|Back on the USL pitch, Independence look to build some rhythm|
|2-2 draw vs. Memphis delivers a point|
|Published Monday, July 27, 2020 2:29 pm|
|The Charlotte Independence returned to USL Championship play with a 2-2 draw against Memphis after a pair of earlier games, including a match against in-state rival North Carolina FC, were moved to later in the abbreviated season.|
Yet that is how long COVID-19 kept the Charlotte Independence away from USL Championship play. The second-division side returned from a 2-all draw against Memphis 901 FC with rust to knock off, but consolation in a point on the road.
“The guys were definitely up for it, but it’s difficult to go a long time without a game and certainly some of the sharpness wasn’t there,” coach Mike Jeffries said. “I didn’t think we were in a good rhythm or were able to quite get in sync on either side of the ball.”
Charlotte went down a goal twice, but young midfielders Luke Haakenson and Valentin Sabella equalized. For both it meant not only leaving with a point, but scoring on former United States men’s national team goalkeeper Tim Howard. Howard retired in October, but returned to the game in March, assuming several roles with Memphis that include minority owner and sporting director.
Haakenson, a rookie on loan for the season from Nashville SC (MLS), was selected 80th overall in the SuperDraft. Sabella, who was signed in 2019 after a stunning performance against the Independence in last year’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, came off the bench against Memphis to score a late equalizer. Jeffries, who is challenging Sabella to improve in the timing of his runs, credits him with working on finishing during the offseason.
“He’s got good capabilities, but he’s started to work a little bit more in terms of his movement in the [penalty] box, and his movement off of plays,” Jeffries said. “We’ll continue to push with him in terms of defensive tactics and positioning. His work rate and his energy defensively are always great, but sometimes it’s trying to figure out how to read plays a little bit better. We’re starting to see that in some of the exercises we’ve done.”
COVID-19 altered the 2020 season for all sports. USL Championship had barely begun when the pandemic put everything on hold. While games are being played, they are not beyond the pandemic’s reach. Charlotte’s first game back was set to take place in Miami on July 22 and the Jacks were set to host North Carolina FC on July 29, but those games were pushed due to coronavirus concerns. The games were moved to Aug. 23 and Aug. 26, respectively, which forces Charlotte to play more games late in the already-shortened regular season.
“It’s not ideal from our end in the way the schedule worked itself out,” Jeffries said. “Every team in the league is dealing with difficult situations, and we’re no different. We’ll just have to manage it. The way our schedule is set up for August and September, managing bodies is going to be important. It’s probably a plus that we have a younger group, because it’s a lot of games in a short period.”
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