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David Tepper vs. Goliath
Charlotte FC plays arguably the most important match in the team's young history tonight at 8:30 PM.
Tonight’s 8:30 PM fixture against Inter Miami CF is arguably the most important match in Charlotte FC’s young history.
At a pre-match press conference, Charlotte head coach Christian Lattanzio called the contest a “Very very important game,” but qualified his assessment by saying “every game for us is important.”
First, it’s the only time Charlotte has made it to the quarterfinals of a cup competition. In both the 2022 and 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competitions, Charlotte was dispatched in the Round of 16, first by MLS’s New York Red Bulls last season, and earlier this year by USL Championship club Birmingham Legion. With a win, Charlotte FC would make the semifinals in any competition for the first time.
Next, with a win Charlotte could bring its first knockout tournament match to Bank of America Stadium. So far, Charlotte FC has played all its Open Cup matches at opponents’ venues, or at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex at Matthews. Charlotte’s only cup match at the Bank so far, the July 29 win over Club Necaxa, came during the group stages. While they earned a home match against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup Round of 32, a scheduling conflict with Beyoncé’s tour sent Charlotte back to Texas for their next two matches.
Should Philadelphia Union lose to Querétaro F.C., Charlotte will host the semifinals at home with a win over Miami.
Finally, by qualifying for the Leagues Cup semifinals, Charlotte FC would likely qualify for the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup. The top three teams from the Leagues Cup are guaranteed to qualify, but up to 7 other MLS teams will qualify through the MLS regular season, MLS playoffs, Open Cup, and Canadian Championship.
The ultimate prize in the CONCACAF Champions Cup is a berth in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup, which will be played in the United States. To give an idea of the strength of the competition at that level, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Real Madrid are some of the teams that have already qualified for 2025.
Before I forget, there’s just one more thing …
To state the obvious, most football fans tuning in to Charlotte FC’s match in Miami tonight won’t be cheering for Karol Świderski, Kristijan Kahlina, or Patrick Agyemang.
They’re tuning in to watch Lionel Messi play in pink.
While Charlotte FC captain Ashley Westwood told reporters tonight’s match “is just a game like any other for us” and “we’re not focused on a single player,” it’s clear how big a factor Messi has already become in the Leagues Cup and MLS.
“I’ve played against the best players out there … for me Messi is the greatest ever … you want to test yourself against the greatest in the world,” said Westwood.
With Messi on the other side of the pitch, a prime-time kickoff, and a cup on the line, this will likely be the most-watched match in Charlotte history. The David Tepper vs. Goliath matchup gives Charlotte a chance to demonstrate their quality against one of the greatest. Charlotte has the chance to deal Messi his first loss since coming to Miami, and Coach Lattanzio has the chance to add an impressive bullet point to his resume after a tough first year in the top job.
It's also a dangerous match for Charlotte. The squad has been inconsistent this year, plagued by injuries, tragedies, and scandal. If you told me the match ends in an epic penalty kick shootout, I wouldn’t be surprised; Charlotte has that level of potential. On the other hand, if you told me Miami went into the locker room up 3-0 at halftime, I also wouldn’t be surprised; they don’t call Messi the GOAT for nothing.
Either way, it’s the rare MLS match that can be called the worldwide football fixture of the week. No matter how it goes, Charlotte supporters should be excited to be in the conversation, and after everything they’ve been through this year, the club should be proud of making it to this moment.
Inter Miami hosts Charlotte FC at 8:30 PM tonight at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The match is available on Apple TV+ with MLS Season Pass.
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