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For openers, Charlotte Independence have some work to do
Second half decisive in 3-0 loss at Tampa Bay
 
Published Monday, May 3, 2021
by Ashley Mahoney

The Charlotte Independence’s regular season opener was less than satisfying.

The Jacks’ 3-0 loss at Tampa Bay dropped Charlotte to 2-5 in season openers, in keeping with their traditionally lackluster performances on the road. Charlotte held the Rowdies to a 0-0 first half, limiting set pieces, avoiding getting caught on the counter attack and preventing opportunities on target. Then Charlotte’s defensive shape began to breakdown. A penalty in the 58th minute broke the ice for the home side. Striker Sebastian Guenzatti converted the penalty, and scored again in the 77th minute. Midfielder Leo Fernandes dealt the final blow in the 79th minute.

“It was tough,” Charlotte coach Mike Jeffries said. “Any time you go from preseason and the game is at one tempo and now it is the regular season, it is a quick adjustment period. We managed the beginning [of the match] pretty well. I didn’t feel like we did well once we had to chase the game.”

Five players from last season’s Group G winning side started for Charlotte. New faces included defenders Kevin Riascos and Christian Dean, midfielders Brandt Bronico, Thomas de Villardi and Marcelo Palomino, as well as striker Irvin Parra. For Dean it was not just the start of the season, but a return from two years in retirement.

He played the full 90 minutes.

“We are really happy to have Christian,” Jeffries said. “He is a really talented player who has been at a good level in MLS and came back. I think all of us who have retired at some point can understand—you miss playing. He was still capable of coming back and doing it. He is a very solid defender, and gives us a really good left footed option playing out of the back. He is very, very comfortable on the ball and can play as a left center back or left back.”

Bronico is another new face for the Independence, though familiar by extension. His collegiate days were spent up the road with the Charlotte 49ers. He returned home after spending 2017-20 with Chicago Fire in December on a deal with MLS expansion side Charlotte FC. Bronico also played the full 90 minutes, conducting Charlotte’s midfield alongside returner Junior Etou.

“He is a solid pro,” Jeffries said. “He and Junior did a good job managing the middle of the field.”

Right back Blake Pope also made his professional debut. The 18-year-old signed an academy contract with the first team. He will play collegiately for the 49ers.

Next up for the Jacks is a trip to Charleston on May 14. Charlotte will have to find results on the road, as their first four matches take place away from home. They play at Pittsburgh and Miami on May 22 and 29 respectively. The home opener is June 5 against Tampa Bay, the first of three matches at the Sportsplex at Matthews. Their debut at the renovated American Legion Memorial Stadium is July 7 against New York Red Bulls II.

 

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