|Charlotte Independence gear up for USL Championship season opener|
|Remade squad kicks off the season vs. Indy Eleven|
|Published Wednesday, March 13, 2019 3:28 pm|
|Outside Joel Johnson returns for his fourth season with the Charlotte Independence, who open the USL Championship campaign Friday against Indy Eleven at Sportsplex at Matthews.|
MATTHEWS—The Charlotte Independence are depending on player experience heading into their season opener.
The Jacks kick off their fifth USL campaign on March 15 at 7 p.m. against Indy Eleven at the Sportsplex at Matthews, after failing to qualify for the playoffs last season. Jim McGuinness, who has never coached in the United States and does not have his entire roster present, was appointed as their second-ever head coach in December, replacing Mike Jeffries, who shifted to general manager. He replaces Tom Engstrom, who is now special advisor to club President Jim McPhilliamy.
Familiar faces may appear scarce Friday night. Newcomers include center back Hugh Roberts, midfielder Afrim Taku, left back Andrew Gutman, striker Dominic Oduru, as well as defenders Abdoulie Mansally and Aaron Maund. Maund is Charlotte's most recent signing, joining the club from the MLS. He was selected 12th in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, after spending 2008-11 at Notre Dame. He spent 2012 with Toronto, 2013-17 with Real Salt Lake and 2017-18 with Vancouver. Statistically, he saw a majority of his MLS playing time in 2015 and 2016, starting 21-of-22 games and 20-of-20 respectively. He played over 1,700 minutes in each of those campaigns. Overall, he made 82 starts in 91 appearances, scoring two goals and two assists.
However, midfielder Alex Martinez and striker Jorge Herrera have been with the club since the beginning. Alex’s older brother, Enzo Martinez, who spent last season with the Colorado Rapids in MLS, also returns to the Jacks. Outside back Joel Johnson joined in 2016, and has been a consistent starter ever since. Goalkeeper Brandon Miller and midfielders Jake Areman and Kevan George return for their second season.
“At the end of the day, our jobs are on the line,” said Enzo Martinez, Charlotte’s second all-time leading scorer behind Herrera. “In order to get a promotion in this job, you have to go out there and you have to prove to the coach that you’re the best player out there. Every single game has that in itself.”
Charlotte has a mix of extremely experienced players, such as Herrera, who played for the Charlotte Eagles before the Jacks bought their USL rights in 2014, and a rookie like Hermann Award winner Andrew Gutman.
“You’re looking to tap into the experience from these guys,” McGuinness said. “They know their way around a football pitch. Obviously your principals then get imbedded quicker, because these guys understand it very quickly.”
Gutman is on loan from Scottish side Celtic, where McGuinness coached U-16, U-19 and U-20 squads.
“Andrew is still learning the game, but he is an exceptional young player, and he’s got great energy levels,” McGuinness said. “That step forward that we’re talking about, that’s the first thing on this mind. That’s his natural inclination, and we’re very fortunate that Joel, and the other side of the park, he has the same tenacity to go forward.”
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