CHARLOTTE – The best team in Concord High School’s boys soccer history was undaunted when it came down to south Charlotte and took on a traditional powerhouse Tuesday night.
The Spiders fought valiantly in Charlotte Catholic’s Keffer Stadium, keeping their 3A West Region finals game close for most of the night. But the top-seeded Cougars thrived on their own aggressive play and a supportive crowd, and went on to defeat the second-seeded Spiders, 3-0.
Charlotte Catholic (25-0-2) advances to the state championship match, where it will face Burlington Williams in a game slated for Saturday at Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park.
The Spiders (25-2-2) conclude their 2019 campaign with just their second loss and their first defeat by shutout of the season. They established school records for victories in a season, and they advanced two rounds deeper into the playoffs than any other squad in program history.
But in the end, Charlotte Catholic, which has made multiple appearances in the state championship game and owns a title, kept the South Piedmont 3A Conference champions at bay.
“We couldn’t finish it,” said Concord senior Carson Trott. “It just wasn’t meant to be. We played our hearts out. It was a great season, and I love these boys. The back four played amazing all year; we had a few slip-ups tonight, but you can’t blame them for anything. Our offense played great, and everybody just played their hearts out. It just didn’t end up in our favor.”
The game opened at a feverish pace, with both teams on the attack. Charlotte Catholic had several quality shots early on, but Concord goalkeeper Emmanuel Konneh was on top of his game, knocking away the oncoming balls, many of them from close range.
It was like that the entire night.
“I was expecting it,” said Konneh, who added that the Cougars fired the most shots in a game that he’d faced all season.
“I saw it coming, so I was prepared for this moment since the season started. I just had to do what I needed to do tonight.”
It actually took a fortuitous carom for the Cougars to score their first goal.
A little more than 11 minutes into the contest, Charlotte Catholic’s Ryan Bayadi booted a corner kick into a crowd in front of the goal. John Fahey rose with a collection of players, and the ball bounced off his belly and into the goal, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
For a moment, with about 13 minutes left in the first half, it looked as if Concord was going to tie things up.
A Spider trying to advance the ball down field, kicked a long shot that went past a Cougar defender, and the only player behind him was Charlotte Catholic goalkeeper Bennett Lowder. The ball continued to roll, and Lowder, not fearing a threat, took his time fielding it with his hands.
Suddenly, Concord’s Carlos Alvarez appeared with a full head of steam, nearly kicking the ball past Lowder and leaving only Catholic’s sun-soaked grass and the goal ahead. Instead, Lowder grabbed the ball just in time, and Alvarez went sliding. The score remained 1-0, Cougars, all the way into halftime.
Still, the Spiders believed the night could still be theirs, particularly since no one had kept them scoreless this season and they were averaging more than three goals per game.
“Even at halftime at 1-0, we were talking about (how) nobody’s held us to zero, so we figured we’d get one and we’d be back into it,” said Concord coach Todd Tinsley. “I honestly thought, the first half, we were the better team. They had the one corner shot off the kid’s stomach … But in the second half, as the clock ran on, it wasn’t happening.
“We’ve said all year: ‘The team that’s going to shut us out is the team’s that going to beat us.’ And that’s what happened.”
The Cougars, who were averaging 3.4 goals per game, matched Concord’s aggressiveness coming out of the intermission, and the score remained 1-0 for the first 22 minutes on the second half.
With 18:05 remaining, though, Catholic created some breathing room for itself when Patrick Fenton directed a pass from the right side and found Bayadi virtually all alone about 15 yards in front of the goal. Bayadi capitalized on the opportunity, and his score gave the Cougars a 2-0 advantage.
From that point, the game began to get even more intense, and officials frequently were forced to call fouls and hand out yellow cards to both teams. One of those fouls resulted in Charlotte Catholic’s final goal after the Cougars were awarded a penalty kick.
Many of the players had to be separated after the call, but when order was restored, Bayadi knocked in his second goal of the game, making it 3-0 with 9:34 left. A Concord comeback began to look doubtful.
“This is our first time in this situation, and (our players) had to come to grips with being down, 2-0, late,” Tinsley said. “Not having some things going their way that they felt that they should and that pressure of the moment, I think, got to them a little bit.”
Tinsley, however, lauded his players for how they handled the game against a program that’s won 21 games or more six times over the last 10 seasons with a trip to the state title game on the line.
“I’m really proud of them,” Tinsley said.” They never stopped fighting, I give them that. And we didn’t come out and (say), ‘Oh, the mighty Charlotte Catholic.’ We didn’t come out and just play defense and try to keep it close. Our game plan was to take it right to them and, for the most part, I thought we did it.”
Trott, who had two hat tricks during the postseason, said the Spiders certainly weren’t intimidated and accomplished a great deal by becoming the West Region runners-up.
“We felt we were being disrespected with people not thinking we were up to (Charlotte Catholic’s) level all year,” Trott said. “We knew we were. Our (regular-season) results showed it, and we wanted this chance. And we came here and were just a few slip-ups from being in the state championship game.”
Concord 0 0 -- 0
Charlotte Catholic 1 2 -- 3
Goals: John Fahey, Ryan Bayadi 2
Assists: Patrick Fenton, Bayadi