College Soccer: Charlotte, UNC battle today for national title
HOOVER, Ala. ó The last meeting between North Carolina and Charlotte meant little beyond pride and practice.
Now, the two will play for both a state and national title today in the NCAA menís soccer championship match four months after that August exhibition game. Neither top-seeded North Carolina nor unseeded Charlotte had reason to think back then theyíd be meeting again in December.
ěYou know when we played them at the beginning of the season we knew they were a good team and we knew we were a good team but we werenít thinking that far ahead,î Tar Heels defender Matt Hedges said Saturday. ěThat would just be dumb to be thinking we might face you in the final at the first game. Both of us are totally different teams and weíll just see.î
They didnít really settle who was best in that Aug. 21 game. UNC led 2-1 when the game was called due to weather in the 70th minute.
This is the first time the two teams have met in a game that counted since 2001, which also happens to be the year the Tar Heels (21-2-2) won their first ó and so far, only ó NCAA title.
Theyíre playing in their fourth consecutive College Cup. Charlotte (17-4-3), which has won its last two matches on penalty kicks, is trying to make the most of its second College Cup and first since 1996.
The last unseeded team to win the NCAA menís soccer title was UC Santa Barbara in 2006.
ěWe always felt we had the ability, but you just have to keep looking forward and hoping the players are playing their best soccer at the end of the season,î Charlotte coach Jeremy Gunn said. ěI think we had the setbacks through the year but come the national tournament, the players have just been unbelievable.î
Both teams advanced from the semifinals on penalties.
The 49ers donít just feel like underdogs for this game, or the College Cup, but in a state where theyíre typically overshadowed by programs like UNC, Duke and North Carolina State. They also want to claim a title for Charlotte, the city.
ěIím just proud to be at a college that kind of represents the city we are from,î Charlotte midfielder Owen Darby said. ěCharlotte isnít known for much sport ó the Hornets left, the Panthers came when I was pretty much grown up. I think Charlotte has kind of been the one thing that has represented the city.
ěYou look at Chapel Hill and these other colleges that have this sort of prestige, I didnít really identify with them. Iím proud to play for something that represents my city.î
North Carolina has a bit of coaching history at stake.
Carlos Somoano is trying to join Indianaís Mike Freitag (2004) as the only first-year coaches to lead their teams to the title.
ěI think Carlos has done a great job of working with the guys we have and turning us into a great team, keeping us focused day to day,î midfielder Kirk Urso said.
Somoano, for one, doesnít put much stock in the disparity in seeding.
ěThat has nothing to do with it for us weíre going to try and perform and the team that performs better (Sunday) will have a good chance at winning the game,î he said.