for the roster. Once this is done, they have the larger team photo taken.

UNC athletics photographer Jeffrey Camarati takes Julian Hinojosa's photo. A rite-of-passage on team photo day is trying to keep a straight face while your teammates try to make you laugh.
Team photo day can teach you a lot about a head coach. Coach Somoano is like a conductor in front of symphony on team photo day, getting every detail right, every instrument perfectly tuned. Watching him for 5 minutes, you already see he is a perfectionist and hands on. I saw this before in my initial summer meeting with him. Every detailed considered. No detail forgotten.
TJ Scholl (left) takes a photo off the preview image on Jeffrey Camarati's camera after a photo shoot with Jack Skahan.

The guys are also filming video that will be used on the scoreboard for the pre-game video, or video that will play during the scoreboard during the game. These video shoots are always hard for the guys because they are having to celebrate like they just celebrated the goal, and make it look realistic enough for the fans watching.

Jack Skahan (left) and Jeremy Kelly (right) are filmed by Bradley Moore of GoHeels Productions for scoreboard footage.

The Preparation

Matt Constant during a water break at practice.

The furnace of North Carolina’s summer’s breath bears down on us. The athletes run through the thick summer air, their cleats shredding the grass beneath them as they quickly dart up and down the field. Matt Constant is sweating so much he reaches down and rings sweat from his shorts.

Liam Williams douses himself with water during a hot September practice.

It’s the hot days of summer that you really admire the literal sweat equity that the team puts in. The sports medicine staff can’t keep the water bottles full.

From top left, clockwise: Antonio Lopez, Sebastian Berhalter, Mauricio Pineda, Jonathan Jimenez
Jake Walker during practice
Coach Carlos Somoano directs a drill during practice.
Freshmen normally were on goal duty, moving the goals during practice. Jonathan Jimenez (top); Sam Moore, Cameron Fisher, and Julian Hinojosa (bottom left); Sebastian Berhalter (bottom right)
The role of measure and metrics was one part that I didn't expect, but as a researcher, appreciated. The guys wore sensors that measured exertion (left) and they also self-reported effort to sports medicine graduate student Jonah Singer (right)
Alec Smir, volunteer assistant coach Michael Harrington, and Michale Mikail during practice
Matt Constant stretches after practice.

Preparation is more than on the field. Like any sport, soccer can be tough of the body, so the players will go to treatment for rehabilitation.

Cameron Fisher
Mauricio Pineda
(Left) Jeremy Kelly (Right) Mark Salas and Lenny Aharon
Cameron Fisher

The Game Days

A team managers hangs jerseys at their lockers during a game day.

The team managers unfurl the jerseys and carefully hang them beside their owner’s locker. You can feel the music pulsate in the soccer locker room, invigorating the souls of those inside listening as they prepare for battle.

(Left) Matt Constant signs balls that will be thrown to fans pregame. (Right) Alex Rose prepares his socks.

Matt Constant sits on the floor signing souvenir soccer balls that will be thrown out to fans before the game. Captain Mauricio Pineda is seated near the entrance to the locker room, high fiving members of the team as they enter. I look over at Alex Rose and I have no idea what he is doing. He wields a lighter and he’s holding the flame to his socks. There is this whole world right in front fans when watching a soccer game, but a world also imperceptible until you look more closely. I want to ask Alex what he’s doing but he is lost in his music with headphones and I don’t want to disturb his game-day preparation. Jake Walker is near me so I ask him what sorcery Alex is engaging in. Jake says Alex cut his socks to the proper length and is singeing the ends so they don’t come loose.

Santiago Herrera watches videos on his iPhone pregame.

Though I’ve covered many soccer games in my life, I had never spent time with a team pregame. This is why I loved this experience with the team, seeing all these unseen stories that happen.

My favorite story though that you don’t see pregame though is how much the guys love being with each other, and the amazing vibe in the locker room. Specifically, my favorite moment with the team was when I traveled to UNCG with them. We arrived in the locker room early and I had a chance to get some photos of them hanging out. They were playing card games, playing video games on their phone, and just enjoying each other’s company. I sat a bit envious of them; they get this amazing team experience that I’ve never known. These are friendships that will last a lifetime for them.

