Charlotte 49ers mens soccer coach Kevin Langan knows what hes got in senior midfielders Tyler Gibson and Aidan Kirkbride. Other coaches do, too.
Every coach you talk to, they know weve got Aidan and Tyler in our midfield, said Langan, whose 18th-ranked 49ers opened their season with a 2-0 victory at Denver on Friday. They know whats coming. Its just a question of how to stop them.
Gibson and Kirkbride will be the key players in one of the top midfields this season in Conference USA, if not the country.
Gibson will leave Charlotte after this season as one of the programs most decorated players: a Soccer America magazine preseason All-American, hes on this seasons Hermann Trophy (national player of the year) watch list and was a three-time all-Atlantic 10 pick.
Kirkbride was Charlottes most valuable player last season, helping Gibson set up the 49ers attack. His only two goals of 2012 came in the season opener also against Denver when he tied the game with four seconds left in regulation, then won it with a goal in the second overtime.
Gibson and Kirkbride have been starters for three seasons, including 2011 when the 49ers advanced to the College Cup final. Theyve formed an intrinsic feel for each others game over the years.
Weve developed that understanding between each other, said Kirkbride, who is from Lancashire, England, and once attended tryouts for Irelands under-19 national team. We know each other inside and out. That makes it easy to play together.
Gibson, from Knoxville, Tenn., is the teams playmaker. Langan compares Gibsons role to that of Barcelonas Xavi Hernandez, perhaps the worlds top midfielder.
Gibbo never gets in trouble, is great in tight spaces and is a very clean player, said Langan.
Said Gibson: Thats a confidence boost. I try to have that kind of awareness, to know where everybody is and to be that calm on the ball. I watch him and try to implement that into my game.
The 49ers, picked to finish third in their first season in Conference USA, have seven starters back from last seasons team that went 15-4-3, won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Georgetown. The 49ers, picked to finish third in C-USA behind New Mexico and Tulsa, will host the league tournament Nov. 13-17 at Transamerica Field.
Junior striker Giuseppe Gentile is also on the Hermann watch list and trained this summer with Major League Soccers Colorado Rapids (Gibson spent time with Sporting Kansas City of MLS, as well). Gentile, who scored both goals Friday, scored nine goals last season after scoring 10 as a freshman during Charlottes College Cup year.
Its tough to develop quietly when everybodys looking at you, like has been the case with Giussi, said Langan. But his game has developed a lot. Instead of outpacing players and smashing (the ball in the goal) which hes still capable of doing he can now find 5 yards of space in the (penalty) box, put the brakes on and have a nice one-touch finish, things like that.
Defensively, Charlotte returns senior Thomas Allen, senior Anthony Perez and sophomore Biko Bradnock-Brennan, as well as senior goalkeeper Klay Davis (.79 goals-against average last season). Langan said newcomers to watch include two transfers from N.C. State midfielders Monbo Bokar and Conor Agnew as well as freshman midfielder Brandt Bronico.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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