|Charlotte Independence open preseason training on high note|
|27 players on hand for initial session|
|Published Monday, January 27, 2020 6:00 pm|
The Charlotte Independence are light years ahead of where they started preseason last year.
The Jacks opened preseason on Jan. 27 at the Sportsplex at Matthews with 27 players; 15 are on trial, 12 are signed. Last year they had 10 players at their first training session and a first-time USL Championship head coach in Jim McGuiness, who was fired in June. The Jacks finished the season 9-14-11, 13th in the Conference and the first time in franchise history without at least 10 wins.
McGuiness’ predecessor, Mike Jeffries is back with an additional role as general manager and head coach. The preseason waters may be a bit choppy, but Jeffries, the franchise’s inaugural head coach, is the one steering the ship.
“It’s good to be out,” Jeffries said. “[I] did see the energy and enthusiasm just from being back, and back on the field. With a lot of trialists and guys looking to try to make the team, the actual soccer side of it was a little bit what you would expect on day one. It was choppy. A few good moments, but I think it is certainly something we can build on. It’s not nice to start preseason kind of on an even-keel, and try and build slowly into the regular season.”
Eight players from last year’s roster returned: goalkeeper Brandon Miller, defenders Clay Dimick, Joel Johnson and Hugh Roberts, midfielders Valentin Sabella, Jake Areman and Kevan George, as well as striker Enzo Martinez. Additional signings include: rookie defender Casey Penland, midfielders Oscar Ramsay (rookie) and Junior Etou, and striker Dane Kelly.
“With a good core of us coming back, we know the mentality, because we went on a nice little run at the end of the season,” Roberts said. “We all have that same mentality coming into this year. It’s way, way different from last year. We have a lot of trialists, and as a core we’re trying to keep the standard high because we’re getting ready to fly from literally day one.”
Said Kelly: “Day one was pretty good. Everyone tried to do their best, but you’re not going to get everyone as fit...depends on the work you put in during the offseason.”
Charlotte’s regular season opens on March 8 at Sporting Kansas City II; the home opener is March 14 against Pittsburgh. Preseason action begins in Columbia, South Carolina on Feb. 12 against Tormenta FC of USL League One at 5 p.m., followed by league rival North Carolina FC on Feb. 15 at the Sportsplex at 2 p.m. and NISA club Stumptown Athletic on Feb. 19 at 11 a.m. The Jacks travel to League One side Greenville Triumph SC on Feb. 22 and conclude in Atlanta on Feb. 29.
“Right now the focus is getting fit, and building that fitness level to be able to play the way we want to, Martinez said. “From there, it’s just creating chemistry between the guys—getting to know each other…We’re ahead of where we were last year at the beginning, and obviously we’ve just gotta keep building on that.”
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