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Charlotte Independence host friendly against Liga MX champion
Jacks take on Santos Laguna Sept. 5
 
Published Tuesday, July 31, 2018 4:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

International clubs haven’t finished with Charlotte this summer.

Liga MX Clausura 2017-18 champions Santos Laguna (Mexico) face the Charlotte Independence in a friendly on Sept. 5 at the Sportsplex at Matthews at 7:30 p.m.

“Our goal is to build the best USL team, and to be champions on a regular basis, and exciting to watch, and to add to the community,” said Jacks majority owner Dan DiMicco, a retired Nucor CEO who joined the investor group last season and took on a greater financial role in January. “I was very fortunate throughout my career at Nucor to do very well financially. Helping people live their dream is part of what this is about. It’s not about making me rich. I’m already there.”

Charlotte hosted then-Premier League side and current-Championship side Swansea City in 2016 at Ramblewood Soccer Complex before a club record attendance of 4,116. General manager Tom Engstrom explained that hosting Santos Laguna in July would have conflicted with their involvement with the International Champions Cup match between Liverpool and Dortmund at Bank of America Stadium on July 22. September provided a FIFA window.

“We wanted to have a team from Mexico,” Engstrom said. “Back in January we started the process of feeling out interested teams and interested opportunities. There’s only a few windows of time where this worked. One is in the summer in the middle of July for their preseason, and we wanted to put our full support behind the Liverpool and Dortmund game. We needed to do one of the FIFA windows where teams are off for a little bit of time.”

Hosting Santos Laguna falls within the Jacks’ final seven matches of the USL regular season. They host three home matches in the first eight days of September: Nashville on Sept. 1, the friendly and Richmond on Sept. 8.

“It does come at a key time of the year for us,” Independence coach Mike Jeffries said. “It’s a special night for everybody, and it’s one of those moments where we want to get guys on the field, and have them play, and be a part of it, and walk off and say, ‘I matched up against the Liga MX champions.”

Said defender Bilal Duckett: “We deal with Sept. 5 when it gets here. For me, it would be putting the cart way before the horse if we started focusing on an international friendly when we need to pick up points for the league. We all know what the original goal was at the start of the season. We know what the goal still remains toward the final third of the season. That’s where our focus is right now.”

Sitting eighth in the USL East at 7-8-7 with 28 points, the Jacks have league 12 matches remaining, including seven at home. The top eight teams advance to the playoffs. Charlotte’s all-time leading scorer striker Jorge Herrera, who leads the Jacks with 10 goals, made his 100th league appearance for the Jacks over the weekend in their 1-1 draw against Penn F.C.

“I’ve been in Charlotte for the past 10 years,” Herrera said. “It has been super nice seeing the growth of the sport that I love. Ten years ago, it was hard to believe that this moment was going to happen. I’m so glad that the things I was wishing for back in the day and kind of pushing the front office to do are starting to come together.”

Coming off the World Cup, Charlotte has turned toward soccer. Capitalizing on fans’ curiosity doesn’t restrict itself to with successfully commercialized leagues, such as the European model.

“The culture and the passion is something that you can’t explain unless you’ve been around it, and you experience it,” said Independence midfielder Alex Martinez, a native of Uruguay. “It’s something that you just feel inside of you—the butterflies that you get before games. I remember growing up and every Saturday going to watch the team that we supported from our town. The passion and the culture is something that has grown over hundreds of years.”

Martinez noted the historic relationship that Uruguay has with the game, hosting the first World Cup in 1930 and defeating Argentina 4-2 to hoist the inaugural trophy. He sees potential for the game’s growth in the States.

“It starts with the community being involved in it, and being passionate about their team, and even sometimes asking those tough questions if the team isn’t winning,” Martinez said. “For me, it started with watching the Mexican league growing up, watching the South American leagues. It’s special to play against the current champions.”

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