UNC and Charlotte prepare for battle in NCAA College Cup Final

UNC and Charlotte prepare for battle in NCAA College Cup Final

College Soccer

UNC and Charlotte prepare for battle in NCAA College Cup Final

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College cup

By JOHN BOSCHINI

No. 1 North Carolina and unseeded Charlotte share the same state geographically but that's about all these two teams have in common.

The Tar Heels are a perennial power participating in their fourth-straight College Cup. It is a team full of pro-ready talent, a team that has gelled remarkably fast under first-year head coach Carlos Somoano, who spent the better part of the decade as an assistant with North Carolina. Billy Schuler and Enzo Martinez form one of the most dangerous attacking combos in the nation while 6-foot-4 Matt Hedges nullifies most of the crosses coming into UNC's area.

Charlotte, on the other hand, is playing with house money and refusing to obey the conventional wisdom of the NCAA Tournament. Coach Jeremey Gunn has led the 49ers to just their second College Cup and the first National Championship game. Charlotte's counter-attacking style against No. 2 Creighton may not have been pretty  but it was enough to get to penalty kicks where a secret-weapon named Gavin Dawson waited. The 6-foot-3 goalkeeper has won the last two shootouts despite not playing during either regulation or overtime.

Here is a closer look at today's final (4pm, ESPNU):

KEYS TO THE GAME

Playing up the flanks vs. Playing up the middle: North Carolina has one of the best "spines" you'll ever see. Goalkeeper Scott Goodwin, centerback Hedges, midfielders Martinez and Ben Speas with forward Schuler give the Tar Heels a massive advantage playing through the middle. If Charlotte is to put North Carolina under pressure it will have to be up the wings. Forward Donnie Smith caused quite a few problems on Friday night with enterprising runs down the wings and if Giuseppe Gentile can find some finishing, the 49ers can score goals.

Expect goals: While neither team is rewriting the record books offensively, it's a safe bet that this won't be a scoreless draw. The Tar Heels are third in the nation with 2.29 goals per game while Charlotte has only been shut out twice all season. Combine this with respectable but not impenetrable goals against averages of 0.83 and 0.65 for Charlotte and UNC respectively and viewers can expect more than a few chances on goal.

Playing from behind: Both teams have shown a tremendous ability to play well from behind and in high-pressure situations. Charlotte scored in the final five minutes to force overtime at UConn when a late Huskies goal seemed to end their Cinderella story in the quarterfinals and North Carolina came from behind twice against UCLA to force penalty kicks. Schuler has been especially proficient in the clutch with eight game-winning goals and three in overtime.

Penalty-kick specialists: Penalty kicks are always an especially cruel way to decide a title but both side's will be confident if the scores are still knotted after 110 minutes. North Carolina's Goodwin has won four straight shootouts dating back to last season while Charlotte's Dawson is an intimidating force in goal. North Carolina went 14-14 on shootout attempts last season and only missed one on Friday.

Probable Lineups: Charlotte: Klay, Weldon, Cowles, Rodriguez, Allen, Darby, Kirkbridge, James, Gentile, Gibson, Thomas. UNC: Goodwin, Okwuonu, Hedges, McCrary, McKinney, Urso, Lopez, Martinez, Speas, Schuler, Lovejoy.

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What do you think of today's final? Can Charlotte complete the incredible Cinderella run? Is this finally North Carolina's time? Will you be watching?

Share your thoughts below.

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