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Soccer Sheet: Charlotte FC Defeats Columbus in Chaotic Match

Hell is referees

Charlotte FC center back Andrew Privett (R) challenges Columbus’ Mohamed Farsi (L) on March 23 at Bank of America Stadium
Charlotte FC center back Andrew Privett (R) challenges Columbus’ Mohamed Farsi (L) on March 23 at Bank of America Stadium. (Photo by Rebekah Whilden)

The following article was originally published at Soccer Sheet by Y’all Weekly, a newsletter launched by Queen City Nerve contributor Sam Spencer

The biannual soccer match between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati is named the “Hell is Real” Derby because of a billboard that sits on Interstate 71 between the two cities, but it was Columbus’ match in another Queen City that may have proven the billboard’s point.

Charlotte FC (2-2-1, 7 points) defeated the Columbus Crew (3-1-1, 10 points) two goals to nil on Saturday night, but the result may be beside the point. The match was yet another black eye for MLS, which continues to put less qualified referees on the pitch due to a labor dispute, affecting the quality of the on-field product fans receive.

The first half included multiple injuries, three substitutions, a red card dismissal, two VAR reviews, questionable calls — including one that led to a missed penalty kick for Charlotte — and at least two goals that were controversially revoked.

“The first half was tough,” said Charlotte FC captain Ashley Westwood at a post-match press gaggle. “I’ve never been in a game like that in my life.”

The half would last a total of 62 minutes — though only 10 minutes of extra time were predicted — and despite multiple balls in the net the teams went into their locker rooms tied 0-0.

“I’ve never done 62 minutes in the first half. That’s crazy,” said Charlotte FC coach Dean Smith at a post-match press conference. “But perseverance and patience, and trying to do the right thing, managed to give us the win in the end.”

The chaos continued into the second half, and by the end of the match 10 cards would be shown to players. The stadium began to empty out around the 75-minute mark, when over 90 minutes of soccer had already been played.

After 99 minutes of playing time, the game between Charlotte and defending MLS champion Columbus Crew finally became a soccer match in the 83rd minute with an excellent goal from captain Ashley Westwood. Patrick Agyemang added a second strike from a Djibril Diani assist to secure the win.

“A two-nil win against Columbus is a big result,” said Agyemang after the match.

Read more: Patrick Agyemang Traces His Journey from CT to Charlotte FC

In his first home match for Charlotte, Diani earned Man of the Match honors for the assist and a solid performance that included one of the goals revoked due to a questionable foul.

“It’s an honor to get the win at home and also have man of the match,” said Diani through Soccer Sheet’s French translator, Adrian Singerman.

The Derrick Jones layover

Last night, Derrick Jones returned to Bank of America Stadium for the first time since leaving Charlotte FC.

The fan-favorite defensive midfielder ran out of contract after Charlotte’s 2023 season and was picked up from free agency by Columbus Crew. Jones started the match on the bench, but came on in the 19th minute to replace an ailing Rudy Camacho, who scared Charlotte in the first 90 seconds of the match with an almost-but-not-quite upper 90 that missed the goal.

He lasted fewer than ten minutes.

Charlotte FC midfielder Djibril Diani chases a ball.
Charlotte FC midfielder Djibril Diani chases a ball. (Photo by Rebekah Whilden)

In the 24th minute, Jones committed a hard foul against Charlotte’s new international, Djibril Diani, sending him to the ground. Initially the referee showed Jones the yellow card, but in one of the most controversial decisions of the match, video review upgraded the foul to a red card.

After the match, Soccer Sheet asked Diani about the foul. The French midfielder did not think the referees made the wrong call.

“It was completely deserved,” said Diani. “As you saw I was on the ground for a long time and he really got my leg good.”

Goals break through the chaos

Despite Jones’ red card, Charlotte struggled to break through the Crew’s defense.

“We stuck at it. Playing against ten men is hard. They sit in, they defend,” said Westwood. “We showed a mature performance tonight. We stuck with it to the last minute and got the win.”

In the second half, Coach Dean Smith moved Westwood higher up on the pitch, and both men credited Charlotte’s first goal to that change.

