The No. 22 Charlotte men's soccer team was defeated on the home pitch 2-1 at the hands of the University of South Florida Bulls (USF) on Oct. 25. Charlotte remains seventh in the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
It was a pivotal moment in the season and one that came down to the wire.
The hopes of all the 49ers rested upon their shoulders as Charlotte took the field. The deal was straightforward: if Charlotte won, the road to the championship would be wide open; otherwise, the chances would be long at best.
USF took command over the field throughout the half. The Bulls took seven shots to Charlotte's one, a high ball soaring well past the net sent by junior Kameron Lacey; goalkeeper and redshirt junior Thomas Wallis earned three saves holding off the raging Bulls.
However, Charlotte struggled to get and maintain control over the ball.
The referees were busy in the first half. Charlotte sophomore Brigham Larsen received the first yellow card of the match, and three Bulls followed: Segun Afolabi, Andres Freire and Sergio Pineros-Mayorga.
USF could not convert their offense into goals despite their advantage, leaving the match 0-0 at the half.
In a consistent trend for the season, Charlotte's offense came out swinging against the Bulls.
Charlotte recorded eight shots during the second half, nearly triple the three made by USF.
However, the Bulls refused to fail under pressure, and at the 63-minute mark Ajmeer Spengler, with an assist from Jemone Barclay, shot the ball past Wallis. It put USF up 1-0.
64'Goal USF.USF 1CLT 0— Charlotte Men's Soccer (@CharlotteMSoc) October 26, 2022
Only one card was given during the half by the referees. It went to goalkeeper Wallis, who had come across the field after an injury on the field temporarily stopped play.
The 49ers redoubled their efforts, putting in four substitutes: sophomores Filip Jauk and Callum Watts and junior Jonathan Nyandjo.
Already close to the USF goal, the squad got to work within seconds after the play resumed. After a shot by freshman Samy Kolby, Watts saw his chance. With an assist by Nyandjo and Jauk, he launched the shot past the Bulls to tie up the game at 1-1.
*head explosion emoji*CALLUM FREAKING WATTS!!!!WE ARE LEVEL!!!!CLT 1USF 1 pic.twitter.com/cG6PGZ3vVN— Charlotte Men's Soccer (@CharlotteMSoc) October 26, 2022
The change in momentum led to a more potent offensive by the Green and White, making three shots at the Bulls' goal; all the while, the clock ticked down.
With three seconds left, the 49ers had done well to keep USF at bay, and the match was one corner kick away from victory.
USF's Oscar Resano, assisted by Brian Schaefer, got it through to the goal. There were three seconds on the clock.
Oscar Resano with the game-winner for the Bulls with four seconds left from Brian Schaefer to STUN No. 22/14 Charlotte, 2-1, on Tuesday night! WOW‼️ How ‘bout that #SCTop10? @ESPNAssignDesk pic.twitter.com/XyW3KSnwZM— USF Men's Soccer (@USFMSOC) October 26, 2022
Though the season began promisingly, with the loss, the hopes of a conference championship are small. Only two opponents remain for the season, and of those, FIU will pose an intense challenge; even with a more straightforward game against last-place Temple, one loss will more than likely seal the deal.
The match against USF was the first that the 49ers made more shots than their opponents since facing Memphis on Oct. 5.
Since then, the 49ers have not made more than 11 shots in a match. For a team that averaged over 20 shots a game at one point, it is a significant decline, aided predominantly by stiffer competition from AAC opponents.
If Charlotte goes on to the championship, it will take a match worthy of remembrance to achieve against the FIU Panthers – and a lot of luck.
The Charlotte men's soccer team stays home for the second match in a row to face the FIU Panthers on Friday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. The game will be available to view on ESPN+.