College Sports

How important is ‘looking good’ for the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s soccer team?

Kevin Langan is in his sixth season as the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s soccer coach.
Kevin Langan is in his sixth season as the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s soccer coach. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Kevin Langan faces a tough coaching decision.

Langan prefers a fast-paced style for his Charlotte 49ers men’s soccer team, but that hasn’t been working well this season.

So he is considering slowing the pace of the attack – at least for a while, until his front line gets more comfortable in its role. But that goes against the grain for him.

“What’s better,” he asks, “a team that doesn’t look good but wins, or a good-looking team that struggles? That’s what we have to work through.”

The 49ers (2-1-1), who opened the season with a No. 16 national ranking, have slipped to the category of “other teams receiving votes” in the national poll. But with a strong defense, led by former Hough High standout Elliot Panicco in goal, and a talented attack, Langan expects his team to catch its stride soon.

Charlotte, coming off a 1-1 tie Tuesday with Elon, is home at 7 p.m. Sunday against Jacksonville.

The problem hasn’t been a lack of chances. The 49ers have outshot opponents 70-22. On Tuesday, they held an 11-1 advantage in shots over Elon at the half and dominated play. But Elon tied the game on a corner kick with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in regulation and hung on for the deadlock.

Langan says the 2016 team is like his 2013 squad. That time, he also had the offense slow its attack for a few games, until midfielders and forwards were comfortable with their roles. The 49ers averaged 1.2 goals a game in their first 10 contests, then scored 2.5 in their last 11.

“We have lots of scorers on this team,” Langan says. “It’s a matter of making sure the scoring chances are good ones. If we over-emphasize the situation, then it can become a mental hurdle.”

Junior midfielder Daniel Bruce, who has a goal and an assist this season, says the goal is not to panic.

“You don’t worry if you’re not converting on your chances,” says Bruce, of Northwich, England, about a half-hour driving time south of Manchester. “You worry if you’re not getting the chances.

“A team shouldn’t be afraid to win 1-0 or 2-1. We know that with our reputation, every team we play is trying to knock us off.”

That reputation? The 49ers have been to the NCAA tournament six straight years. In 2011, they knocked off six nationally-ranked teams before falling 1-0 to North Carolina in the national championship game.

Langan says the defense has been solid this season.

“Our defense gives us the ability to win those 1-0, 2-0 games,” he says. “We really do look like a good team. Against Elon, we looked very good, but we just didn’t see the game all the way through. That’s what we have to work on.”

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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