Charlotte vs. Chelsea: Sturm und Drang, Sound and Fury
Chaos "rained" in the lead up to Charlotte's most exciting finish yet
First things first: Charlotte FC plays Toronto in Canada tonight. Expected start time is 7:30 PM, and Charlotte is looking for their second-ever win on the road after a disappointing collapse in Miami.
It’s two-and-a-half days later and Charlotte FC is still undefeated against top-flight English Premier League clubs thanks to their 1-1, 5-3 win on penalty kicks against Chelsea F.C. on Wednesday.
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For anyone who didn’t see the match, a quick summary: the first half saw the A-squads from each team, and Chelsea was dominant enough to notch a goal from “Captain America” Christian Pulisic, but not dominant enough to take advantage of the disparity between the two teams. Pulisic, at an estimated base salary of $9.5 million, is paid four times as much as Charlotte’s top-paid player Karol Świderski; at least four Chelsea players are paid more than Pulisic.
There was greater parity in the second half as the teams went to B-squads - though Charlotte FC kept good players like Kamil Jóźwiak, Andre Shinyashiki, and Daniel Ríos on the bench until the second half. Charlotte had some defensive luck and great play from substitute goalkeepers George Marks and Pablo Sisniega, but couldn’t break through Chelsea’s defense.
Sound and Fury
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. - Macbeth
Fun fact: Chelsea’s home stadium in London, Stamford Bridge, is a five-mile walk from the site of Shakespeare’s old Globe Theater, where the Bard’s plays were performed. Macbeth’s aforementioned soliloquy is bleak, but if any soccer match is “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” it’s a club friendly. There are few if any stakes, one team is often far better than the other, star players spend much of the game on the bench, and few players want to put their body on the line for a pyrrhic victory.
For Charlotte fans, however, the last few minutes of the game transformed the match from a strut and fret upon the stage into the stuff of legends … or at least made-for-TV movies. Captain Christian Fuchs was even bolder, calling it “one for the history books” in a post-match tweet, followed by this response to his criticism of this assessment:
What made the match so special? In the 89th minute, Charlotte FC academy player Brian Romero took the field. Romero turned 16 two months ago, but that didn’t stop him from taking his chance when he got it, driving into Chelsea’s penalty box and picking up a foul that led to a Ríos goal off of the subsequent penalty kick. Ríos may have eventually taken home Man of the Match honors, but Romero will forever be the hero of the night.
The 1-1 draw at the full time whistle led to a penalty shootout under the friendly’s rules. Charlotte’s lineup for the kicks was Ríos first, then Christian Makoun, Anton Walkes, Joseph Mora, and finally Jóźwiak as the anchor. Charlotte and Chelsea traded goals until Chelsea’s third kick, when Conor Gallagher attempted … something … and kicked the ball straight into the hands of Sisniega with the force of a lazy pass. Mora scored, as did Chelsa, giving Jóźwiak the chance to shoot for the win.
It went in, and Bank of America Stadium exploded. The team was elated as they left the field. Charlotte FC owner David Tepper worked the crowd and took selfies.
Sturm und Drang
While Charlotte FC supporters will ultimately be forgiving thanks to that finish, the friendly was in many ways public relations disaster for the club until Romero entered the game. Season ticket holders were upset they had to pay for an extra match when they were promised 18 matches in their package; worse still, no one was guaranteed their own seats (in spite of a Personal Seat License fee paid by every season ticket holder). The match itself was in question until the UK Parliament approved the sale of Chelsea from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.
Then came the weather delay. Thousands of Charlotte fans - the official attendance at the game would be 52,673 - were told to take shelter as thunder, lightning, and rain approached - but not in the stadium.
Eventually, tensions ran so high and the wait became so tedious that some fans tried to crash the gates as the storm let up.
Meanwhile, inside the stadium, Tepper was meeting with Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and other dignitaries not long after Axios Charlotte reporter Ashley Mahoney broke the news that Tepper Sports & Entertainment was pulling out of the development on the former Eastland Mall site, right in the heart of many of Charlotte’s Latino and immigrant communities. When I posted a photo of the meeting to the @SoccerSheet Twitter during the rain delay, it was not well received:
Worse still, when the team started to let fans inside the stadium, there were long processing delays that prevented fans from getting to their seats on time. Many missed the first quarter or third of the match. When asked, the club told me they had no statement or comment on the delays.
However, when I asked some fans for their thoughts on the delays, they weren’t shy. Greg told me, “I took a picture of the [TV] right after they scanned my ticket to get a time stamp. I got to the supporters tailgate at 5, did they march and missed the first 15 minutes of the game waiting to get inside.” Lindsay said, “we managed to see about 10 minutes of the first half [out of 45].” Bradley was even less happy: “It sucked!!!!!!! We missed most of the game waiting to get in.”
Karen added, “My daughter, son-in-law, & grandson went tonight with some friends …I’m very curious as to what regulations those are about not letting people in when it’s storming badly. My son-in-law & grandson were able to find shelter with friends at a nearby park, but it just seems like there should have been a better alternative.”
Paired with a spectacular win, these complaints are probably not as damaging as they would be juxtaposed with a lopsided loss. The fan base’s expectations for both the club and the experience at the stadium are high, and if both aren’t met on the same night, Charlotte FC may have a disaster on its hands.
Then again, the storm gave us this sunset:
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