College Sports

How ‘intriguing’ Charlotte 49ers have remained unbeaten in college soccer

Goalkeeper Elliot Panicco has four shutouts for the Charlotte 49ers this season.
Goalkeeper Elliot Panicco has four shutouts for the Charlotte 49ers this season. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte 49ers are unbeaten and ranked eighth nationally by Soccer America magazine as they head into a Conference USA men’s soccer game Saturday at Florida Atlantic.

“It’s been a really intriguing season so far,” 49ers coach Kevin Langan said. “Record-wise, it’s exciting. But I still feel like we’re scratching the surface with this team and where we could be heading.”

The 49ers (7-0-2, 2-0-1) are one of 11 Division I teams that remain undefeated (their ties came against No. 9 Kentucky and West Virginia, which was nationally ranked at the time). The 49ers, who have played in the NCAA tournament eight of the past 10 seasons, are doing it with a typically stout defense and an attack that’s among the best in C-USA.

Here’s a look at two seniors who have played key roles in the 49ers’ season:

Elliot Panicco

Led by senior goalkeeper Elliot Panicco, the 49ers have allowed a league-low six goals for a .62 goals-against average (including four shutouts). Those kinds of numbers aren’t new for Charlotte and Panicco, an all-America candidate and Hough High product. In 2018, the 49ers had 13 shutouts and didn’t allow a goal in 1,026 minutes at Transamerica Field.

“If the ball is in the air, he’ll come and get it,” Langan said of Panicco, who is 6-5. “And to score on him, the ball had better be hit really hard in the corner, because he’s getting to every other shot.”

Charlotte’s starting defenders — sophomore Delasi Batse and juniors Luke Johnson, John Ranshaw and Patrick Hogan — have adjusted well to life without Callum Montgomery, who was the fourth pick of last spring’s Major League Soccer draft.

“All our players know their roles defensively,” Panicco said. “It’s not just me and the back four. It’s starts up front with our forwards. Everybody’s working for us.”

Teddy Chaouche

Senior midfielder Teddy Chaouche (six goals, six assists) leads C-USA in scoring, but he does more than that.

“Teddy has a wonderful sense of maturity and experience for us,” Langan said. “He gives us a calmness in the game. Sometimes college soccer can get a little hectic, and he’s able to slow things down for us.”

Chaouche (pronounced Shah-ush) is from Carpentras, France, where he was captain of the Montpellier youth academy team. He also played in the French Amateur Division for Le Pontet. He decided, however, that he wanted to give college soccer in the United States a try. Chaouche chose Charlotte sight unseen over other C-USA programs Marshall, Kentucky and New Mexico, which has since disbanded its program.

“I loved the way they talked to me at Charlotte,” Chaouche said. “The teams said, ‘You’re going to be a superstar here; you’re going to play every single game; we’re going to build our team around you.’

“I don’t like being the superstar. I like being the hard worker. I like having to prove myself every day in practice.”

Although Chaouche has been responsible for 12 of Charlotte’s 19 goals, he is not the only scoring option. Hogan, junior midfielder Joe Brito, sophomore forward Preston Popp and freshman forward/midfielder Axel Sigurdarson each have two goals.

David Scott: @davidscott14
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