Charlotte, N.C.- Tyler Gibson’s penalty kick in the 88th minute gives the 49ers its first Conference USA Tournament Championship with a 1-0 win over reigning tournament champ Tulsa.
“It’s amazing and feels great. I am proud of the way the guys played over the last three games. A lot of heart and courage,” said Coach Kevin Langan.
Charlotte and Tulsa played each other tight in the first half. Neither team could grab an advantage in the first 45 minutes. The 49ers and the Golden Hurricane squads went into the locker rooms scoreless. Both squads took six shots with two of those being on frame.
Charlotte had opportunities to put the match out of reach early. In the 18th minute, Giuseppe Gentile missed the right post. Gentile missed the left post in the 24th minute after a Tyler Gibson cross. In the 28th minute of the match Aidan Kirkbride missed the mark right. Charlotte found one more opportunity before the half off the foot of Brandt Bronico. Bronico sent a rocket towards the Tulsa cage in the 38th minute but Tulsa’s net-minder Jake McGuire punched the shot out of the box.
Tulsa’s Cristian Mata tried late in the first half to take the advantage into half but found the arms of Klay Davis. Davis finished the match with two saves. Both of his saves were in the first half. Davis and the rest of the 49ers defensive unit tallied their 11th shutout of the season. Davis takes over the all-time lead of shutouts in a career with 29.5.
Charlotte came out of the locker room at half with a lot of intensity. Kyle Parker, Thomas Allen and Gentile took shots in the opening minutes of the half. Gentile’s shot made McGuire to punch the ball over the net to create a corner for the Niners. Gibson’s ensuing corner could not find a 49er attacker.
With less than thirty minutes remaining in the second half Tulsa went on the attack. Tulsa’s Akeil Barrett pushed through the back wall but was cleared out of the box by Luke Waechter. Barrett went on the attack again in the closing minutes of the match but 49er defenders Waechter, Allen, David Mayer and Kirkbride were there to dissolve the attack.
Hans Honer and Gibson took dangerous shots inside the box but were saved by McGuire. McGuire finished the match with four saves.
Charlotte went on the attack with less than three minutes to play. Mayer took a pass out wide moving towards the left side of the box. Tulsa’s defender was called for a penalty as Mayer went down just inside the box.
With 2:32 remaining in regulation Tyler Gibson, Charlotte’s all-time penalty kick taker, stepped up to the mark. Gibson buried a low line drive into the left side of the net past the diving McGuire to give the 49ers a 1-0 lead. “He has probably practiced every day over the past five years. I knew he was going to hit it well and put it where he wanted it to go. It was up to the keeper to save it.”
Tulsa had a chance in the final minute of the match. Davis’ goal kick deflected off a jumping defender and fell at the foot of Cristian Mata. Mata sent the ball sailing high and securing the 49er victory.
Charlotte has won eight straight matches dating back to October 19 against Kentucky. The last loss that the 49ers suffered was against Tulsa on the road. Charlotte allowed two goals during that span, a goal against Clemson and an own goal in the win against UAB in the quarterfinals. Charlotte has scored 20 goals along with six shutouts during the streak.
Charlotte won its first Conference USA tournament title with the win over Tulsa. The 49ers were denied of the tournament title twice by Saint Louis in 2003 and 1995. This marks the second conference tournament title in program history. Charlotte defeated Old Dominion in a 6OT victory during the 1983 Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship.
Charlotte featured four on the All-Tournament team. Tyler Gibson, Brandt Bronico, Thomas Allen and Giuseppe Gentile were selected. Allen was named Defensive MVP and Gentile was named Offensive MVP. Tulsa’s Jake McGuire, Akeil Barrett and Tony Rocha were named to the All-Tournament team. Charlie Reymann, Jordan Wilson and Callum Irving were selected for Kentucky. Old Dominion’s Tim Hopkinson was selected as well.
Charlotte will find out Monday where they will be placed in the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA men’s soccer selection show will air at noon on Monday. Charlotte receives an automatic bid to the tournament with the tournament championship. “This will be the third time in a row for these seniors, which the program has never done, so it is incredible.”
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