For the Charlotte 49ers men’s soccer team, defense doesn’t start with the four defenders playing on the back line.
If it were up to coach Kevin Langan and his players, the ball would never get to that part of the field.
“I hate when we talk about just the goalie and the back four, because if you watch us, (defense) is a complete team effort,” said Langan, the 49ers third-year head coach. “We want to defend from the front. We want our forwards to be engaged and connected and to try to win the ball high and pick pockets. We want to shape it into an area where the midfielders can field it.”
Though the backs and goalkeeper may get most of the credit, the 49ers are living by an old soccer adage: You can’t lose if the other team doesn’t score. The team is near the top of the national rankings for goals scored, and its defense is also pulling its weight.
Entering the Nov. 7 game at Kentucky – a contest set to determine the regular-season Conference USA champion – the 49ers were 13-2-1 overall, 5-1-1 in the league. They had allowed only 13 goals in 16 games, an average of 0.78 goals per game.
Eight of Charlotte’s 13 victories were by shutout. In five other games, the 49ers had allowed just one goal in regulation.
Charlotte, ranked No. 5 in the NSCAA Coaches poll, blanked three straight opponents from Oct. 21-28. The streak would have been four games had the 49ers not allowed an own goal to Florida Atlantic in a 4-1 victory Nov. 1.
Most impressive is Charlotte’s second-half defense. Opponents have scored just four goals in regulation after halftime, and one was Florida Atlantic’s own goal.
“The second half is where we stay switched on and really get after teams,” said junior goalkeeper Austin Pack. “We keep each other focused.”
Pack is one of three first-year full-time starters on the defensive side of the field. The others are left back Matej Dekovic, a freshman from Croatia, and right back Nick Barnhorst (Ardrey Kell), who started 15 games in his first two seasons.
Redshirt sophomore Luke Waechter and junior Biko Bradnock-Brennan both returned as starters in the center back. Charlotte’s defensive stats in 2013 were similar to this season: 16 goals allowed in 21 games for a 0.74 goals against average and eight regular-season shutouts (11 total).
“As a back four, I think we’re more mobile (this season),” said Bradnock-Brennan. “Previous teams, I think, were more physical. We have a physical aspect, but we’re quick, agile, and all of us are comfortable on the ball as well.
“Austin is like a cat, he can get to everything.”
The 49er defense has come up big in big games. In Charlotte’s four contests against ranked opponents, it has surrendered just two goals in regulation, including shutouts against fifth-ranked New Mexico and No. 22 Wake Forest.
Langan cited wins against Alabama-Birmingham on Oct. 24 and Wake Forest on Oct. 28, both 1-0, as being critical defensive gems this season.
“They dominated territory and possession for large spells,” said Langan. “You expect good teams to push back against you. In those moments I thought our defense was phenomenal, and Austin came up with some big saves as well.”
Next on Charlotte’s schedule is the C-USA tournament Nov. 12-16 at Old Dominion.
Charlotte men’s cross-country team finished sixth at the C-USA Championships on Nov. 2 in Denton, Texas. The women’s team placed eighth.
The top men’s runner for the 49ers was redshirt junior Getisso Dentamo, a Mallard Creek High graduate, who placed 17th overall. Senior Jen Molke was Charlotte’s top women’s runner, finishing 21st.
The men’s basketball team will be hosting Newberry in an exhibition Nov. 11 at Halton Arena.
Playing for the Wolves will be redshirt freshman Mason Spease, son of Charlotte Senior Associate Athletic Director for Business Darin Spease. Mason Spease is a 2013 Central Cabarrus High graduate.