|Charlotte Independence gear up for season-opening road trips|
|First four matches of 2021 are away|
|Published Monday, April 26, 2021 6:00 pm|
|PHOTO | CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE|
|Christian Dean, a defender with experience with three Major League soccer clubs, is new to the Charlotte Independence roster.|
Season seven opens for the Charlotte Independence this weekend.
They kick off the USL Championship season on May 1 at 2020 co-champion Tampa Bay, which shared the title with Phoenix Rising FC (the final did not take place due to COVID-19). The Jacks, who are 2-4 in season openers, traditionally have not performed well on the road, but started last season with a 2-1 win at Sporting Kansas City II. Both opening victories took place under head coach and general manager Mike Jeffries, who has been at the helm for every season but the start of 2019 when Jim McGuinness was named head coach. Jeffries replaced McGuinness in June 2019.
The Jacks won Group G, finishing the condensed 2020 regular season 8-4-4 with 28 points. They also hosted a playoff game for the first time in club history, a 2-1 overtime loss to Charleston in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, Charlotte’s first four games are on the road. They head to Charleston, Pittsburgh and Miami on May 14, 22 and 29, before opening at home on June 5 against Tampa Bay. Their first three home matches (Rowdies, Hartford June 13 and Charleston June 23) will take place at the Sportsplex at Matthews. The Independence’s inaugural match at Memorial Stadium is scheduled for July 7 at 7 p.m. against New York Red Bulls II. The facility is still undergoing renovations, a $40 million project by Mecklenburg County that began in 2019.
“This is a little bit of an interesting season for us,” Jeffries said. “Being on the road in some ways offers us the opportunity to try and settle ourselves defensively, maybe without having to push the game as much. I do think it is going to take time. We are getting guys in late. We probably have a shorter preseason than almost anybody else in our conference. It is going to take a little bit of time to get going.”
Jeffries said the squad came in fit and prepared, allowing them to jump ahead of where they would normally be during preseason. He also said they have assembled a cohesive group. Charlotte’s 18-player roster includes 11 returning players and new faces include defenders Christian Dean, Kevin Riascos and Thomas de Villardi; midfielder Noah Paravicini and striker Irvin Parra. Two midfielders from Major League Soccer sides will spend the season on loan: Brandt Bronico of Charlotte FC and Marcelo Palomino of Houston Dynamo FC.
Para is their solution to the departure of 2017 league MVP and Golden Boot winner Dane Kelly, who spent one season with Charlotte, during which he led them in scoring with 11 goals.
“Chemistry is key on any team, but we have a good core of us who have been installing that mentality with everybody,” defender Hugh Roberts said. “Irvin has come right in, laughing with us, gelling with everybody, too. It’s been nice, a great sight to see.”
Charlotte also added Brian Haynes to the coaching staff. Haynes is the first Black coach for the club, previously working with Jeffries in Dallas as his first hire in 2001. He played for Dallas Burn, now FC Dallas from 1996-2000. They took Dallas to the playoffs in 2001 and 2002, in which Jeffries was nominated for MLS coach of the year. Haynes stayed with Dallas through 2006.
“[Haynes] has a lot of good insights,” Jeffries said. “He has a good way of relating to our guys. He has done well and gotten up to speed pretty quickly.”
Dean is Charlotte’s most recent signing. The 28-year-old left-footed center back spent three seasons with Chicago in MLS, where he made five appearances. Vancouver selected the California native No. 3 overall in the 2014 MLS Superdraft, and his professional debut came that season for the Whitecaps in 1-all draw against Chivas USA.
Dean’s 10 games in 2015 in USL Championship for Whitecaps FC 2 included a goal. He also played on the under-23 U.S. national team, scoring against Mexico’s U-23 side in 2015. Dean played collegiately at California from 2011-13, making 55 starts. He earned All-Pac12 and United Soccer Coaches Far West Region first team recognition as a junior. Dean also led the team to an Elite Eight appearance in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
“I’m excited to be here and back playing the game again after taking two years off,” Dean said in a team statement. “The Independence have a great locker room of players and coaches. I’m ready to get going.”
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