Much as the old coach’s adage says, defense wins championships. It might have not been for all the marbles, but that sage advice rang true for the New Mexico Lobos.
With a bid to the Conference USA men’s soccer championship game on the line, fifth-seed New Mexico entered Friday’s tournament semifinals as a clear underdog to the Charlotte 49ers, the No. 1 team in conference. The 49ers received a bye til this game, meaning they were the fresher of the teams, but the Lobos stunned Charlotte with a 2-1 victory Friday.
Charlotte (12-3-2) entered the match as arguably the best defensive team in the nation. New Mexico’s defense, however, proved to be the deciding factor.
Thanks to junior goalkeeper Jason Beaulieu and a stifling back four, the Lobos did something only two other teams have done this season – beat the Charlotte 49ers, holding them to one goal, tied for their lowest total of the season. The offense did its part, as well, chipping in two goals in the second half, peppering the 49ers with four shots, three of which were on net.
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New Mexico (11-6-2) advances to the championship game Sunday against the winner of the Florida International/Old Dominion semifinal. New Mexico swept the season series with both schools, beating FIU 4-0 and knocking off Old Dominion 2-0.
Three who mattered
Jason Beaulieu (GK – Jr.): Coming into the game, everyone’s focus was on the man who backstopped the 49ers, C-USA Goalkeeper of the Year Elliot Panicco. Beaulieu ended up stealing the spotlight, recording four saves in the upset.
Chris Wehan (MF – R-Sr.): Wehan helped kickstart the Lobos offense in the second half. He broke the 0-0 deadlock with a perfectly placed ball that found its way in the back of the net. He also led the team with two shots, both coming in the second half.
Elliot Panicco (GK – R-Fr.): Despite giving up two goals, the 49ers keeper did his part, even with no help in front of him. Had he not suited up for Charlotte, it very well could have been a worse loss.
▪ Don’t pin this loss on the 49ers’ stellar keeper, Panicco. He did everything in his power he could, but sometimes it takes more than just one goal to get the win.
▪ It was a tale of two halves for the 49ers. Charlotte possessed the ball in the attacking third of field more than New Mexico did in the first half, but, when both teams hit the pitch after the break, the Lobos were the aggressors.
▪ If the Lobos can play a full game with the energy they showed in the second half, New Mexico could win the championship.
▪ Entering the game, the 49ers had only trailed twice all season.
▪ The 49ers came into the semifinals with the best goals-against average in the NCAA, .42. Charlotte had only conceded seven goals all season.
They said it
“We wanted the two big guys because we needed those RPI wins. We did our job and going into this last game, we’re not going to let off, we’re going to try to win the rest of it.” – Niko Hansen, winning goal scorer.
“Charlotte’s really good. They stick to their guns, they have a certain way of playing. In order to beat them, you have to be really good.” – Jeremy Fishbein, New Mexico coach.
“The feeling is that we approached the game very well. Barring the 15 minutes where they had a bit of pressure, we totally dominated the game. The feeling I have is that, to be such the great defending team we are, to have 15 minutes where a team scores two goals in that spell, it’s kind of tough for us to take.” – Kevin Langon, Charlotte coach.