In the 83rd minute, Charlotte defender João Pedro — making his first appearance for the team — played the ball into the box, intending to reach Patrick Agyemang. The Crew’s Yevhen Cheberko headed the ball away from the box, but directly to Westwood at the top of the 18-yard box.

Ashley Westwood during a post-game press conference. (Photo by Rebekah Whilden)

Westwood volleyed the ball into the back of the net with his right boot for his first goal of the season.

Minutes later, Diani made a crisp pass through traffic to find Agyemang in the area. Big Pat beat the Crew defense, and with his third touch put the ball into the roof of the net with his left foot for his first goal for Charlotte since their playoff loss against the New York Red Bulls.

“I’m a striker, you know? I want to score goals, and I want to impact the team in a positive way. I always believe the first goal is going to be toughest,” said Agyemang. “Anything can happen, it’s just being ready for it and doing what we can.”

What it Was, Wasn’t Football

After a while I seen what it was they was odd-manning for

It was that both bunches full of them wanted this funny lookin’ little pumpkin to play with.
And I know, friends, that they couldn’t eat it
Because they kicked it the whole evenin’ and it never busted.
Both bunchesful wanted that thing.
One bunch got it and it made the other bunch just as mad as they could be!
Friends, I seen that evenin’ the awfulest fight that I ever have seen in all my life!
They would run at one another and kick one another and throw one another down
And stomp on one another and grind their feet in one another and
I don’t know what-all and just as fast as one of ’em would get hurt,
They’d take him off and run another one on!

-“What it Was, Was Football,” by Andy Griffith

When North Carolina’s Andy Griffith recorded his “Football” comedy routine in 1953, he was talking about the American kind, but many of the fans at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night would have been as confused as Griffith’s character as to what they were seeing on the field.

What it was, wasn’t football, or soccer for that matter. Though Charlotte got the result they wanted, it came at the expense of the credibility of MLS.

A couple false starts in strong wind were a harbinger of things to come from the officials. The clock ran for 52 seconds before Charlotte FC had the chance to make a kickoff that counted.

Then, the chaos ensued. The 62-minute first half set the record for the longest first half in MLS history (the only MLS half in recent memory to last longer took place last year, when a racist remark from New York Red Bulls player Dante Vanzeir led to 21 minutes of stoppage time as officials struggled to resolve the fallout between the Red Bulls and the San Jose Earthquakes).

The “replacement referees” — serving during the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) lockout of match officials represented by the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) — made many controversial calls that adversely affected the rhythm of the match, and had fans on both sides questioning the validity of the result.

Columbus Crew’s Max Arfsten challenges Charlotte’s Djibril Diani.
Columbus Crew’s Max Arfsten (L) challenges Charlotte’s Djibril Diani (R). (Photo by Rebekah Whilden)

PRO is funded by MLS, and PSRA officials have not participated in any of the 2024 MLS fixtures.

“We were all like, ‘This is a joke right now,’” said Agyemang when asked about Charlotte’s first half against Columbus. “We went to the 62nd minute, I never did that before.”

Prior to MLS Matchday 5, the Guardian published an editorial contending “MLS is treating fans with contempt as the referee lockout rumbles on … The league can’t continue to pretend its replacement officials are up to the usual standard as errors and controversies pile up.”

Writing for the Guardian, Graham Ruthven added: “‘Officiating is not an exact science,’ [MLS Commissioner Don Garber] told the Athletic. And he’s right. But Garber is treating managers, players and fans with contempt by pretending there hasn’t been a noticeable drop in refereeing quality. Everyone can see it. There has been a game-changing blunder in almost every week this season.”

Unfortunately, the Charlotte/Columbus match was a new low. Charlotte fans voted with their thumbs and their feet, posting their frustrations on social media and leaving the match before Charlotte scored their goals.

In general, the editorial position of Soccer Sheet and Y’all Weekly is that collective bargaining is a right and workers should be paid fairly for their labor. Unions — including in professional sports — help make this a reality.

It should be clear to MLS after the “Hell is Referees” match in Charlotte that both players and fans deserve a change, and it’s time for the lockout to end.

Charlotte FC faces the other half of the original “Hell is Real” derby, defending Supporters’ Shield winners and current first place FC Cincinnati (3-0-2, 11 points) at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, March 30.

Hopefully MLS ends the referee lockout before that critical match.

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