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Final Four For 49er Soccer

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UNCC players practicing before College Cup appearance.

http://66.225.205.104/TL20111207.mp3

UNCC players practicing before College Cup appearance. The "final four" for the NCAA Men's Soccer Championship kicks off Friday. It's called the College Cup. The field includes UNC-Chapel Hill. No surprise there. It's a traditional power and the overall Number 1 seed. It also includes little-known UNC-Charlotte, the only unseeded team to make it this far. WFAE's Tanner Latham attended the team's practice yesterday. Apparently, the soccer fans in Connecticut are savvy hecklers. When the UNC Charlotte 49ers team took the field against UCONN in the quarterfinals last Sunday, the hometown fans began jeering at Charlotte midfielder Evan James. But they weren't screaming nasty things. Charles Rodriguez (left) and Evan James are both seniors on the squad. This is their first trip to soccer's final four. "They told me to sing a song," said Evan. "Yeah. He's got a talent," says team captain Charles Rodriguez. "He's able to sing. So I don't know how their fans found out that he can sing, but they were telling him to sing and stuff like that." Charles has a point. Evan is talented. The heckling during the match with UCONN wasn't enough to shake Charlotte. But the game was dramatic. UCONN, the number three seed in the tournament and a three-time national champion, scored in the 82nd minute to go ahead by one goal. But Charlotte came right back and tied it with five minutes to go. The match ended one to one, which led to sudden death penalty kicks, and the 49ers scored four to UCONN's two. Charles described the flight back after their upset win by saying, "That whole plane trip, obviously you see some guys sleeping, but you look across to somebody and you kinda just catch eyes with them and you're like, 'Wow. It's like yeah, we're in it.'" Yeah. They're in it. The NCAA College Cup. That's soccer's Final Four. And today, they board a bus bound for Hoover, Alabama. They're playing Creighton University in the semifinals on Friday. This is Coach Jeremy Gunn's fifth season with the 49ers. He is originally from Yorkshire, . The other teams are the tournament's number one seed UNC-Chapel Hill and UCLA, a four-time national champion. These are elite soccer programs with strong histories. But that's not intimidating Charlotte's Coach, Jeremy Gunn. "We've traveled to some of the best soccer programs in the country playing at their home fields," says Gunn. "Some of them are incredible shrines to teams past. And so, if we're worried about their history, we'd have no chance. We all know it's a game of soccer, and once the whistle goes, it's our current team against their current team, and we're good enough to compete with them." Coach Gunn has been to five other final fours and he's won it all twice. But those were teams he coached in Division II. This is Division I, the big show. Still, according to Furman University coach Doug Allison, Charlotte has what it takes to go all the way. Charlotte defeated Furman in the tournament's first round. "They are obviously a very strong team," says Allison. "They're an older team. They've got some older players, which is good for them. And, you know, some experience as well. Coach Gunn's done a good job with them organizationally as well. They're very organized. They all know their roles, and I think they have some good depth on their team." If they beat Creighton on Friday Charlotte's on to the finals. Lose, and they're eliminated. But to see them at practice yesterday, though, you'd think it was just another game. They were laughing. Joking around. Even singing. They've definitely got a swagger, and Coach Gunn knows it. "At the moment we're confident, we're playing well, and we're enjoying life."