|USL Championship all-time scorer Dane Kelly leaves Independence|
|Departure leaves gaping hole in attack|
|Published Monday, January 18, 2021 6:20 pm|
|PHOTO | CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE|
|Dane Kelly, USL Championship's all-time scoring leader, has left the Charlotte Independence after one season to play in Malaysia.|
Dane Kelly is heading to Bnei Sakhnin for the 2021 season in the Israeli Premier League, the first time he will not play in the United States in a decade. Now Charlotte Independence coach Mike Jeffries has to figure out how to replace Kelly, who scored 88 goals in USL Championship. Charlotte managed to navigate years without a true No. 9 because they had veteran midfielder/forward Jorge Herrera, who made up for what he lacked as a pure finisher with work ethic until his retirement last year at age 39.
That means finding someone with proven efficiency in and around goal.
“Dane is certainly not easy to replace,” said coach Mike Jeffries, who credited Kelly not only for his productivity, but character. “With a slightly longer offseason we’ve got more time to try hard and hopefully be successful with the next No. 9 that comes in. Dane was for us maybe the first guy in a while we had who was a pure No. 9 and a [penalty] box guy. He did an incredible job this season, finishing off chances and scoring, both in the run of play and off crosses. He gave us a box presence that we haven’t always had.”
Kelly kicked off his professional career in 2010 in Jamaica with Tivoli Gardens before heading to the USL where he spent 2011-15 with the Charleston Battery. He spent 2016 with Swope Park Rangers, followed by a stellar 2017 campaign with Reno 1968, where he scored 18 goals to earn the Golden Boot as well as league MVP. His performance impressed Major League Soccer, and D.C. United signed him for the 2018 season, but he played just three minutes against Sporting Kansas City.
Kelly returned to USL Championship play in 2019, scoring 10 goals for Indy Eleven. Then came a one-year deal with the Charlotte Independence, where he would score 11 goals – fourth in the league – to lead the club in scoring and their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Yet the club’s postseason struggles continued with a 2-1 overtime loss to Charleston.
Few saw Kelly play in person at home for the Independence due to coronavirus restrictions in North Carolina, but his impact for Charlotte was immediate, even with a pandemic.
They won Group G with an 8-4-4 record as he became the fourth true No. 9 the club had since their inaugural season in 2015. Their first season included Tomasz Zahorski, a Polish striker whose time in Charlotte was plagued by injuries. The same for Niki Jackson, whom Colorado sent on loan in 2019. Brian Brown scored nine goals during the club’s 2016 campaign.
Story is updated to reflect Kelly's signing with Bnei Sakhnin.
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