It is hard to believe that another college soccer season is about to come to an end. It seems like just a short time ago that players were reporting to campus to begin preseason practice.
On the eve of the National Championship match between Charlotte and North Carolina, College Soccer News contacted several of our soccer analysts and contributing writers to get their thoughts about the 2011 title match between the 49ers and the Tar Heels. The questions and responses are below.
Let’s set the stage.
Charlotte and North Carolina will face each other at 4 p.m. EST at Regions Park in Hoover, Alabama with the national championship on the line. The match will be televised live on ESPNU. Charlotte is under the direction of Jeremy Gunn who is in his fifth season as the head coach of the 49ers. North Carolina is led by Carlos Somoano who is in his first year as the Tar Heel head coach after serving as the top assistant coach under Elmar Bolowich for nine seasons.
Charlotte is out of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The 49ers advanced to the Final Four by defeating Furman 3-1, number eleven seeded UAB 3-1, defending national champion Akron 1-0, and advanced past number three seeded Connecticut in penalty kicks after the match was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and overtime. Charlotte advanced past number two seeded Creighton in penalty kicks Friday night in the semifinals of the Final Four after the match was scoreless at the end of regulation and overtime.
North Carolina was awarded the number one seed in the NCAA Tourney. The Tar Heels topped Coastal Carolina 3-2, number sixteen seed Indiana 1-0 in overtime, and Saint Mary’s College 2-0 to advance to the Final Four. North Carolina advanced past #13 seeded UCLA Friday night in the semifinals in a match that went to penalty kicks after the contest was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation and overtime.
Charlotte is 16-4-4 overall. The 49ers have scored a total of forty-one goals to date while allowing their opponents to score a total of twenty goals. North Carolina is 20-2-3 overall. The Tar Heels have scored a total of fifty-seven goals while holding their opponents to a total of sixteen.
This will be the eighteenth time that Charlotte and North Carolina have faced each other. The Tar Heels hold a fourteen to three advantage in the matches played to date. The two teams faced each other back on August 21 of this year in a preseason exhibition match at Transamerica Field in Charlotte. North Carolina held a 2-1 lead in that contest but it was halted due to heavy rain in the 70th minute of play. The enthusiasm the matchup created is reflected in the fact that a record crowd of 4,038 fans attended the exhibition contest. Charlotte got the best of the action in the first twenty minutes of the match but the Tar Heels eventually settled in and began to get the best of the play. Both teams have significantly matured, gelled, and improved since that early matchup.
What are your thoughts about the Charlotte – North Carolina Final?
Glen – I think it will be contrasting styles. Charlotte has battled their way through Furman, UAB, Akron, Connecticut and Creighton to get to the final. I think we’ll see a game where one team is fighting to control the match and the other is looking to counter punch.
Bob – It is definitely a big time matchup for the folks in the state of North Carolina. I imagine that both schools will have a pretty good following on hand in Hoover to watch the match which should add to the excitement. You have to be impressed with what Charlotte has done to get to the final. I thought their season had come to an end when they went down a goal to Connecticut on the road with eight minutes remaining but they maintained their composure and ended up advancing on penalty kicks. This is a team that is confident and is not going to fall apart when placed under pressure as reflected in their contest with Creighton. Charlotte has a lot of momentum. On the other hand North Carolina has had a banner season and showed a lot of mettle when they came from a goal back twice to even the score with a very talented UCLA team in their match Friday. On paper, North Carolina is clearly the favorite but there is something about this Charlotte team that is special. I’m really looking forward to watching this one.
Roger – The Charlotte vs. UNC contest will be a match-up of contrasting styles. North Carolina will press and attack with abandon, and send numbers forward at every opportunity. Charlotte will be highly organized and counter, but still will be very potent going forward with Gentile, James, Jennings and Smith.
Alex – I think you have seniors on North Carolina who have come up short three times and are seasoned in playing in the final. For Charlotte you have a hot team with many kids who probably weren’t recruited by North Carolina with a chip on their shoulder as a result. Jeremy Gunn having won a title as a head coach already is a big factor in Charlotte’s favor.
Matt – Both coaches have done an excellent job to get their team in the Finals and both will come into this one prepared. It goes without saying that both teams will be fired up but the fact that it is a matchup between two in-state schools that don’t regularly play each other adds a little something special to it.