Players enjoy some pregame time together before playing UNCG. It's moments like these that's it's clear, they love each other and are tight knit. They were also my favorite moments with them.
Senior captain Mauricio Pineda (right) talks with freshman Sebastian Berhalter pregame.
Julian Hinojosa, Matt Constant, Lucas del Rosario, Jack Skahan, and Santiago Herrera prepare pregame.
Head coach Carlos Somoano and assistant coach Grant Porter would deliver one final strategy talk to the team before they headed out to the field.
Jack Skahan and Santiago Herrera list to coach Somoano during pregame.
Milo Garvanian lounges.
Goalkeeper Alec Smir tapes his wrists pregame.
Roman Knox, Jake Walker, and Liam Williams.
Jelani Pieters and Alex Moztarzadeh
Milo Garvanian and Mauricio Pineda
Alec Smir watches game film as Sebastian Berhalter and Key White look on.
Blake Malone
Matt Constant
Sebastian Berhalter prepares pregame.
Mauricio Pineda put his captain's band on with assistance from David Mejia.
Before every game, captain Mauricio Pineda talked with the team in the locker room before they headed out. 

Here's one tradition you don't get to see from the stands. When the team exits the locker room to head to the field, support staff are always in the hallway, giving the guys a high five on their way out. Here, Sam Jones gives high fives to Tim Kübel.

Taff Wadda
Julian Hinojosa and Alex Rose exit the locker room at UNCG.
The team walks out to the field.
Managers bring soccer balls to the field pregame.
Director of Strength & Conditioning Greg Gatz (right) warms up the team before a game.
A young fan watches the team warmup before playing the Davidson Wildcats on September 17, 2019
Pregame warmup
Jelani Pieters
Mark Salas, Matt Constant, and Alec Smir huddle pregame before playing UNCG.
The game ops team watches from the press booth. It is from here the scoreboard and public address system is controlled.
Fans cheer on the team during a game.
The team celebrates after a 6-0 win over the Harvard Crimson on September 6, 2019
Freshmen and roommates Blake Malone (left) and Cameron Fisher after a win over Harvard. Fisher scored his first collegiate goal during the game..

The Family

One of my favorite photos: Mauricio Pineda cheers for the women's team.

Early in the season I’m talking to one of the guys who transferred to UNC from another school. He's reflecting on the differences between UNC and his previous school and one difference is palpable: The Carolina family. As I slowly grew to know the team more, and observed them little by little, it was clear he was right. The guys love each other and they are more than just a team, they are a family.

Santiago Herrera (right) enjoys a moment of levity with his teammates after a practice.

Here is something I love: The pied cultural fabric of this team. Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica, Israel, Spain, Switzerland, Jamaica, Columbia, England, and New Zealand. These are just a few of the countries represented in the team. I’ve never covered a team that was so diverse and rich in culture.

One example, “Taco Tuesday”. When the season schedule allows, some of the Hispanic members of the team hosted a Taco Tuesday at their house that was open to all teammates, even the “gringos” like me. They cook together as a family and eat together. I got to experience it one time when Raul Aguilera was leading one Taco Tuesday, coordinating the cooking and serving of the food. Santiago Herrera is in charge of cooking the carne asada on the girl.

After the food is cooked, TJ Scholl and I get to eat with the lads, and for a splendid ephemeral moment, I feel part of the team.

Raul Aguilera (right) laughs with David Mejia as they cook during "Taco Tuesday" for their teammates.
The guys watch a game show on TV together during Taco Tuesday.
The freshmen enjoyed each others company away from the game and practice field. At left, Jonathan Jimenez and Sebastian Berhalter play FIFA. At right, Jonathan watches Marco Saborio Perez play ping pong with Sebastian.
Family includes the alumni. On August 30, 2019, the team unveiled the Kirk J. Urso section, in honor of the Urso who passed away unexpectedly in August 2012. The section was appropriately in section 3, Urso's jersey number, and also number that has since been retired. Pictured above, his brother Kyle looks on at the unveiling while comforted by athletic communications director, and a former teammate of Urso, TJ Scholl.

