Men's soccer C-USA preview

Charlotte's Joe Brito celebrates a goal against Kentucky on Oct. 30. 

On a two-game win streak, Charlotte's men's soccer team has momentum on their side heading into the postseason. The Niners will play 8-6-2 FAU, who lost their last two games.

Charlotte has won their last nine matchups with FAU. Their last meeting was less than a month ago, where the Niners took the win, 5-1. 

"It's a great team. It's a team where you look back at the game. It was a lot closer than the scoreline," said head coach Kevin Langan. "They have some great pieces, they can hurt you with possession, they can hurt you by scoring goals, it's a very good team."

Scouting Charlotte

The Niners won their last two games, including an upset overtime win over fifth-ranked Kentucky. 

"We've been executing very very well. We had some bumps along the way, but they weren't catastrophic. They were just great learning opportunities for us," said Langan. 

Charlotte finished the regular season 10-5 overall and 5-3 against C-USA opponents. This puts them fourth in total wins and total win percentage among Conference USA (C-USA) teams and gives them the third-best C-USA record.  

"I'm really proud of the guys," said Langan. "It was a lot of growing, a lot of figuring ourselves out, a lot of making new players into great, reinforcing our style. Also, playing in a really strong conference, there aren't many games where you can learn on the job you have to go in and take care of business." 

The Niners had 30 goals on the year, outsourcing their opponents 30-18 over the course of the season. They also shoutout UAB 3-0 to end the season, their third shutout of the season. In their match against UAB, they had their most team shots and shots on goal in a game the whole season with 20 shots and 14 shots on goal.

"We are playing our best soccer. We look very dangerous, we look very dynamic, we look like the top 10 or top 15 teams we know we are," said Langan

Scouting Florida Atlantic 

Following their loss against Charlotte last month, Florida Atlantic started a winning streak with UAB, and North Florida won.

FAU has had a tough last two games, however. They went up against No. 12 Kentucky on Friday and No. 17 FIU for their last games of the season and dropped both. 

With a conference record of 2-4-2, FAU is sixth in the C-USA standings. Their season record 8-6-2 looks better and places them fifth among C-USA teams, just one spot behind Charlotte. 

Despite their positive record, FAU has been outscored over the course of the season 26-28. This is not their only offensive stat where they fall behind their opponents. Shots, shots on goal, shot percentage, goals, etc. They trail is every shooting statistic when compared to their opponents when facing them. 

When it comes to strengths, the Owls out assist their opponents 30-23. A big strength of theirs that is a big part of their positive record is their ability to get saves. They out-save their opponents 71-49. 

Players to watch 

For FAU, the player to look for is senior goalkeeper Neil Strauber. In his 16 games this season, he has 70 saves and three shutouts. While he has saved 70 shots, he has only allowed 28 goals. The 70 saves rank him 20 among all NCAA D1 goalkeepers.  

When it comes to Charlotte, Joe Brito and Preston Popp are two names that stand out.

Brito has been an assist machine this season. He has 10 assists in his 15 games. This not only leads all C-USA players but ranks him fifth among all NCAA D1 players for assists. His assists per game percentage of 67% are even more impressive, ranking him fourth among all NCAA D1 players. Brito also has five of Charlotte's 30 goals on the year with an impressive shot percentage of 27.8%.

Popp has been on a hot streak throughout the last month. In the last month, he has had six goals in his six games played. In one of those games, he had nine shots on goal and two goals in 21 minutes. 

Popp's eight goals this year led the team and put him second among C-USA players. Popp earned himself the conference's Golden Boot Award for the second consecutive season.

Key to Niner victory

A big key for this team is to get on the board early. The Niners play much better when they have the lead and often see struggles to catch up when they are behind.

 "What is key for us is to keep building on what we are doing. I think at this stage of the season, it's not about throwing anything new at the players," said Langan. "The key for us will be just being us, trying to dominate our opponent and just getting better at what we do."

Where FAU allows themselves to get beat on is penalties. Over the span of the season, FAU has had 33 yellow cards while their opponents have only had 19. If Charlotte can take advantage of this and force penalties, it could be a huge advantage for them. 

This Conference USA Men's Soccer Championship game will take place Wednesday, Nov. at 7 p.m. The winner will move on in the championships and take on Marshall. The Niners will host at Transamerica Field in Charlotte. The game can be watched on ESPN+.

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