What do you see as the keys to win for each of the teams?
Glen – North Carolina will need to stretch the field, create a lot of width, and keep the ball moving at a speed that will allow them to open up the Charlotte defense to create chances. Charlotte will want to keep the game tight, encourage North Carolina to force the ball through the middle, and then launch their attack quickly on turnovers.
Bob – North Carolina will need to open the field and then create scoring opportunities by getting the ball to Schuler, Lovejoy, and Speas in the box. Enzo Martinez must set the pace. The Tar Heels are also going to need to maintain their shape and discipline in the back. I thought UCLA exposed some potential weaknesses in the North Carolina defense. Charlotte will need to hold their own in the middle third and take advantage of the opportunities that come their way to push the ball forward at speed. Gentile and James are the big Charlotte goal scorers but Jennings Rex, T.J. Beaulieu and Donnie Smith may provide the edge that the 49ers need to come out on top. The bend but don’t break 49er defense lead by Rodriguez, Cowles, Allen, Weldon, and Perez will have to maintain their composure and play their best game of the year to handle the multi-dimensional North Carolina offense.
Roger – North Carolina’s keys to the game; breaking down a organized and tough Charlotte defense. It will be important for North Carolina to find the scoring column early. Charlotte will be tough to beat if they find a rhythm early in the match. Charlotte’s keys to the match; the ability to handle UNC’s high pressure and getting out with the counter and finding Gentile and James in space.
The Tale of the Tape:
Forwards – A push. UNC counters with Speas, Lovejoy, and Schuler, who are all very dangerous and lethal, but Charlotte counters with Gentile, James, and Jennings.
Midfield – Edge to UNC. Lopez, Urso, Martinez will cause problems with their ability to break teams down off the dribble. Charlotte midfielders Thomas, Kirkbride, and Gibson will have to keep the Tar Heels honest and limit giveaways in the midfield.
Defenders – Edge to Charlotte. Rodriquez and Cowles are tough and hardened veterans that have carried Charlotte this season. UNC’s Hedges is one of the best center backs in college soccer and a restart target.
Keepers – Edge to UNC. Scott Godwin has been the glue that has allowed UNC to send numbers forward. Charlotte’s Klay Davis is a solid net minder who has really developed this season but doesn’t have the experience that Godwin has.
Alex – North Carolina must play behind Charlotte and get them on the break before they can bunker in. Charlotte hasn’t really had to chase a lead over the course of a game and come from behind. A 2-0 cushion would be huge for North Carolina. Charlotte needs to score first and then withdraw a bit and defend yet not forget about the counter because its nearly impossible to sit in for long stretches against a team line North Carolina. Getting to PKs certainly could favor Charlotte as well.
Bryan – North Carolina must pressure Charlotte while not losing their shape in the back. The Tar Heels need to take control of the game from the get-go and avoid any lapses in play that result in breakdowns that will enable Charlotte to get a numbers advantage on a counter attack. Hedges is the key in the back for North Carolina. Charlotte must stay organized on the defensive side of the ball and must be able to hold their own in the middle third. Charlotte must also take advantage of the opportunities that come their way to attack down the side and switch the ball back into the middle to the feet of Gentile.
Your prediction of the outcome
Glen – It has the making of a tight game (like most finals), but I think North Carolina’s multiple attacking options will prove enough to find the goals they’ll need to win it.
Bob – I think it is North Carolina’s time to win it. They have so many weapons on the offense side of the ball. Charlotte has had a great run but I predict the Heels will win it 2-0. However, I don’t believe I have seen a team this year that can match up with Charlotte fitness wise and I really like the way Gunn brings players into the game off the bench who always seem to give the 49er a boost. If the game is scoreless coming down the home stretch then the momentum will switch to Charlotte.
Roger – Charlotte 2 – North Carolina 1. Charlotte’s magic ride continues.
Alex – North Carolina 3-1. Tight game all along with late third goal as Charlotte pushes men up to try and equalize.
Matt – I believe Charlotte will prevail. It may be a one goal game but I give the edge to the 49ers. This bunch has advanced past Akron, Connecticut, and Creighton. They are for real.
Bryan – It will be close but I give the edge to North Carolina. Schuler, Lovejoy, Speas, Urso, and Martinez will be hard to contain.