|Nationally-ranked Charlotte 49ers aim for bigger soccer prizes|
|Next step is C-USA tourney, NCAA postseason|
|Published Sunday, November 3, 2019 3:03 pm|
|PHOTO | LEROY HARDEN|
|Charlotte's Kameron Lacey (10) advances the ball upfield in the 49ers' 2-1 win against North Florida in the regular season finale Saturday at Transamerica Field. Charlotte (10-2-4, 4-0-3 Conference USA) is first in the league pending the outcome of the Florida International-Marshall game on Nov. 8. The conference tournament is Nov. 13-17 at Old Dominion.|
A 10-win season is not enough for the Charlotte 49ers.
Charlotte beat North Florida 2-1 Saturday, with all goals coming in the final 11 minutes, to finish the season 10-2-4, 4-0-3 in Conference USA. They head to Old Dominion for the conference tournament Nov. 13-17 with seeding and the tournament schedule to be announced next weekend. Charlotte leads the league with 15 points, however, a win for Florida International (13 points) against Marshall on Nov. 8 would crown them regular season champions.
Charlotte coach Kevin Langan has taken the program to 10-win seasons seven times; the 49ers have accomplished it 30 times in school history. While Langan noted the program’s pride in such a performance, the squad hasn’t reached its full potential.
“There’s lots we should really be proud of, but I’ve been saying it all year—there’s just more in us, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “We can play much better. We can play better in spells, and then we can take those spells, and play those spells for longer. We’re making life a bit too difficult for ourselves sometimes. I’m happy with that—that we can get better, and we will get better.”
Charlotte has been ranked in the top 25 nationally throughout the season and is currently ranked No. 18. They have been as high as No. 5.
“There was a bit of buzz when we were fifth in the nation, but I think that hurt us,” said junior defender Patrick Hogan, who scored the winner against North Florida for his third goal of the season. “I think we weren’t ready to be No. 5. That comes at a cost. We had to keep level heads after a couple losses and a couple ties to get us back on track.”
Hogan’s role with 49ers expanded dramatically. The center back stepped up to fill the shoes of Callum Montgomery, who was drafted by MLS side FC Dallas in January. They kept seven clean sheets during the regular season, which Hogan noted as a necessary component for postseason play.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “To step into Callum’s shoes was pretty hard, considering he’s an amazing player, an amazing leader. For me, just trying to lead the backline, being one of the elder guys back there [and] just trying to get everyone going, it’s been fun, but it’s been tough.”
After an 11-game unbeaten run to start the season, Charlotte fell 1-0 to Georgia State. A double overtime 0-0 draw against FIU, followed by another loss to Florida Gulf Coast put Charlotte in a position where they had to respond. They wrapped up the season with two wins.
Charlotte has 10 days to rest and prepare for the conference tournament, which they hosted last season, and fell in the final to Kentucky. The 49ers earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but fell in the second round at Virginia Tech. Langan has taken the program to the NCAA tournament five times, but have not advanced to the Sweet 16 since former coach Jeremy Gunn took them to the College Cup final in 2011.
“We have now 10 days to really sharpen the sword for the conference tournament,” Langan said. “That game tonight was actually a really good dress rehearsal for it…it kind of had a knockout soccer feel to it.”
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