The Charlotte 49ers defeated the Mercer Bears 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The win advances Charlotte to the second round where they will play No. 3 Clemson.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” said Langan. “It was a real traditional playoff game, [and] the fans, they were absolutely incredible tonight. It was a really great soccer night in Charlotte.”
The 49er offense started the first half aggressively by generating two shots on the goal within the first five minutes of the game. In contrast, the Bears struggled to initiate offense and spent the overwhelming majority of the first ten minutes of the game playing defense. However, the Bears suddenly turned the tide offensively and scored the first goal of the game in the 13th minute. Midfielder Joshua Harrison connected on a goal from point-blank range to give Mercer a 1-0 lead.
“At that point, the momentum definitely shifted over to our side,” said Mercer senior forward midfielder Roberto Arteaga.
Down 1-0 in potentially his final college game, senior goalkeeper Elliot Pannico encouraged his team to keep playing their style of ball.
“I told them to keep our heads. We’re in a playoff game, we’ve been here before,” said Pannico. “If we play the way that we play, I know that we’ll be fine.”
Charlotte quickly responded to the Bears by catching the Mercer defense off guard and finding junior Luke Johnson unguarded on the opposite side of the field. Johnson volleyed a shot over the extended arm of Mercer goalkeeper JR DeRose. It ricocheted off the post into the goal to tie the game at 1-1 in the 22nd minute.
“I was probably looking more for the cross [than the goal], but I’ll take it,” said Johnson.
Both teams exchanged deep drives into opposing territory but were incapable of connecting on their shot opportunities. In the 38th minute, the 49ers garnered a corner kick. DeRose acrobatically deflected Teddy Chaouche’s entry pass, but the ball rolled right to redshirt sophomore Chance Pellerin. He connected on the easy goal to give Charlotte a 2-1 edge. The 49ers took a one-point advantage going into the halftime break.
“I told them to take a breath at halftime,” said Langan. “I thought we were making it a bit harder than it was because of the nerves and that many fans cheering you kind of gives you that little bit of adrenaline.”
Mercer aggressively initiated their offense at the beginning of the second half. In the 58th minute, the Bears earned a corner kick. It produced nothing, though, as Pannico intercepted the entry pass. Again, in the 59th minute, the Bears got another opportunity to score with a corner kick. However, Pannico plucked the entry pass out of the air before any of the Mercer forwards were able to score. Two minutes later, Pannico saved a goal off a Mercer penalty kick.
Both teams then struggled to create scoring opportunities and initiate offense. In the 80th minute, the Bears earned yet another corner kick with an opportunity to tie the game. However, the header attempt sailed wide left of the goal.
Off the Bears’ miss, Charlotte quickly started their offense and drove down the field, earning a corner kick. Charlotte could not score off the corner kick, but they were able to retain possession and reset their offense. The 49ers iced the game in the 84th minute as Johnson found Patrick Hogan for an easy goal to give Charlotte a 3-1 win.
“It was really great, and it means a lot to play another game at TransAmerica Field in front of Niner Nation,” said Pannico. “After today, you don’t know if you’re going to get another one, so it was great to be here and play another game at home.”
Charlotte advances to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they will face off against the No. 3 Clemson Tigers on Sunday, Nov. 24, in Clemson, SC.
Langan believes the 49ers’ strength of their regular-season schedule will help them against Clemson.
“This team; we’ve played one of the hardest schedules in the country [and] we’ve played every type of opponent you could face,” said Langan. “And these are fit, strong guys. They’ll be ready for Sunday and we are excited.”