As the #14 Charlotte 49ers and #16 North Carolina Tar Heels get ready to face off in the first round of the NCAA men's soccer tournament, it is intriguing to look at how the two teams stack up. The 49ers come into the matchup with a 6-3-1 spring record, while the Tar Heels come in with a 5-2-1 record. The Heels fell to Norte Dame by a score of 0-1 in the Fall ACC Championship.
Both teams are very defensive-driven as neither team has scored over three goals in any contest this spring season. The 49ers had five shutouts this year while North Carolina had four. It will be no surprise that this game is likely to be low-scoring and filled with excellent defense.
The two teams did face one similar opponent this year, and that was The Duke Blue Devils. The 49ers could not get over the hump in this game as it ended in a draw in two overtimes. The Tar Heels were able to beat the Blue Devils 1-0 in their season finale before being selected to the NCAA tournament.
Players to watch
For the 49ers, it is all about Preston Popp. He has six goals for the year and a total of 12 points. He is very quick and will keep the Tar Heels backline on their toes, shifting in and out of defenders with excellent dribbling skills as well. Popp has nearly half of the goals for the 49ers this season, and he will need a big performance against the Tar Heels in hopes of advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"Preston is doing really well. He wants to score goals and wants to be on the end of things. So, it is really working on all the other elements of the game for him," head coach Kevin Langan said in his mid-week press conference.
The 49ers will also rely on the defense and a team mentality, especially on defense. They ranked tied for eighth in the nation when it comes to shutout percentage (.600).
Giovanni Montesdeoca for the Tar Heels is their go-to on the offensive side of the ball, racking up several goals and assists throughout the season. He was selected to the All-ACC team as well. He will challenge the 49er defense as he can pass just as well as he can shoot. Look for the 49ers to key in on him.
Langan thinks his team has had plenty of time to get ready for the big game.
"After last weekend, where it was all about us, we as a staff switched focus to get a sense of who our opponent was," Langan said. "They are a very good team, atop the ACC, and a team that will present us with lots of challenges."
The 49ers will have to be disciplined and worry about themselves, and everything else will fall into place. But, they have to focus on not making the mistakes themselves first, which will ultimately lead to success against North Carolina.
"For us, it is always about our game plan and us just being us. It is about us executing our game plan and not worrying too much about our opponent," Langan said.
It is bound to be an instant classic. The game can be watched here, or you can follow along on Twitter at @NTimes_Sports on Sunday, May 2 at 5 p.m.