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Charlotte FC Responds to Real Salt Lake, the Red Bulls and Racism in the MLS

A player wearing a light blue and white Charlotte FC jersey kicks the ball up the pitch.
Derrick Jones with the ball during an April 1 Charlotte FC match in Toronto. (Photo by Alana McCallion)

In recent weeks, Charlotte FC (1-4-2, 5 points) had looked like a team on the rebound, notching a win in Orlando followed by two draws — one at home against the New York Red Bulls and another north of the border in Toronto. The draw in Toronto was especially notable as it was the first time Charlotte came home from Canada with a point in league play; the team lost both of their matches abroad in 2022.

On the other hand, Real Salt Lake (2-4-0, 6 points) was a team in crisis going into their April 8 match against Charlotte. They started the season off with a win against Vancouver, but went on to drop four straight games, scoring only one goal in the process.

In the first half at America First Field in Utah, Charlotte looked to continue on their ascending path. Midfielder Ben Bender, who has seen more action in recent games due to injuries elsewhere on the roster, connected with Karol Świderski in the 27th minute for a solid goal that put Charlotte ahead early. 

Goalkeeper George Marks, also getting more time this year thanks to an injured Kristijan Kahlina, played spectacularly, denying solid chances from Salt Lake.

A goalie with a green jersey throws the ball back onto the pitch while fellow Charlotte FC players look on wearing light blue jerseys
George Marks clears the ball out of net during an April 8 Charlotte FC match against Real Salt Lake. (Photo by Taylor Banner)

Then, as Charlotte is wont to do, the team played a match with two unrecognizably uneven halves. Salt Lake scored three goals in quick succession early in the second half, tearing open Charlotte’s midfield and defense and leaving new designated player Enzo Copetti bored in the front of the field.

Though he thought Charlotte controlled the game in the first half, head coach Christian Lattanzio didn’t think his team’s effort was up to the standard that he demands, as he made clear a post-match press conference. 

“I thought that we didn’t play with the energy that we’ve demanded from the boys,” Lattanzio said. “I was generally disappointed … I cannot go away from this low-energy feeling that I had.”

Queen City Nerve also asked about the offensive breakdown and the midfield’s inability to get service to Copetti. 

“The structure for us to create chances were there, we were not [energetic enough] to execute the plays … I thought that they played stronger than us tonight,” Lattanzio responded 

Yet again, Lattanzio reminded us there were still many matches to go in the 34-game season.

“It’s a long season … we cannot feel sorry for ourself; we have to prepare for the next week in the best possible way.”

Ben Bender, wearing a light blue and white Charlotte FC jersey, kicks the ball while keeping his back to the opposing player from Toronto
Ben Bender plays keep-away in an April 1 Charlotte FC match in Toronto. (Photo by Alana McCallion)

However, Charlotte’s fan base reacted to the loss more negatively than in previous weeks, with homemade posters and t-shirts calling for the ouster of Lattanzio and Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta appearing in fan-led Facebook groups.

There is no evidence that the front office is considering a change, but fans are running out of patience for the almost-last-place Charlotte club. 

Elsewhere in the MLS

How does a soccer match end up with 21 minutes of stoppage time? When a racist remark sends the pitch into absolute chaos.

In the 54th minute of the April 8 match between the New York Red Bulls and the San Jose Earthquakes, New York forward Dante Vanzeir, who is white, made a heinous racial remark near San Jose striker Jeremy Ebobisse, who is Black.

“What we saw tonight should not be part of the game,” said Ebobisse in a post-match press conference where he described that a “racial epithet” was used. “I know what I heard.”

Ebobisse also said that Vanzeir claimed the remark was not directed at an individual player, which is why San Jose decided to continue the game. “Whether that was a good faith comment or not, we’ll see as the investigation goes on.” 

Though Ebobisse would not name the player in question, sources confirmed to Queen City Nerve that Vanzeir made the comment, described as a slur other than the N-word.

“This is what it is to be Black in these situations. You can’t be wrong, you can’t overstep … you have to proceed with absolute caution even in moments of hurt where you are feeling rather powerless to handle the situation,” observed Ebobisse.

Learn more: Root Against the Red Bulls as Hard as You Root for Charlotte FC

The story quickly became bigger than the allegations of racism against a single player, as it has since become a conversation about how Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber and the league itself reacted to the remark. 

There was confusion on the pitch for almost 20 minutes as the league tried to make sense of what happened. Play eventually resumed with Vanzeir still on the field. He wasn’t taken out until the 86th minute, about 10 minutes after play resumed.

In a post-game press conference, San Jose coach Luchi Gonzalez said that if the allegations are true, the league’s punishment should be serious. “I don’t know what the next step is. I would hope the league will take this serious to the max degree in terms of an investigation and there being consequences, potentially indefinite consequences.”

Gonzalez avoided naming Vanzeir but made it clear he did not agree with Struber’s decision to keep the player in. He confirmed that he suggested to New York’s coach during the stoppage that he should take Vanzeir out. “I was adamant to suggest the player shouldn’t be on the field anymore.”

While he was proud of how his team handled the situation, Gonzales was frustrated with how the Red Bulls handled the situation and was hopeful the league will act. “Soccer for all: it’s not just a t-shirt, it’s not just a slogan, it’s something we’ve got to live and act every day, and we still need [to] work to do that better and be the examples for that,” concluded Gonzalez.

Shortly after the news about the Vanzeir comment broke, Queen City Nerve asked Charlotte FC coach Christian Lattanzio how he would handle the situation if one of his players made a racist remark. He said he was shocked to hear what happened in New York.

Charlotte FC head coach Christian Lattanzio stands on the sidelines wearing blue jeans and a white collared shirt.
Charlotte FC head coach Christian Lattanzio in 2022. (Photo by Taylor Banner/Charlotte FC)

“I can safely say that I don’t think we have this in our team. Obviously we condemn this,” said Lattanzio. “For me this is completely crazy to understand that we are still talking about this issue. Unfortunately we have to be always vigilant. It’s condemned. It’s even crazy to mention this.”

On Monday evening, the Red Bulls released statements from the club, from Vanzeir, and from Stuber taking responsibility for the events.

“I accept full responsibility for my actions. While I did not intend to cause any harm or offense with my language, I know that I did and for that I am deeply sorry,” Vanzeir wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “I will agree to any suspension, fine and counseling that is handed down by Major League Soccer and the club.”

On Tuesday, Vanzeir announced he would be stepping away from the team indefinitely as not to be a distraction. 

Struber, in his own statement, admitted he made the wrong call. “With the information that I now know, the right decision would have been to immediately remove Dante Vanzeir from the game.”

Charlotte FC’s next match is scheduled for April 15 against the Colorado Rapids at Bank of America Stadium.

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