Week 4 In Review: Charlotte FC Bags its First Win
It's all about aggression
I love being the bearer of good news: Charlotte Football Club broke its three-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the New England Revolution on Saturday! The team got off to a great start with a Karol Swiderski goal in just the sixth minute of play and never let up. Last week, I wrote that this game “would be a great time for him to have a breakout game.” With two goals and one assist, Swiderski has arrived.
The bad news wasn’t on the pitch but in the stands. After setting the major league attendance record with the home opener, the number of fans in the stands dropped significantly for the second game at Bank of America Stadium. Perhaps a win will bring fair-weather fans back to the stands?
Finally, one for the fans: Section 139 was rowdy Saturday night. After a stray ball landed in the section, some fans tried to keep it (Did I see one guy try and hide it under his shirt?) until they were advised otherwise. A loud “He caught a ball” chant started. When the fan returned it, it accidentally landed on the pitch during play. On the other end of the pitch, the supporters section knew the rules and immediately returned a stray New England shot that went into the stands in the 48th minute.
Here are my observations from Week Four:
The cerulean-clad club showed up in force against New England, and apparently it was as simple as implementing the plan they had practiced for all along.
Speaking to the media after the game, both manager Miguel Ángel Ramírez and Man of the Match Karol Swiderski insisted that the plan they had going into the game came to fruition.
Charlotte FC saw more opportunities and more chances than they had in previous matches, and when I asked Swiderski about the role (bad) luck played in their first three losses compared with how they pulled off their first win, he had an idea about what motivated his breakout performance:
“I think my first touch was my first shot of the game … if you score in the beginning of the game, you feel confident and you feel much better.”
Team captain Christian Fuchs was in the room for my question about luck and seemed to address it in his remarks: “Looking back at the goals we conceded, I’m not a fan of saying we were unlucky because when you show the quality on the field, something like that happens like today.”
He’s right; Charlotte played more competent, energetic football than in previous matches. All night, Charlotte FC pushed the ball up field and created more corner kicks – and more chances – than in previous matches.
Swiderski’s goal started with a long pass from goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina to forward Daniel Rios; seven passes and one shot later, the ball was in the back of the net. When New England’s Carles Gil scored off a penalty, Swiderski responded with a goal of his own in fewer than four minutes.
Fuchs himself was more aggressive up and down the field. He was directing play, he was assisting on offense, and he was taking shots. A Fuchs header in the 38th minute flew just above the net. This assessment is subject to confirmation bias since I was on the lookout for a great game from Fuchs, but the captain knew the team needed a win.
“Today was a good start, but we have to stay humble as well.”
Or in Swiderski’s words, after noting the importance of winning three points, “Now we need to forget about this game and think on the next game.”
Also of note in the aggression category: A minor brawl started in the 28th minute as midfielder Jordy Alcívar was pushed by New England Defender Omar Gonzalez – they both drew yellow cards.
A total of six yellow cards were drawn, including four for Charlotte. After four games, Christian Ortiz and midfielder Alan Franco have both drawn two yellow cards apiece. Can’t blame them for playing hard and being hungry.
Additional time and adverse consequences
Stoppage time has been dangerous for Charlotte FC this year. Both DC United and Atlanta United FC scored against Charlotte in the ambiguous extra minutes added on at the end of halves. On Saturday, Charlotte avoided giving up any goals during extra time – and by the second set of stoppage minutes, they had put the match out of New England’s reach.
What did continue to be a problem for Charlotte? Penalty kicks. Another foul inside the box resulted in a rare yellow card for the keeper and New England’s only goal of the match. In four matches, Charlotte has faced three penalty kicks and conceded a goal on each one.
While Charlotte responded to the last two PKs with a goal within seven minutes, the three penalty goals scored against them is equal to their current goal differential of -3. Kahlina’s play in goal has been heroic in every match, but penalty kicks are any goalie’s kryptonite.
What was immediately different between the first home match and Saturday’s was the size of the crowd. To be clear, no MLS franchise is trying to sell out the upper deck on a regular basis, but the upper bowl was closed, making maximum attendance 38,000. The official attendance number came in just under 30,000 at 29,318; about 6,000 more than the number of season ticket holders.
So, like any reporter who’s run out of ideas, I asked Twitter.
The Hornets were also playing at the same time, and fellow Queen City Nerve contributor Dion Beary told me he doesn’t “quite love soccer enough yet to miss a Hornets game for it.” That doesn’t tell the full story: Hornets attendance was 19,279 during Saturday’s soccer match against New England, only 338 fans more than attended the Hornets game during Charlotte FC’s home opener.
One observation: While the corners of the stadium and the supporters section (generally lower-priced tickets) were full and loud the entire match, seats closer to midfield as well as the premium seats on the pitch looked half-empty. Fans told me personally and via DMs that the sticker price was above what they were willing to pay to go to see a soccer game every week. Indeed, less than an hour before kickoff, many midfield seats with a view of Uptown were still available on the Charlotte FC app.
Nevertheless, the stadium was still loud. Deliberately, national anthem singer Adam Decker let the crowd take over again. Most importantly, a win is going to help attendance for the March 26 game against Cincinnati.
After Charlotte’s win, they’ve moved up to 12th out of 14 in the Eastern Conference table. They play 8th-ranked FC Cincinnati at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 26. It’s a battle of the Queen Cities?
Yes, Cincinnati is also known as the Queen City due to an 1854 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem. Ironically, the name of the poem is “Catawba Wine,” despite Charlotte being the Queen City on the Catawba River. Seems like a good opportunity here to start a “Queen City Shield” competition, since Charlotte FC will play Cincinnati FC more often than the Panthers play the Bengals.
Anyway, this will be the first match where Charlotte breaks out the black and green “newly minted” kit if you’re looking for advice on what to wear. Since I can’t make it, I’m giving you a chance to win my seats (they’re good – 100 level, 4th row) for Saturday. You’ll have a chance to see at least one player who is on fire.
Striker Brandon Vazquez was dangerous for Cincy this past weekend, racking up two goals and an assist – much like Charlotte’s own Swiderski. Vazquez comes to Charlotte with 15 shots on goal, seven on target, and four total goals.
Contrast that with a lower conversion rate but more accurate performance from Swiderski: nine total shots, eight shots on target, and two goals so far this year. Finally, both Vazquez and Swiderski made the MLS Team of the Week at the forward position.
Writing for the official MLS website, J. Sam Jones released Week 4 power rankings that place Cincinnati one spot above Charlotte. Unsurprisingly, his analysis outlines the conventional wisdom for Charlotte right now: “It really does seem like Charlotte have things figured out at striker and at goalkeeper with Kristijan Kahlina. That can keep you above water as an expansion team. Now they just have to figure out everything in between.”
I agree Kahlina has been consistently good for Charlotte, and Swiderski has demonstrated why he’s worthy of one of Charlotte’s three DP slots. Jones may have overlooked midfielder Ben Bender, who has been a highlight as well.
Unfortunately, it looks like Swiderski may face injury issues this weekend. He played with a brace in Saturday’s match, he received a muscle injury on Saturday as well, he’s reportedly missing Poland’s national team games, and while there’s no official word yet from the club about his status, the rest of the team may have to carry the weight on Saturday.
While I hope Charlotte can still count on minutes from Swiderski, it’s increasingly looking like a win (or draw) will come down to whether Kahlina continues to be impregnable in goal, and whether Rios, Bender, Alcivar, or someone new makes a difference on offense.
Finally, after taking two shots on goal on Saturday, Fuchs could very well be that difference, too – and who would want to argue with that?
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