No. 5 Charlotte Rallies Past No. 13 Soccer to Win C-USA Title

By Jacob Most at the Bell Soccer Complex
Nov. 7, 2014

Box Score |  Photo Gallery 

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Fifth-ranked Charlotte came from behind to defeat 13th-ranked Kentucky 2-1, and win the Conference USA Regular-Season Championship in front of 1,580 fans at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex on Friday.

Conor Agnew scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 49th minute, after he was slotted in behind the defense down the left side by Brandt Bronico. He hit a precision strike across the face the goal, which found the right side netting.

Charlotte held off a furious late rally from there, including a  save of a Napo Matsoso penalty in the 78th-minute after Zhuvonte Wilson was sent off for handling a Stefan Stojkovic header to clear the ball off the goal line.

The Wildcats looked especially dangerous in the late going on set-pieces, drawing the aforementioned penalty off a corner kick and missing a header just wide on two quality chances.

The game’s final 15 minutes were a mad scramble as Matsoso, who scored the game’s opening goal, was sent off less than a minute later for a second-yellow on an apparent kick on the goalie while in a scrum for the ball in the box.

“That was a tough one, I’m disappointed of course, but like always you have to give a lot of credit to the opponent,” UK head coach Johan Cedergren said. “Charlotte did well. We watched a lot of tape of them, and that’s the fourth time we have played them since I’ve been at UK. We’ve lost all four times. They’re very organized and the coaching staff gets its players to really buy into the philosophy.

“For us, it’s really disappointing, and it’s also a strange one. We started really well. We were picking them apart. I thought there was lots of good combination play, and we were nice and solid defensively. Napo scores a great goal. They get one cross in and its 1-1 at halftime. When we came out in the second half it seemed like the moment got to us.”

Matsoso got UK off to an ideal start with a goal on nine minutes, but Charlotte equalized in the 32nd, and the top two teams in Conference USA went into halftime tied at 1-1.

Matsoso started the move that led to his opener, playing a give-and-go with Bryan Celis on the left edge of the box.

Matsoso broke free of the pass from Celis at the top of the box, and Charlotte goalie Austin Pack got a hand to the right-footed strike, but was unable to keep it out of the goal. The goal was Matsoso’s fifth of the season, and Celis’ sixth assist.

The 49ers evened things up in the 32nd-minute on a counter. Zhuvonte Wilson broke free down the right flank and his cross found an unmarked Hans Honer on the penalty spot, where he hammered his shot into the left side-netting.

Charlotte’s win snapped UK’s nine-game unbeaten run, dropping the Wildcats to W10 L4 D4 (5-1-2 C-USA on the season.  The loss was also UK’s first in league-play this season.

The high-stakes game was a physical affair. Ten yellow cards were given out (six for UK, four to Charlotte), which was the most yellows ever shown in a UK game, topping nine during a matchup with UAB in 2004.
Kentucky finished the regular season in second place in the conference, making them the second-seed in next week’s C-USA Tournament, beginning Wednesday, Nov. 12 in Norfolk, Virginia on the Old Dominion campus. The Wildats’ first-round opponent will be determined at a later date.

Charlotte concluded the regular season 14-2-1 with 19 points in league play (6-1-1).  UK finished league play with 17 points.

Kentucky drew 1,580 fans to The Bell on Friday, bringing the 2014-season total attendance to 11,169 – a school record. The previous record of 10,351 was set in 2009.

UK’s 2014 average home attendance of 1,241 per game also broke the school record of 1,150, set in 2009 as well.

FIRST HALF
Charlotte looked dangerous in the opening five minutes, but UK’s offense – having been opportunistic all season –took its first chance as well as one could hope.

Matsoso and Celis’ expert link-play led to the opener, igniting a capacity crowd that helped UK’s total-season attendance top 11,000.

Charlotte responded well, pushing UK back as the first half progressed, although they didn’t trouble UK keeper Callum Irving until the goal. Indeed the 20 minutes following the goal were up-and-down as both teams had multiple chances with UK making out slightly better.

Justin Laird went off injured with a knee injury incurred on a kick by a Charlotte’s Conor Agnew that earned the midfielder a yellow card in the 23rd minute.

The 49ers tied things up on 32 minutes, changing the dynamic of what was a fine-edged affair.

Tied at 1-1 at half, both teams went into half knowing if that score line held, UK would claim the title.
   
SETTING THE STAGE
The match was a de facto Conference USA Championship game. UK went in knowing they could lift the regular season league title with a win or draw. Charlotte had to win to claim the regular season crown.

With one game to play, UK sat atop the C-USA standings with 17 points, one ahead of Charlotte. No other C-USA team was in contention for the title.

Kentucky, with a 2014 record of W10 L3 D4 (5-0-2 C-USA), was unbeaten in nine straight-games, 6-0-3 during that stretch. The Wildcats undefeated run was the second longest in school history.

Charlotte, 13-2-1 (5-1-1 C-USA), had won three games in a row, and was unbeaten in its last four.

Charlotte had played UK three times previously, having won all three.