UNC, Charlotte vying for state, national titles

The last meeting between North Carolina and Charlotte meant

little beyond pride and practice.

Now, the two will play for both a state and national title

Sunday in the NCAA men’s soccer championship match four months

after that August exhibition game. Neither top-seeded North

Carolina nor unseeded Charlotte had reason to think back then

they’d be meeting again in December.

”You know when we played them at the beginning of the season we

knew they were a good team and we knew we were a good team but we

weren’t thinking that far ahead,” Tar Heels defender Matt Hedges

said Saturday. ”That would just be dumb to be thinking we might

face you in the final at the first game. Both of us are totally

different teams and we’ll just see.”

They didn’t really settle who was best in that Aug. 21 game. UNC

led 2-1 when the game was called due to weather in the 70th

minute.

This is the first time the two teams have met in a game that

counted since 2001, which also happens to be the year the Tar Heels

(21-2-2) won their first – and so far, only – NCAA title.

They’re playing in their fourth consecutive College Cup.

Charlotte (17-4-3), which has won its last two matches on penalty

kicks, is trying to make the most of its second College Cup and

first since 1996.

The last unseeded team to win the NCAA men’s soccer title was UC

Santa Barbara in 2006.

”We always felt we had the ability, but you just have to keep

looking forward and hoping the players are playing their best

soccer at the end of the season,” Charlotte coach Jeremy Gunn

said. ”I think we had the setbacks through the year but come the

national tournament, the players have just been unbelievable.”

Both teams advanced from the semifinals on penalties.

The 49ers don’t just feel like underdogs for this game, or the

College Cup, but in a state where they’re typically overshadowed by

programs like UNC, Duke and North Carolina State. They also want to

claim a title for Charlotte, the city.

”I’m just proud to be at a college that kind of represents the

city we are from,” Charlotte midfielder Owen Darby said.

”Charlotte isn’t known for much sport – the Hornets left, the

Panthers came when I was pretty much grown up. I think Charlotte

has kind of been the one thing that has represented the city.

”You look at Chapel Hill and these other colleges that have

this sort of prestige, I didn’t really identify with them. I’m

proud to play for something that represents my city.”

North Carolina has a bit of coaching history at stake.

Carlos Somoano is trying to join Indiana’s Mike Freitag (2004)

as the only first-year coaches to lead their teams to the

title.

”I think Carlos has done a great job of working with the guys

we have and turning us into a great team, keeping us focused day to

day,” midfielder Kirk Urso said.

Somoano, for one, doesn’t put much stock in the disparity in

seeding.

”That has nothing to do with it for us we’re going to try and

perform and the team that performs better (Sunday) will have a good

chance at winning the game,” he said.