|Charlotte Independence go young out of necessity, with some success|
|Jacks earn 2-1 win against Toronto FC II|
|Published Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:28 pm|
MATTHEWS—The Charlotte Independence are lifted and younger.
A two-game USL winning streak, including Saturday’s 2-1 win against Toronto, featured a depleted lineup, in which coach Mike Jeffries has implemented newcomers.
“Just the quality of each game, and what’s at stake forces guys to either develop or they don’t quite make it,” he said. “It’s important that they’re in that environment. Obviously the season is a lot longer, so you get a more regular routine of games.”
For midfielders Mutaya Mwape and Jake Areman, it comes down to establishing themselves as rookies. Mwape made his second start as an outside midfielder for Charlotte (4-3-2, sixth in the USL East with 14 points) against Toronto, earning his first assist as a professional on striker Eamon Zayed’s goal. Striker Jorge Herrera scored a penalty kick in the first half.
“Mutaya had a sharper night,” said Jeffries, who started both rookies in their 3-1 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup loss to Ocean City on Wednesday. “Even the cross 45 seconds in that he puts on Jorge’s head, obviously the assist, it was a better night. He was a little more clinical in the final third. He found the game a little bit better. It was good to see from him.”
Said Mwape: “Before the game, Zayed he just talked to me, ‘when you cross the ball, cross back post.’ I did what he told me. I’m just learning a lot from the older guys, because they’ve been playing for a while.”
Mwape won the 2017 PDL championship with the Charlotte Eagles, and earned All-America honors as a collegiate player at Lindsey Wilson College, but nothing can simulate the transition required between the college game and professional.
“It’s been different, but just learning from the older guys makes it a little bit easier,” he said. “They always talk to me about what to do, and just tell me to be myself, play the way I play.”
However, Mwape isn’t pressing for a starting role on the wing with midfielder Cordell Cato out with a left hamstring injury.
“Just stepping in, and do what’s supposed to be done,” Mwape said.
Jeffries has used Aerman as a consistent substitute throughout the season, but he has not cracked the starting 11 in league play.
“Jake has come on in a lot of games and done well for us,” Jeffries said. “His work rate was excellent to close the game out. He won a few balls. He kept possession pretty well for us.”
Said Aerman: “Coming off Wednesday as a starter—just preparing mentally [for the opportunity]. Training sessions have been really difficult. The coaches have really been pushing us. The weather is starting to heat up a lot. We have to focus on getting out earlier to foam roll, stretch, make sure we’re prepared and hydrated. Then, after, making sure we recover properly—whether it’s ice baths, stretching—just trying to keep ourselves healthy. The older group has really helped us step up, feel at home, feel comfortable, and feel prepared for any situation.”
For defender Sam Vines, it’s about meeting expectations as a Colorado Rapids loanee – even if he is 18 years old.
“Sam is dealing with pros and playing with pros every day,” Jeffries said. “His expectations from his teammates are going to be higher in what he has to do. He has to play at a higher tempo, and make decisions at a higher tempo.”
Vines sees the biggest difference not in his age or where he’s playing, but the tactical differences between Colorado and Charlotte.
“It’s been different pretty much for the formational standpoint, because they play a 3-5-2 with wingbacks, and here we play with four in the back,” he said. “Here, they’ve really helped me learn how to play in a four-in-the-back system.”
Charlotte hits the road until June 16 when they host Charleston (5-2-3 and third in the USL East with 18 points).
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