Despite accolades after leading the Charlotte 49ers to another Top 20 soccer season, standout goalkeeper Elliot Panicco was in awe when he was selected by Nashville Soccer Club in the first round of the 2020 Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
“I felt a whole rush of emotions, excitement, disbelief, joy, just to name a few,” he said. “Once my name was called, my whole family was so happy."
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s exciting to work with their great staff and be a part of an expansion team,” said Panicco, who graduated in December 2019 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
A recap of his collegiate career suggests he should have been more relaxed.
The Huntersville, North Carolina, native anchored a stout 49ers defense that recorded 13 shutouts, while setting a University record by not allowing a goal in 1,026 minutes at Transamerica Field.
Panicco ranked eighth in the nation with a 0.60 goals against average and fifth in the nation for solo shutouts with 12. He played a pivotal role in helping the 49ers earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as well as the C-USA Tournament Championship game, and a national ranking—as high as No. 5 at one point—for a majority of the season.
His list of individual awards is equally impressive: Conference USA Golden Glove Award, first-team All-Conference USA, third-team United Soccer Coaches All-Southeast Region, first-team NCCSIA All-State and three-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week.
In 2017, Panicco led the 49ers to the Conference USA Tournament Championship game after allowing only two goals in 270 minutes of action. He led a 49ers defense that recorded five shutouts and limited 13 foes to a goal or less.
One year earlier, he helped the 49ers capture the Conference USA regular-season title, earn a national ranking the entire season, and land a national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Following a 2-1 overtime loss to third-ranked Clemson in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, 49ers coach Kevin Langan heaped praise on his goalkeeper.
“He is the best college goalkeeper in the country, no doubt about it,” he said. “He is going to have a great professional career. When you have him behind you, he keeps you in games and he gives you a chance.”
Panicco credits his coaches and teammates for much of his success.
“My coaches and teammates have pushed me to be the player I am today. I’m especially grateful for my coaches at Charlotte. Kevin Langan, Brian Edwards, Jason Osborne and Kyle Gookins gave me the opportunity to play for a top program in the country, and I will always be thankful for that.”
Charlotte’s soccer program has a tradition of producing players who go on to play professionally. He is the fourth Niner drafted in the first round, joining former 49ers Mac Cozier (10th overall pick by the Columbus Crew in 1996), Ben Parry (third overall pick by the San Jose Clash in 1998) and Callum Montgomery (fourth overall pick by FC Dallas in 2019).
“Charlotte soccer is a place that accepts only someone’s best efforts and won’t tolerate anything below that,” Panicco said. “I love the culture here. It’s a great feeling to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”
For Panicco, it was a great decision to play for the 49ers.
“I couldn’t be happier with my time at Charlotte; the support the team and I have had from the University has been fantastic,” he said. “So many students and faculty come to our games and are supportive of our team. Charlotte is a great place for soccer.”
Now, he can't wait to come back to play for Nashville SC against Charlotte’s new MSL team.
“I am looking forward to playing in Charlotte,” Panicco said. “I’ve spent most of my life in the Charlotte area, so it’s home for me. It would be a dream come true to play at Bank of America Stadium.”