|Charlotte Independence get on track with 1-0 win vs. Bethlehem|
|Jacks lead USL East with 43 points|
|Published Wednesday, August 16, 2017 10:11 pm|
MATTHEWS – Streaks mean little to a team sitting at the top of the table.
Charlotte Independence returned to the Sportsplex for another two-game week. Having dispatched Bethlehem Steel F.C. 1-0 Wednesday, the Jacks host Orlando City B on Aug. 19. While Charlotte’s 12-game unbeaten streak came to an end at Ottawa Saturday, they still lead the USL East with 43 points (12-4-7).
“At no point did we think 13 games [unbeaten] or 14 games or 10 games—we just want to win, and we want to stay at the top of the table,” striker Enzo Martinez said. “After a tough week in Canada against Toronto [2-2] and Ottawa, we knew we had to come out and win—no matter what it took. We had to get the three points.”
Martinez leads the Jacks with 13 goals and five assists, already surpassing his team leading nine goals and five assists from last season.
Getting the job done in the defensive third stems from the transformation of defenders Bilal Duckett, Henry Kalungi and goalkeeper Cody Mizell into a cohesive trio.
“It’s been fun—B, me, Cody, and he rest of the guys in the back, but we know we come out as a team,” Kalungi said. “We want the shutout. We want to win the games. The strikers are focusing to score goals, and in the back we are doing what we can to get the shutout, because our team can score goals. We know if we keep it tight in the back we get results. The same thing tonight.”
Said Mizell: “We’ve played probably 20-30 games between this year and last year together. We’ve developed a chemistry, and we know each other’s tendencies really, really well. We know our strengths and weaknesses. Henry and Bilal will deal with things that I’m maybe not good at, and vice versa.”
Said coach Mike Jeffries: “When you’re at the back, there’s a lot of communication, and the ability to know what your partner is going to do, it’s really, really important. The fact that they’ve been able to play together in a lot of games has helped solidify us a great deal.”
Duckett took a knock to his right shoulder during the match, which may impact whether or not Charlotte will use him on Saturday. However, Jeffries has stressed the importance of rotating players during a stretch of two months consisting of 14 games. Rookie defender Luke Waechter, Austin Yearwood, Ashani Fairclough, Joel Johnson or MLS loanees Donnie Smith (New England) or Dennis Castillo (Colorado) may see more time this weekend.
“I do feel like Luke fits in very seamlessly with the group,” Jeffries said. “He’s been very solid and needed, as he was tonight. To be fair, Ashani has actually been pretty good training wise, and it’s just a hard spot to break in.”
With nine games left, the Jacks are in prime position to host a playoff game for the first time in franchise history. They remain unbeaten at the Sportsplex, and have six of their remaining nine matches there.
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