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Charlotte FC Bows Out of U.S. Open Cup, Improves in MLS
Malanda's Double Yellow Leads to Crown Collapse in Birmingham, but Charlotte's Defense Successfully Guards the Galaxy
Charlotte will have to wait another year to fulfill their Open Cup dreams.
“I wanted to do really well, to go as far as possible because I think we had a chance to go far, but it wasn’t to be,” said Charlotte FC Coach Christian Lattanzio after the team’s 1-0 loss on May 24 to Birmingham Legion FC.
After a convincing win over third-tier South Gerorgia Tormenta FC in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on April 25, Charlotte FC had something to cheer about. The Cup was looking like Charlotte’s best opportunity for bright spots in a spotty season, though it came at a cost: center back Bill Tuiloma was injured early in the match, and after scoring the first goal, designated player Kamil Jóźwiak was replaced in the 35th minute. Both players would miss multiple matches due to injuries.
On May 9, Charlotte notched an impressive win over defending Open Cup champions Orlando City SC in the Round of 32. Jóźwiak again scored the first goal of the match, but this time it was the only goal. His determined bulldozer of a shot off of a Karol Świderski assist would have been a Goal of the Matchday contender in league play.
When the bracket for the rest of the tournament was released days later, Charlotte looked like they would have the easiest path to the semifinals. They drew a road match against the second-tier Birmingham Legion, and a home match against either Inter Miami CF or Nashville SC should they make it to the quarterfinals. While Birmingham’s squad had significant MLS experience, including former top-flight players, they were still a USL Championship club. Charlotte had never lost to a lower-division opponent in previous Open Cup play.
For the first half, Charlotte dominated the match in front of over 10,000 opposing fans at Protective Stadium in Birmingham. While designated player Enzo Copetti stayed home, most of Charlotte’s starters were healthy. However, Birmingham Legion played like a team prepared to win a “cupset,” playing carefully and technically. They went into the locker room tied nil-nil, and were prepared to capitalize on a mistake.
That opportunity came in the 51st minute when Charlotte defender Adilson Malanda was shown a second yellow/red card for a careless tackle on a Birmingham player with an attacking opportunity.
Lattanzio thought the team was in control until Malanda’s mistake, and still found ways to praise the young defender. “We are talking about a guy who is 21-years-old, that is [building] experience and finding himself in situations where he hasn’t been before,” said Coach Christian Lattanzio at a post-match press conference. “Like all the young players you have to allow them to make mistakes; unfortunately it was a costly mistake.”
With Malanda off the field, Charlotte coach Christian Lattanzio immediately replaced him with Tuiloma at fullback, at the expense of a player up front. Minutes after that substitution, Ghanaian midfielder Prosper Kasim broke through Charlotte’s 10-man squad, scoring the decisive goal.
After the red card and Kasim’s goal, Charlotte played like a defeated team. The combination of a congested schedule and a demoralizing call had weathered the team. Lattanzio waited 20 minutes to make significant adjustments to Charlotte’s lineup; at that point, there were fewer than 10 minutes left on the clock for Charlotte to find the equalizer and a path to overtime.
They didn’t, and bowed out of the cup in the Round of 16 for the second year in a row.
When we asked about the late substitutions, Lattanzio replied that it was his intention to make changes early in the second half, but the red card and the opposition goal threw a spanner in his plans.
“I thought that the boys who started deserved another 10 minutes to try and score a goal,” Lattanzio replied. “I wanted to have fresh legs, but I wanted to give another 10 minutes [because everyone looked good at halftime].”
After the match, the coach was clearly irritated, though not critical of the officiating as he has been in recent MLS contests.
“We had plenty of chances to win this game, at least when it was 11 against 11,” said Lattanzio at a post-match press conference. “I thought that we didn’t play with the conviction that we should have, in the last third [of the match] especially. In the end, when you have the chances and the control of the game, and you don’t take advantage, the opposition can always have two or three chances like they did.”
“The lesson is always the same when you play with young players: when you don’t take your chances, sooner or later the opposition will have theirs.”
Charlotte FC’s MLS Fortunes Improve
After the Open Cup loss, Lattanzio told Soccer Sheet “we have to move on to the next game.” That wasn’t a problem for Charlotte FC (6-6-3, 21 points) as they catapulted up to 6th place in the Eastern Conference with a 0-1 away win over the bottom-of-the-table LA Galaxy (2-9-3, 9 points).
With Copetti still recovering from an injury, Świderski played up front and was the hero with a goal in the 73rd minute off of a Justin Meram assist. A Chicharito double yellow/red card in the 85th minute sealed the 0-1 win for Charlotte.
With his decisive goal, Świderski is now tied with Copetti for the most goals of the campaign with 4; with his third assist, Meram now has the second-most on the year for Charlotte in only 5 starts. Meram, along with defender Harrison Afful, was named to MLS’s twenty-man Team of the Matchday for his efforts.
Charlotte has now won four of their last five MLS matches as the team has shown its ability to escape the doldrums of the early season. Calls for Lattanzio to be sacked from frustrated fans have calmed down, with the coach now receiving an enthusiastic reception after home wins.
However, the club is still in the middle of one of the most challenging stretches of the season. Even without Open Cup obligations, Charlotte continues to face a congested schedule as they travel to Pennsylvania to play defending Eastern Conference champions Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, May 31 before facing the Columbus Crew in Ohio on Saturday, June 3rd.
Charlotte’s next home fixture is against the Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders on Saturday, June 10.
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