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Charlotte breaks the curse of the travelling club
With a 1-2 victory over Houston Dynamo, Charlotte finds their elusive first road win
The tenth time is the charm.
After seven losses and two draws on the road, Charlotte FC earned its first road win last night with a 1-2 victory against Houston Dynamo FC. With three points from the win, Charlotte (7-10-2) improves to 8th place in the Eastern Conference with five points on the road and 23 points overall.
With a Little Help from My Foes
In addition to the win, other firsts included Charlotte’s first two goal match on the road, and the first time the club benefited from an opponent’s own goal. In the twenty-eighth minute of the match, a Yordy Reyna cross led to a Kamil Jóźwiak pass intended for striker Karol Świderski, which instead ended up on the boot of Houston’s Matias Vera, who deflected it into the back of the net.
After a Thursday match full of failed crosses – most of which ended up in the gloves of Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver – Jóźwiak improved the accuracy of his passing, which added to the strength of winger Reyna’s efforts to put the ball in scoring position. While Charlotte’s striker is still suffering from a goal drought, Świderski had more good opportunities last night than he has since returning from international duty.
At the 61-minute mark in the second half, interim head coach Christian Lattanzio expanded his defense by brining defender Joseph Mora in for midfielder Reyna, putting five defenders on Charlotte’s back line. Simultaneously, he brought Ben Bender in for Quinn McNeill, who made his first start for Charlotte after earning his first minutes with the team against CF Montréal.
Ten minutes later, Lattanzio made the substitutions that would secure Charlotte’s victory. Andre Shinyashiki came in to replace Świderski up front, and McKinze Gaines – making his first appearance since missing two matches due to COVID-19 protocols – replaced Jóźwiak. Shinyashiki and Gaines wasted no time springing into action, and quickly put together a play that ended with a Gaines cross and a perfect opportunity for Shinyashiki, but the shot went wide.
Shortly thereafter in the 74th minute, midfielder Brandt Bronico disrupted a Houston pass and found Shinyashiki downfield. Shinyashiki made his way around three defenders, took his shot a couple yards to the right of the penalty dot, and found the back of the net for his fifth goal of the season (including his time in Colorado) and his second “joker” goal as a substitute. As the goal was his fourth with Charlotte, he tied Świderski for most goals by a Charlotte FC player in the campaign.
Houston’s attack was steady for the rest of the match, and the Dynamo controlled possession in the final third of the game. With the 0-2 lead, however, Charlotte was immune to the joker goal by Houston’s Fafà Picault in the 81st minute of play. Charlotte’s five defenders and goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina kept Houston’s offense at bay, and Charlotte proceeded to party in the visitors’ locker room at PNC Stadium.
Lattanzio’s roster and starting eleven was a solution to the challenge of playing two matches in four days. Jordy Alcívar and Daniel Ríos stayed home to recover from the matches against Montréal and Austin; Titi Ortíz, who was recently under COVID-19 protocols, stayed home as well. With Ruiz and Reyna starting, Shinyashiki was given time to recover, but unlike the match against Austin, Lattanzio didn’t wait too long to get his substitutes on the field. Świderski, who started three games in the past nine days, came off the pitch earlier than normal.
McNeill, the Charlotte Independence star who has been practicing exclusively with Charlotte for the past two weeks, started in order to give Bender a rest. At the post-match press conference, Lattanzio addressed the choice: “I didn't have any problem starting Quinn. He's shown how good he is and how he belongs in this league.” When I spoke with McNeill last week, he told me he was prepared and supported by the team in Montréal, and that continued in Houston.
“The support rained in from everyone behind me and around me. I can never do it by myself … It’s really a credit to the whole team and those guys supported me along the way for my first start,” said McNeill at the post-match press conference.
After the match, Lattanzio credited his substitutions and midgame formation changes not only with the victory in Houston, but also against the New York Red Bulls in his first match as coach.
“For me, the most important thing is that the boys show that they can adapt to different formations and they can do it with a lot of grit and with a lot determination. Capabilities: this is the most important thing.”
Charlotte FC certainly showed themselves capable last night. Their next challenge comes at home on Saturday at 7:00 PM EDT, when they host Nashville SC (7-5-6, 27 points). When they hosted Charlotte for a test match in February, they defeated Charlotte 3-1 with forward C.J. Sapong picking up a brace and Titi Ortíz scoring Charlotte’s lone goal. Nashville sits in 4th place on the Western Conference table and will be a challenging opponent, but with Charlotte’s strength at Bank of America stadium the match should be a good one.