The Charlotte 49ers men’s soccer team has lost one of its most accomplished senior classes to graduation: midfielders Aidan Kirkbride, Will Mayhew and Tyler Gibson, defenders Thomas Allen and Anthony Perez and goalkeeper Klay Davis played in three consecutive NCAA tournaments (including the 2011 College Cup final). Junior striker Giuseppe Gentile also left school early to pursue a pro career (he is playing for the United Soccer Leagues Pro’s Orlando City FC).
But third-year 49ers coach Kevin Langan is confident he has players who will step in and help the 49ers continue along their path of becoming one of college soccer’s elite programs – if they’re not already there.
“We don’t want rebuilding years here,” said Langan, whose team opens it season Sunday against Radford at Transamerica Field. “Words you’ll never hear us say are that we’re too young or too inexperienced. We’ve been working with the new guys for two years. We just want to keep rolling and rolling along. I think we’ve overlapped (our incoming players) very well every year.”
So despite having to fill some gaps, the 49ers, who won last season’s Conference USA tournament title and have just two seniors on the roster, are nonetheless ranked 22nd in Soccer America’s preseason poll (they’re 23rd in the National Soccer Coaches of America’s rankings). They’ve also been picked to finish second in C-USA behind New Mexico.
“The winning culture we have here is just that, our culture,” said junior striker Kyle Parker (Marvin Ridge High), who led Charlotte with 11 goals last season and is C-USA’s preseason offensive player of the year.
Langan said there’s plenty of talent to replace the departed players. In Gibson and Kirkbride, the 49ers had one of college soccer’s top central midfields, but Langan thinks sophomore Max Rodriguez and junior Connor Agnew can be just as good. With Gentile gone, Parker will be paired with either senior Monbo Bokar or sophomore Hans Honer.
Either Austin Pack or Nick Hensley will replace Davis in the goal.
The Wildcats move into the Atlantic 10 – the league Charlotte departed after the 2012 season – and are picked fifth in the 12-team league’s preseason poll.
The Wildcats return leading-scorer Valeriy Sviderskiy (eight goals) and goalkeeper Matt Pacifici (1.47 goals-against average) and have a potential star in defender Matt Reinikka, a preseason A-10 all-freshman selection. Davidson opens at home Friday against Cal Poly.
The Royals are ranked 22nd in the NCAA Division II’s preseason poll, but picked to finish third in the challenging South Atlantic Conference behind Carson-Newman and Wingate.
Queens, the SAC’s defending champion, has the league’s top goalkeeper in Montrell Morgan and a solid defender in Gregorio Pestana. Striker Erick Suarez scored 12 goals last season. The Royals’ first game is Sept. 4 at Limestone, a nationally ranked team from Conference Carolinas.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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