Charlotte FC def. FC Cincinnati 2-0
Świderski and Kahlina continue to rule their opposite sides of the pitch.
In Saturday’s game against FC Cincinnati, the Charlotte Football Club marched out onto the pitch in their black and mint-colored community kit and established which Queen City is the real Queen City.
Spoiler alert: it’s Charlotte, two goals to nil.
The first bit of good news came from the starting eleven. Just hours after President Biden addressed the free world from his home country, Polish forward Karol Świderski took the field despite injury worries that are keeping him in the United States and away from international play.
Świderski contributed two goals, the first of which was assisted by midfielder Ben Bender, providing a comfortable margin of victory. Goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina finally earned the clean sheet he deserved against the LA Galaxy when he was the Man of the Match. While Cincinnati had multiple chances during the match, few plays came together for them, and when they did, Kahlina stood between the Cincy offense and any hope of leaving Charlotte with points.
The win immediately catapulted Charlotte to 8th in the MLS table, one spot ahead of FC Cincinnati due to tiebreakers. Charlotte’s goal differential is down to -1 after slowly recovering from dropping 3 unanswered goals in the first (and Świderski-less) game of the season.
The next game is going to be hard. A Charlotte draw in Philadelphia would be reason for celebration against the top of the table. However, today’s match showed an offense and defense able to work together to win – and a team with the luck of the Football Gods on their side after a disappointing start.
Yet again, Świderski made an immediate difference thanks to some good team play. For the second time in two games, Świderski drew first blood in the 6th minute of play. In a 4-1-3-2 formation, Forward Daniel Ríos passed in front of Bender, who made a strong run to the ball and crossed it to the boot of Charlotte’s undisputed star. After 6 minutes of play, Bender had 3 assists and a goal on the season, Świderski had 3 goals and an assist, while Ríos had no goals or assists and only had one shot on target out of four attempts.
During last week’s after-match press conference, Świderski “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.”
In the sixteenth minute, Charlotte’s approach to the match was on display, challenging the ball across the field – in front of the keeper, along the sidelines, doing everything they could to prevent a Cincinnati response. Even as Cincinnati identified Bender as the crucial link between players like team captain Christian Fuchs and the offense, and attempted to neutralize Bender, Charlotte continued to find opportunities and kept up the pressure.
In the 40th minute, a nice shot from Ríos earned Charlotte a corner, but they couldn’t convert. However, it was the third or fourth good shot on target of the match, one of which had already gone in. The corner set pieces didn’t produce for Charlotte in this game, but there was nothing wrong with the execution – just bad luck.
Little things – like Ruiz running down a ball to keep it on the field in the 49th minute – showed the aggression continuing in the second half. After changing sides at halftime, the wind was at Charlotte’s back and in Cincinnati’s face. As they kept up the attack, Charlotte drew a critical foul in the 55th minute.
After taking a big shot from the top of the box, Świderski and Fuchs lined up together to take the direct kick as a result of the foul. Świderski – perhaps obviously at this point – was the one who took the shot, which spun above and to the right of Cincy keeper Alec Kann and straight into the goal for the second goal of the match and Świderski’s fourth goal in two matches.
At that point, Cincinnati was ready for changes, swapping out two players. They brought enough energy to shift momentum to the other side of the field until the 71st minute, when Świderski had a run on the goal that may or may not have been offsides but resulted in multiple on-target shots from
In the 73rd minute Charlotte made substitutions; Christian Ortiz came in for Ruiz and midfielder Brandt Bronico came for Jones, who was up and down the field in the stopper position. There
Almost immediately, Cincy’s Dominque Badji fouled Świderski – for obvious reasons a target of the visiting club’s aggression – and drew the first yellow card of the game. Badji was replaced by fellow striker Nick Markanich, but two minutes later Cincy drew another yellow card as Cincy continued to go hard in a futile attempt to make a difference.
In the 85th minute Yordy Reyna came in for Ríos, meaning the first goal for Danny will have to wait – even after many good opportunities for the Mexican striker. Late in the 90th minute, Reyna almost got that goal in his place with a great shot on goal – it would have been icing on the cake, but it’s hard to be that greedy after such a good performance.
In my preview for the game, I highlighted Cincinnati striker Brandon Vazquez, who racked up two goals and an assist last weekend. Like Swiderski, he made the MLS Team of the Week at the forward position. In the first half, however, midfielder Luciano "Lucho" Acosta provided Cincy with the most opportunities.
Unfortunately for the other Queen City, few of those opportunities came in the first two-thirds of the first half.
After 30 minutes of play, Cincinnati star Acosta may have been frustrated as he launched a long shot to Kahlina’s left, missing the goal. His team wasn’t creating many opportunities, and he hadn’t gotten in a good shot. In the 32nd minute, Fuchs got beat and Vazquez got a better shot, but Charlotte’s impregnable goalkeeper made an amazing save, rushing towards the ball and keeping the Crown Town club out of trouble with the save of the half.
Outside of Kahlina’s exceptional play, I appreciated Charlotte’s defensive effort. Acosta took another shot from outside the box in the 43rd minute – but only after a clean slide tackle from midfielder Derrick Jones prevented a much more dangerous chance. Fuchs consistently utilized the long ball to put it in play for the offense and control the rhythm of the game. The lapses that threatened Charlotte’s win were few and far between.
Right before the first half stoppage time, Acosta launched a bad shot from long. In stoppage time, Acosta tried something else and passed to Alvas Powell, creating Cincy’s best opportunity of the first half. Kristijan Kahlina’s response was nothing short of supernatural – not because of any amazing play on his part, but because Powell froze in his tracks, overthinking a relatively open shot.
After missing a second key opportunity in the second half, Cincinnati took Powell off the field as defender Raymond Gaddis and the mononymic Brazilian forward Brenner took the field for the visitors. By the 70th minute, Brenner’s good shot necessitated another highlight-reel save from Kahlina, resulting in a corner for Cincy and another great Kahlina catch.
Cincinnati created some dangerous moments, but Kahlina was there every time, and the crosses and corners that could have caused trouble for Charlotte ended up safely in his hands or on his boot.
Stoppage time has been a bit of a danger zone for Charlotte. The team has given up two goals in stoppage time so far this season. While Cincy couldn’t turn any opportunities into goals in the first half, Świderski was fouled hard near the end of the half – the sort of rough play from Cincy the official warned would draw a card if it happened again.
To my relief, Miguel Ángel Ramírez took Świderski out during the second half injury time – keeping the key to the Crown healthy for another match.
Injury time may no longer be a danger zone for Charlotte, but the same can’t be said of the City of Philadelphia, where Charlotte travels next week to play the top team in the Eastern Conference.
I’ll see you then!