As tough as their final Atlantic 10 season was, the Charlotte 49ers will have an even tougher time navigating the waters of Conference USA.
C-USA stands as one of the top men’s college soccer conferences in the country, sending four teams to the NCAA Tournament (Tulsa, Kentucky, SMU and UAB). If you count newcomers Charlotte, New Mexico and Old Dominion, that number would have stood at seven.
This year (even with Memphis, SMU and UCF off to the new American Athletic Conference, to be joined by Tulsa in 2014) looks to be no different: New Mexico, a 13 seed in last year’s tournament, is in the fold; Old Dominion, a traditional CAA power, comes on board as well, along with FAU. Tulsa (an 11 seed in the tournament) plays one more year in C-USA before departing for The American. Throw in the fact that Charlotte will host the C-USA Tournament and there’s no doubt that Niner Nation and the Queen City Army will be treated to some of the best soccer they’ve experienced in years at Transamerica.
Here’s the 2013 C-USA schedule. (If you missed it, we broke down the non-conference schedule yesterday.)
Friday, September 13–UAB (10-8-2, 4-4-0 C-USA)
Charlotte and UAB have developed a little rivalry, with the Niners owning back-to-back NCAA tournament victories over them (including a first round win in 2012). The Blazers’ top scorers (Kofi Gwayu and Mladen Lemez) have been lost to graduation; look for Karl Chester and Chase Wickham (five goals each) to pick up the slack, with veteran keeper Raphael Ville returning for his senior season.
Friday, September 27–South Carolina (5-11-2, 2-5-1 C-USA)
The Gamecocks and Niners playing each other in conference? Yes, because the SEC doesn’t sponsor men’s soccer. In any event, USC has struggled among the rest of their league foes (despite a season-ending win over then-ranked Kentucky), and their 20-goal output in 18 games last year didn’t help at all.
Friday, October 4–New Mexico (17-4-1, 8-2-0 MPSF)
Charlotte will have their hands full with the Lobos, who make their C-USA debut this year in men’s soccer (the Mountain West doesn’t sponsor the sport, and with the MPSF ending its sponsorship, New Mexico was forced to latch on to C-USA). They’ll be without Devon Sandoval and his 37 points (15 goals), but James Rogers (eight goals, 21 points), Ben McHendry (seven goals) and much of a backfield that allowed just 19 goals last year should equal another successful season.
Wednesday, October 9–Old Dominion (11-3-3, 5-3-2 CAA)
The Monarchs punched their ticket to the NCAA’s via an at-large bid despite being ineligible to play in the CAA tournament–due to their move to Conference USA. Leading goal scorer Tim Hopkinson (10 goals) is back for his senior season, with a few new faces joining a defense that allowed just 15 goals in 2012. They should make some noise in C-USA.
Sunday, October 13–Tulsa (14-6-1, 5-2-1 C-USA)
The 11th seed in last year’s NCAA tournament look to go out with a bang as they wrap up their C-USA tenure in 2013. With plenty of offensive talent returning from last season’s squad, (Akeil Barrett, Bryce Follensbee and Cristan Mata combining for 30 goals and 73 points), there’s not many reasons to believe that they can’t.
Saturday, October 19–Kentucky (10-9-2, 4-3-1 C-USA)
The Wildcats and the Niners playing each other in conference? Yes, because…well, see South Carolina above. And the Wildcats’ first round opponent in the NCAA’s? Our old friends from Xavier. For scoring, they can look to Tyler Riggs (seven goals) and Charles Pettys (six goals).
Wednesday, October 30–FAU (2-13-1, 0-7-0 Mid=American)
Probably the less said the better for the Owls, who managed just eight goals in the entire 2012 season (while allowing 34 goals) and were shut out in ten of their sixteen matches. And that was as a MAC team; they’ll be taking their lumps in the much better C-USA.
Saturday, November 2–Marshall (11-5-1, 3-5-0 C-USA)
It wasn’t a terrible season by any means for the Thundering Herd as they allowed nine goals in 2012–but their inability to score in conference matches (just six goals in C-USA contests–worst in the league) hurt them terribly and caused them to miss out on the postseason. If Marshall’s defense can continue to stifle teams and their offense comes around, they can compete.
Friday, November 8–FIU (8-8-2, 0-7-1 C-USA)
While the Panthers, coached by Kenny Arena (the son of former US men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena) stormed through non-conference play with a 8-1-1 record, they crashed and burned in league action, going winless. Quentin Albrecht (10 goals) and Colby Burdette (seven goals) can certainly find the net, but they and the rest of the team need to do it over the course of the entire year (just seven goals in league games, 2nd worst) while shoring up their D (18 GA versus C-USA opponents, worst in the league).
C-USA Championships, November 13-17
The top seven teams in the league will descend on Transamerica Field for the conference tournament–Charlotte’s second straight year hosting their conference’s men’s soccer championships. This league is so good that there’s no reason to believe that at least four or five teams at the minimum could get at-large berths to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they do over the course of these four days.