The Charlotte Eagles took on the University of South Carolina Gamecocks last night in front of a smallish crowd of around 250 spectators. Unfortunately, for those who wanted to see more people in the stands it was sadly apparent that the university did little itself in the way of promotion and the city's media outlets could hardly be bothered with the match. Either way, a few hardy souls from Charlotte and a number of USC soccer loyalists had an opportunity to see a fairly good, hard fought game between a pair of teams who are just getting into game shape.
It was apparent in the opening minutes that this match would have a more frenetic pace than might have been initially imagined. The Eagles and Gamecocks went toe to toe while knocking the ball around midfield for the first couple of minutes. Then the Eagles began to find the one tactic that would work for most of the night and that was to keep the ball moving down one flank or the other.
The first goal was scored around the 5th minute when a cross was sent into the USC box from the right side of the Eagles attack, which was latched onto by one of the Eagles attackers. Unfortunately, there were no numbers easily seen on the backs of the Eagles' shirts and, alas, no programs or lineups announced. South Carolina coach, Mark Berson, could not be troubled with worrying about his lineup much, though, because he had only twelve or thirteen players to work with including his keepers and possibly a coach who may have been young enough to still have some eligibility left over.
The Eagles launched into their next attack after USC committed another quick turnover in their own end. In attempting to track back to cover defensively a Gamecock defender was forced to bring down an Eagles attacker outside the left corner of the USC box. The impending free kick once again found someone loose on the backside of the defense and was steered into the USC goal for a 2-0 lead barely ten minutes in.
Things could have gotten much worse for Berson's side but the collegians decided to gather themselves up and make a go at the pros. After the second goal USC began to hold onto the ball and make some decent forays into the opposing end of the field. The Gamecocks even briefly countered with some clever flank play of their own from the likes of sophomore defender Robert Rosenberg and sophomore midfielder Jack Cummings. Their challenges up field also got the likes of Columbia native Anthony Stovall, a freshman forward, and Jordan Quinn more involved in attempting to get into the Eagles' penalty area.
As the match wore on neither team was able to resolutely put their stamp on the match as play after play was broken up in the center of the field. The Gamecocks seemed quite capable of stringing a handful of passes together in the center of the Eagle midfield only to have too few players get into the final attacking third. The Eagles tried to get the ball moving through the middle as well only to find it clogged with the collegians. The occasional dangerous chances for the remainder of the first half were on the odd occasions when the teams decided to make another run down the right or left side.
All signs pointed to a 2-0 halftime lead until another surge by the Eagles and some slackening pressure from the Gamecocks led to a goal right before the whistle for halftime. So at halftime the score was 3-0 when it easily could have been 2-2 if Quinn or Stovall had finished one of the tantalizingly close chances that USC had during the first half.
The opening of the second half saw no let up for either team as the Eagles came with Dustin Swinehart making his first appearance of the night. It should be of no surprise, either, that there was yet another goal for the Eagles shortly after the break in what we will call the 50th minute to lengthen their lead to 4-0. Swinehart, fresh off his return from playing with a select side of American players in England, was able to get Charlotte into another gear after their pace had slowed somewhat from the early going. Obviously, fatigue played a factor in a game this early in the year, as did the sense of disinterest coming from their opponents for stretches at a time. After all, if you were a young man in college what would you rather do on a Saturday night, get beaten by the Eagles or go out on the town?
For the next twenty minutes or so there was a lot of activity on the left side of the Eagle attack as the man in the 13 shirt played several clever exchanges with Swinehart in trying to get free for a shot at goal. Then things got perilously chippy when USC had some of their ever so brief second half possession and had one of their players lose the ball in a crunching challenge from the Eagle defender. The ball was then picked up by the Eagles as they continued the play as if unknowing that the college player was still on the ground. One of the Gamecock players took enough offense that he ran down the field and essentially flew into a cross body block of sorts that only the Rock or 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin could be proud of. The referee refused to give the player a red card (or a card of any other color amazingly enough) and both teams began to jaw at each other.
This was not the last ugly incident to mar this match. In an instant that had many in the stands holding their breath, Anthony Stovall was sent to the ground as he and the backup goalkeeper for the Eagles clashed while challenging for a high ball into the box. Stovall lay motionless for a couple of minutes as players from both sides gathered around to make sure the young man was all right. Stovall made his way back to his feet and collected himself with a healthy hand from the crowd on hand.
This was about the last major excitement of the match until the Eagles scored their last when it was fairly certain that the Gamecocks had lost their attention span for this match. The final goal was indicative of several of the Southern Derby winners' chances as they broke through an often flat-footed defense that had a tendency to bunch towards one side of the field. It seems they clearly missed Tim Glowienka who left the game around the 35th minute with a possible injury. He played well in a defensive sweeper role as he marshaled the USC defense. Either way, two things were clear from this match and that is that both clubs have a lot of work to get done if they want to beat their opposition in coming seasons and there is most definitely a gap between college and pro.
Eagles: 4th, 5th, 45th, 50th, 80th(?)
Venue: Eugene Stone III Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
Conditions: 54 and cool, field - fair/good