Charlotte lost a lot of firepower with the departure of senior Chris Salvaggione, last season's Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year.
Sophomore forward Evan James seemed to pick up where Salvaggione left off, scoring a hat trick in Charlotte's 5-1 win against Gardner-Webb at Transamerica Field.
Salvaggione was the cornerstone of the 49ers' offense the past two seasons, leading the conference in goals (15) scored last year.
“I wouldn't put money just behind one of them, though. The scoring is going to move around several players this year,” said 49ers coach Jeremy Gunn.
“They've shown so much in preseason and they all have different attributes. I really think if anybody tries to figure out who the key man is, goals are going to come from all spots this year, which is exciting.”
Charlotte's attacking offense – a trademark of Gunn's teams in his first two seasons – kept the Bulldogs off guard all night. The 49ers had 14 shots on goal in the first half and 15 in the second.
“We've been working together and we got our opportunities (to score) and we did our best to try to finish them,” said James, one of the top two returning goal scorers from last season (he had six). “We didn't get them all, but we got the ones we could.”
James said the loss of Salvaggione's offense is big but believes between veterans and newcomers there will be plenty of goals scored. Sunday night, sophomore Charles Rodriguez and freshman Jennings Rex also scored.
“We've been working really hard and getting fit,” James said. “I think this year is going to be one of the best we've had.”
Charlotte was picked to finish fourth in the A-10 in a preseason poll voted on by the league's coaches. The 49ers (12-6-1, 4-4-1) finished tied for eighth in the league last year.
Charlotte will open the season at perennial power South Carolina on Sept. 1 and travel to Elon and Clemson before its home opener Sept. 12 against Campbell.
“We're going to have a very, very tough early season schedule. Our schedule, I'm sure, will be ranked Top 20 or 30 in the country,” Gunn said. “We can play some good soccer and the big test will be that mental toughness that comes game-in, game-out where you don't get any breathers.”