Final Thoughts

Mauricio Pineda returns to the locker room from the field.

Our last regular season home game of the season was against Appalachian State and winning it would be important to being eligible for the NCAA tournament. App State scored first at 71:08 off a PK. As the minutes melted to seconds on the game clock we weren’t able to answer that goal, and reality began setting in. I was thinking in those final moments about the history of this project.

In the summer, before I started this photo story, I texted senior Jack Skahan and asked him what he thought about me doing this story. The story would be a huge time commitment for me at my own expense and I didn’t want to do it unless the team would value it. Absolutely they would, he said.

I did make him make a promise: If we won the NCAA championship, I wanted to get a photo with the two of us with the trophy.

I wanted an NCAA championship for an admittedly selfish reason: It would be the perfect ending to this story. Mostly, I wanted it for the guys. I wanted to see them happy and rewarded for all the hard work they put in. When you’re with a team so much, it’s hard not to get emotionally invested in them -- and I certainly did.

So, after the Appalachian State game I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, realizing that an NCAA berth was now even more out of reach. But in my moment of self pity, I saw amazing characters by our guys. The ethos that the team talked about on my first first day about “PRIDE” - Passion, Respect, Integrity, Discipline, Excellence - were on full display here in our toughest moment. I see Sebastian Berhalter walk over and thank a fan. Matt Constant does an on-field press conference, with his usual infectious smile and optimism that I grew to love. Matt talks about what the team needs to do to advance to the NCAA tournament. After the press conference ends he jumps into the crowd and does a photo request with a fan. That’s why I love these two and this team so much and why I have loved every moment with them.

In the end, Jack and I didn’t get to take that photo; our season ended without an NCAA berth. Despite Jack and I not getting to take that photo with the trophy, it didn’t taken away from the amazing experience I had this season. I would do it all over again if I could. I met some amazing people. I absolutely love the freshmen and can’t wait to cover them the next three years. Of all the classes, I felt this year I got to know them best. And the seniors helped make me feel welcome and helped me along the way. While this photo story ends, their story is just beginning.

A Thank You

There are many people for me to thank for making this project possible. First, TJ Scholl, the athletic communications contact for men’s soccer. He reached out to me the summer of 2018 about the possibility of doing this. Had he not reached out, I would have never done this project. Thanks also to TJ for facilitating communication and helping with logistics. Thank you to the coaches, including head coach Carlos Somano, and assistants Grant Porter, Will Clayton, and Michael Harrington. Thank you for taking a leap of faith and letting me cover your season, and putting up with all my questions about schedules, and so forth. I could not have done this without you. Thanks also to the many support staff who helped me, including Dorrance Field supervisor Sammy Jermane, and Christian Hunt, MA, ATC, the sport medicine lead, for their help and support. Thank you to captain Mauricio Pineda and senior Jack Skahan. I texted them at least once a week with questions on schedules, like when in practice, and their help helped to make this project successful.

Most of all thank you to the “lads”, all the student-athletes on the team. I entered this project unsure what to expect, mostly because I knew so few of you. I left it though with many new friends among you. Thank you for making me feel welcome and supporting me on the project. Many of you, on my first day with the team, came up to me and introduced yourselves, which put me at ease and made me know that I was going to have a great season with you all. I finish this project one of your biggest fans, in awe of all of you. Thanks for letting me spend this special time with you. I hope 10 years from now you look back at these photos and it feels you with the same joy it does me today.

In retrospect, I realized I regretted never getting a photo of me with any of the guys. I did slip in for one photo with the team. Me with senior Jack Skahan who I got to know since his freshman year.


This story was created by me, Peyton Williams, a UNC alumnus who learned a lot about soccer this season. You can visit my site at accphotos.com. I'm also on Instagram and Twitter.

Please don't steal my work. Please don't screenshot or steal photos from this story. This story was a labor of love that I did at my own expense. I incurred 100s of hours, costs including car mileage, wear-and-tear on my camera gear, and passing on some paying assignments to make this story you read. This story was expensive to make. Stealing images means I can't pay my bills. Copies of images can be purchased on my website or by contacting me. Thank you!

Created By
Peyton Williams


(c) Peyton Williams 2019