Having clinched No. 6 by the skin of their teeth, the Charlotte men's soccer team prepares to face the No. 3 seed University of South Florida (USF) Bulls in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 6, for the American Men's Soccer Championship quarterfinals.
It will be the first test for the 49ers this postseason, having gone 3-4-2 in conference matches in the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
Scouting the Bulls
For the Bulls, nothing noticeable stands out as a particular strong suit of the team; in their case, the squad is greater than the sum of its parts.
When it comes to offense, not one USF player sits within the top five for shots, points, goals, or assists, neither in total nor per game.
Only Ajmeer Spengler, No. 8 in shots on goal, and Oscar Resano, No. 8 in total shots, appear in the top ten for statistical categories.
USF averaged 13.71 shots per game during the season, good enough for No. 6, and for goals and goals per game, the Bulls sit at No. 7. Points were the brightest spot for USF, who sits at No. 5 with 3.86 points per game.
More notable is the defense. The Bulls were middling with goals allowed, as opponents scored 1.36 goals per game on average against them – sixth-best in the conference.
However, USF's saves on the season were slightly worse at 49, No. 6 in the AAC. Jackson Weyman, a goalkeeper for the Bulls, sits at No. 5 in saves per game and sixth for goals against average.
USF's unassuming components made for a 5-1-3 conference record on the season, winning 72.2% of all AAC matchups. In the last fight against Charlotte, the Bulls won 2-1 in a game that, by the metrics, was neck-and-neck.
Scouting the 49ers
Charlotte's offering looks much more robust on paper, especially regarding the offense.
Senior Kameron Lacey leads the American in shots and shots per game, and the 49ers are in the top five for goals, assists and points.
From Lacey with Love 😘CLT 3TEM 0 pic.twitter.com/7VpEa78tvK— Charlotte Men's Soccer (@CharlotteMSoc) November 3, 2022
The offensive firepower shows in Charlotte's leading 15.64 shots per game average, with 7.50 shots on goal per game on average to boot. The 49ers' record of 3.92 assists per game is good enough for first in the conference, too.
Defensively, the 49ers also stand out, especially with goalkeeper and redshirt junior Thomas Wallis.
During the season, opponents could make only 0.92 shots per game on average against Wallis – the only goalkeeper in the American to be below one.
Wallis also leads the AAC in saves with a 77.1% save percentage. The 49ers did well, holding opponents to 1.07 goals against them on average to put Charlotte second in the conference. However, Charlotte sits at No. 8 in the AAC for saves per game at 3.29.
A few big moments, too. Shout for save of the season from Charlotte's Thomas Wallis. Minute to go, tie game. And then, this. https://t.co/4IR5jZpl06— Tom Hindle (@Tom_Hindle_) October 6, 2022
One should be wary of taking these metrics at face value lest they be a mirage. The impressive first half of the season for the Green and White almost certainly impacted the statistics, and the trouble of the 49ers to beat the competition in conference play is a much more significant consideration.
The road to victory
The deciding factor may be whether Charlotte can maintain their apparent form on paper in practice.
The strong offensive players like Lacey and the capable defense to back up a solid offense would indicate the 49ers would have the edge against the Bulls. But, at the same time, Charlotte's conference record shows that what worked overall did not work well in the AAC.
Charlotte's best hopes lie in rekindling that first-half of the season magic and using the potent offense to keep the Bulls in check.
While not replicated in later matches, the high volume of shots in earlier games would have USF on the back foot. The capable defense of the 49ers, able to keep opponents within one goal all but once on the season, would be the last piece needed.
Looking to gameday
The contest between Charlotte and USF will commence at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, at Corbett Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Those at home can watch the game on ESPN+.