Whether one cares to admit it or not, UNC Charlotte has become known as a soccer school.
After more than four decades of being identified as a basketball school, mostly because that is the only sport on campus that has sparked enough interest, one must come to the realization that the 49ers are indeed a soccer powerhouse.
This season Charlotte is currently ranked fourth in the College Soccer News Poll and eighth in the Soccer America Poll. The members of the team would say the rankings don’t mean much, and in some cases they are right, but it gives a sense of the talent level in the 2012 program.
The main goal for this season is to finish what wasn’t accomplished last season: win the NCAA National Championship.
The road to the College Cup Final is no easy task. In fact, it is a long grueling process that features some of the nation’s top teams.
Last year, the 49ers fell to the University of North Carolina in the National Championship match that was played in Hoover, Ala.
So here’s my five reasons why I think Charlotte can return to the College Cup Final:
1. Emergence of Queen City Army.
The 2012 men’s soccer season was greeted with the debut of the “Queen City Army.”
A student group on campus that averages more than 500 students for each home match and according to their Facebook page, more than 280 students have joined as members of this unique fan experience. Transamerica Field, the home for Charlotte 49ers soccer, has been averaging over 2,000 fans for each home match this season.
This is extremely important because if Charlotte were to continue what they’ve started this season, remain undefeated, the 49ers could potentially play several critical matches at Transamerica in November and December.
2. Defense has played lights out. Literally.
Leading into last night’s South Carolina match, the 49ers allowed only two goals and 32 shots in over 494 minutes of action. There’s an old saying in sports: “defense wins championships.”
While Charlotte continues to play great defense, the 49ers will be able to feed the ball offensively and provide many open looks. Just last week, Charlotte sophomore Giuseppe Gentile scored his first goal of the season in a 1-0 defeat over Kentucky. Having a stellar defense has also led to junior defender Thomas Allen being named to the College Socccer News’ National Team of the Week for his performance last week in the University of Kentucky Invitational.
The 49ers have now had a player earn National Team of the Week honors in each of the first three weeks of the season.
3. Transamerica Field plays host to 2012 Atlantic 10 Tournament.
It is extremely beneficial for Charlotte to host the A-10 Tournament in their final season as a member of the A-10 conference.
“Queen City Army” will have a direct impact that will set the momentum going into the first round of the NCAA Tournament the following week. Charlotte, who was picked to win the A-10 conference, certainly has something worth playing for: bragging rights.
4. New head coach? No problem.
Even though Jeremy Gunn left Charlotte for Stanford during the off-season, 49ers head coach Kevin Langan is no stranger to success at Charlotte. Langan, who became the seventh head coach in the 36-year history of the program, has been a member of the Charlotte 49ers coaching staff for the last three seasons.
Yes, including last season’s magnificent team. Since Langan’s arrival to Charlotte, the 49ers’ wins totals have increased each season from 11 wins in 2009 to 13 wins in 2010 to 16 wins this past season.
In 2009, Charlotte made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1997. The 16 wins last season tied for second most in program history.
5. The 49ers can expect the unexpected. Well, sort of.
It was uncertain what to expect during the 2011 NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament run. I must admit, even I was questioning whether or not the pressure would get to this squad.
Charlotte now knows what it takes to not only reach the tournament, but also have a shot at winning it all.
No one can fully anticipate what is to come, but it is possible to grasp a sense of what it takes to reach the ultimate goal: winning the College Cup Final and hoisting the school’s first NCAA National Championship trophy.
Follow @NathanButlerNT on Twitter for Charlotte sports updates and commentary.