Let the Good Times Roll?
Charlotte FC is on a 4-match winning streak. Crown Legacy FC leads the MLS NEXT Pro league. Two NC teams are atop the USL 1 table. Can it last?
May has been a great month for soccer in the Carolinas.
Charlotte FC has won all four of their matches so far this month, three in MLS play and one in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 32. In just two weeks, Charlotte has gone from 14th place in the Eastern Conference - second to last - all the way up to 7th.
The club has been lucky as well. After defeating defending champions Orlando City SC in the Open Cup, Charlotte drew Birmingham Legion FC in the Round of 16, one of the two remaining lower-tier teams left in the tournament. Last year, Charlotte left the tournament after an away loss to the New York Red Bulls in the Round of 16, so a win would be an improvement on their inaugural result.
Should Charlotte win the the match in Alabama on May 24, they’ll also have home field advantage for the Quarterfinal match.
21-year-old Brandon Cambridge, who started the season with Charlotte’s second team, quickly moved to the first team roster. On Wednesday, he became the youngest player ever to score two goals in a match for Charlotte, winning him the team’s first MLS Player of the Matchday honors this year.
Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire extended Charlotte’s unbeaten streak at home to 5 matches, a club record. Cambridge’s brace was the third in a row in MLS matches, something Coach Christian Lattanzio hadn’t yet realized when we asked him about it at the post-match press conference.
“I want it to continue,” he replied.
Charlotte FC (5-5-3, 18 points) seeks to continue the winning streak tonight at Bank of America Stadium against third-place Nashville FC (6-3-4, 22 points). MLSSoccer.com’s unofficial player availability report lists 6 Charlotte players who are out or questionable for tonight’s match (see below); with Shinyashiki and Nuno Santos effectively suspended from play, that’s 8 first team options that are unavailable:
OUT: George Marks (left lower leg)
OUT: Kamil Jozwiak (right thigh)
OUT: McKinze Gaines (left knee)
OUT: Ben Bender (left lower leg)
QUESTIONABLE: Kerwin Vargas (left lower leg)
QUESTIONABLE: Guzman Corujo (right knee surgery)
Meram Moves In
Another of Charlotte’s two-goal performances came from the team’s newest addition, winger Justin Meram, acquired from Real Salt Lake. While his debut came as a substitute in a 3-0 loss to DC United, May has been the month of Meram at Charlotte FC. With 2 goals and 2 assists, he has been a part of at least one goal in each of the team’s last three MLS matches.
After a disappointing start to the season, Lattanzio has stressed on multiple occasions that the team was hurt by the loss of veteran players to injuries, including Guzmán Corujo, Ashley Westwood, and goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina, as well as the loss of the late Anton Walkes. Along with Westwood and defender Bill Tuiloma, the 34-year-old Meram brings significant professional experience to Charlotte. Along with 13 years of MLS experience and over 330 appearances in the league, Meram has 36 caps with Iraq’s national team since 2014.
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Originally, however, Meram’s transfer was in doubt. Sources confirmed to Soccer sheet that the original deal for Meram would have sent Andre Shinyashiki to Salt Lake; instead, Charlotte spent $200,000 in general allocation money, and shortly thereafter Shinyashki was linked to a police report of rape and sexual assault (both Shinyashiki and his agent maintain he has been cleared by an MLS investigation, he has not faced charges and his exact role alleged in the incident is unknown).
Charlotte is lucky that the deal went through. Meram, along with Westwood and Kamil Jóźwiak, has improved Charlotte’s crossing and service into the box, creating more opportunities on offense. There are, of course, many factors that contribute to a winning streak, but given Meram’s numerous contributions on the pitch in such a short amount of time, Lattanzio may be right about the value of experience.
For more on Meram, check out this excellent profile from our colleague Carroll Walton at the Charlotte Ledger.
Crown Legacy FC finally falls (to a familiar foe)
Crown Legacy FC’s seven-match winning streak had to end at some point.
Playing in front of a sellout crowd at Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville, Legacy faced the toughest road environment they’ve seen all year. The match was the first home fixture all year for Huntsville City FC, an affiliate of Nashville’s MLS squad, and the 6000 fans made it feel like an MLS match, not a sparsely attended undercard. Though a couple folks from Charlotte made the trip to Rocket City, it wasn’t the drums-and-flags supporter section Charlotte FC gets on the road.
Crown Legacy scored within the first four minutes, but after that it was Huntsville’s match. Sometimes a team just wants the win more, and it showed in Huntsville’s performance. It doesn’t help that perhaps Legacy’s best player - Brandon Cambridge - will be playing with the first team for the foreseeable future.
Even with the loss, Crown Legacy is still at the top of the MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference table with 22 points. With a draw and a win in two fixtures, Huntsville is the only team in all of MLS NEXT Pro to take points away from Charlotte’s second team. If that’s not a rivalry in the making, I don’t know what is.
The two sides meet for the final time this season at Noon on August 13 for a Sunday Brunch-themed game. Charlotte fans will dress for tea, but prepare for war.