HOOVER, Ala. email@example.com
The statistic caught Charlotte 49ers midfielder Owen Darby off-guard.
As Darby stood in the middle of the soccer field at chilly Regions Field on Thursday - the site of the 49ers' College Cup semifinal tonight against Creighton - he was told the second-seed Bluejays had allowed just five goals this season in 23 games.
"OK," said Darby, calmly taking that rather remarkable number into consideration. "Well, I guess, in all honesty, we haven't played a team that defends like that all year."
Creighton's flinty .21 goals-against average and 18 shutouts are the top marks in the country. Bluejays goalkeeper Brian Holt has 43 career shutouts, an NCAA record.
It's not as if the unseeded 49ers (16-4-3) don't scout their opponents: Coach Jeremy Gunn was to give his team the lowdown on the Bluejays later Thursday. So Charlotte will know all about Creighton when it takes the field tonight for the second College Cup game in school history and first since 1996.
And then the 49ers will go about their business.
"There's no hiding (their defense), but we never really worry about who we're playing," said Darby, a junior who played at South Mecklenburg High.
Charlotte will show Creighton (21-2) an attack that comes from several angles. Freshman Giuseppe Gentile (Ardrey Kell High), the team's leading scorer with 10 goals, puts constant pressure on the defense by running relentlessly after passes and loose balls. Senior Evan James (five goals, seven assists) is a threat on the wing, taking on defenders with speed and deft dribbling skills. Junior Jennings Rex (Watauga) has five goals and is able to lay the ball off to teammates, then find space for himself behind the defense. Senior T.J. Beaulieu has come off the bench to score three goals and provide five assists.
"We find ways to score," said Rex. "We've got such a strong group going forward. We figure out solutions and get the goals."
Charlotte 49ers coach Jeremy Gunn thinks there's another reason for Creighton's stinginess. The Bluejays have played eight consecutive home games. They haven't been on the road since Oct. 22. They've won those eight games (three regular-season contests, two in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and three NCAA tournament games) by a combined 15-1.
"That's a bit of an advantage in any sport," Gunn said of Creighton's home-field streak.
JORDAN'S HIT: Whether Charlotte and North Carolina face each other Sunday for the national championship remains to be seen. But there already is some 49ers-Tar Heels history at Regions Field, which serves primarily as a minor-league baseball stadium. The Birmingham Barons' Michael Jordan got his first hit as a pro baseball player on April 10, 1994, against Knoxville's Joe Ganote - a former 49ers pitcher.
TUNEFUL JAMES: Charlotte's Evan James is an accomplished singer and would have majored in the music field had time constraints not conflicted with soccer.
HEALTHY GROUP: The 49ers' have remained relatively healthy this season. The only injury of consequence came when midfielder Will Mayhew (Concord Robinson High) went out for the season with a torn ACL in September.
GOAL KICKS: Charlotte's Gentile was named a first-team freshman All-American by College Soccer News on Thursday ... 49ers senior defender Charles Rodriguez and James have been invited to Major League Soccer's player combine Jan. 6-10 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Other College Cup players invited to the combine: North Carolina forward Billy Schuler, defender Matt Hedges and midfielder Kirk Urso; Creighton defender Andrew Duran, midfielder Greg Jordan and forward Ethan Finlay; UCLA forward/midfielder Eder Arreola, midfielder/defender Andy Rose, goalkeeper Brian Rowe and defender Shawn Singh.