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Charlotte Independence hungry to open 2021 season
Players open training in top shape
 
Published Monday, April 5, 2021 9:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

STOCK PHOTO
The Charlotte Independence opened preseason training with a 1-0 win against Tormenta FC in a closed friendly at Sportsplex at Matthews. Trialist Khori Bennett scored the game-winning goal in the second half.

The Charlotte Independence are hungry to play.

The Jacks would be several games into the regular season during a typical year, but 2021 is anything but typical. Instead, they are heading into their third week of preseason, with their season opener set for May 1 at league finalists Tampa Bay (the USL Championship final was not played due to COVID-19).

Charlotte coach and general manager Mike Jeffries said the players came in sharp and fit, allowing them to focus on game specifics rather than fitness.

“We have been able to jump into things maybe a little bit earlier than we have in past years,” Jeffries said. “That is a plus for sure. With a long offseason, everyone is pretty hungry to play.”

Charlotte hosted their first preseason match, a 1-0 win against USL League One side Tormenta FC in a closed friendly at the Sportsplex at Matthews on trialist Khori Bennett game-winner in the second half. Bennett is a 23-year-old from Saint Andrew, Jamaica, who played collegiately at Radford and Reading United AC in USL League Two.

“We were energetic and enthusiastic, and maybe not as sharp as we would have liked or as tight defensively as we would have liked,” Jeffries said. “It was a good exercise for us. We had stretches where we put some pretty good soccer together.”

Charlotte’s current roster consists of 13 players, with a few trialists like Bennett. Their first week of preseason began with 8-10 trialists, followed by six during the second week. They have not signed a striker, and even if they do, expect to see veteran midfielder Enzo Martinez playing higher up the pitch. He spent most of the 2020 season as a central midfielder, as Charlotte had league all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly, who did not return, up top. Martinez has scored 37 goals in five seasons for the Jacks, including 17 in 2017.

“We still feel like Enzo has got it in him to be a big scorer and a guy who can also set up goals,” Jeffries said. “We would like to have him involved higher up the field than he was last year.”

Midfielder Valentin Sabella is on loan with Cancun FC in Mexico’s Liga de Expansion MX and will remain there through their season, which is expected to be around the start of Charlotte’s regular season depending on if they make the playoffs.

Charlotte also has Charlotte FC midfielder Brandt Bronico on loan leading up to their inaugural MLS season. Bronico played locally with the Charlotte 49ers before being selected by Chicago in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, where he spent three seasons. He was known for his work ethic with the 49ers, and that has not changed. Jeffries expects to utilize him as an attacking center mid.

“[He looks] really sharp,” Jeffries said. “He is a very good player obviously. We are delighted and just excited to have him in. He has been really sharp and really influential with everything.”

Charlotte will travel to USL League One sides Greenville Triumph SC and North Carolina FC on April 17 and 23 respectively.

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