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Charlotte 49ers lament what could've been after NCAA tournament exit
4-1 shootout loss to North Carolina
 
Published Monday, May 3, 2021
by Ashley Mahoney

Cracking the third round of the NCAA tournament will have to wait for the Charlotte 49ers.


It has been a decade since the program advanced past the second round of the tournament. No. 14 Charlotte (6-3-2) fell 4-1 on penalties in the May 2 second round match against No. 16 North Carolina (7-4-4). The match ended 1-all in double overtime, with goalkeeper Austin Mullins leaving on a stretcher with a concussion after a collision on the ground inside the 18-yard box. He was replaced by junior Daniel Kuzemka for the final minutes of overtime and penalties.

Charlotte defender Sean Suber converted his penalty, but midfielders Axel Sigurdarson and Matteo Busio missed. North Carolina striker Akeim Clarke scored for the Tar Heels in the 74th minute. Charlotte midfielder Joe Brito’s scored the equalizer in the 85th minute to send the game to overtime. His goal came off a set piece just outside the top of the 18-yard box, which he sent curling toward the far post and into the back of the net.


While it looked effortless, it reflected two weeks of diligent work between the end of the regular season and the tournament. Charlotte coach Kevin Langan made delivery and timing of runs a critical part of their preparation. For Brito it became a matter of spending extra time on the pitch with a bag of soccer balls and practicing sending balls in.


“I thought Joe’s delivery was excellent yesterday, and that culminated in the goal, but I was still disappointed with our commitment in the box to go score,” Langan said. “That is an area that we really should have and could have exploited this year.


Improving on set pieces is among a list of things for the 49ers to work on for next season. Charlotte knows postseason well with 15 appearances, nine in the last decade. The challenge is proving they are a top team.


“That is what I will be spending the next six weeks trying to figure out,” said Langan, who is in his ninth season. “That will be a question with my administration and coaching staff, ‘what is it going to take?’ I think on the field we are a top 16 team.”

 

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