Charlotte Independence tie 1-1 in Front of Record Crowd at Sportsplex

Rookie Mutaya Mwape celebrates first professional goal with teammates. Fellow rookie Jake Areman #4.

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On a beautiful evening at the Matthews Sportsplex Independence legend Enzo Martinez a midfielder for the Major League Soccer Colorado Rapids was honored prior to the game by the franchise.  Martinez is the Jacks leading goal scorer with 29 goals in 79 games, and a United Soccer League two time MVP finalist.

Joel Johnson passing to Cordell Cato. (Ed Berti)

Meanwhile, the Charleston Battery struck first at 25:00 minutes into the first half.  A goal by Kotaro Higashi inside the box was set-up by a nifty pass from Ataulla Guerra to beat goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra on the play giving the Battery a 1-0 advantage.

Joel Johnson in action. (Ed Berti)

Charleston seemed to maintain ball control and manged the tempo of the game during the first half as the Independence appeared to be sluggish.  However, they played hard and very competitively to keep the game within reach.  This all would pay-off in the second half as the Independence came out applying more pressure on their opponent and took control of time of possession with more crisp passing and fresh legs.  Key substitutions made by Coach Mike Jeffries really would impact the game in a positive way for the Jacks.

Jacks Cordell Cato, Kay Voser, and Eamon Zayed. (Ed Berti)

In the second half the teams inspirational and experienced leader Jorge Herrera entered the game to start the half.  With the long road trip, Coach Jeffries wanted to give the veteran a breather in the first 45 minutes.  He then replaced Cordell Cato with excellent dribbler Mutaya Mwape at 51:36 into the contest.  This move paid off handsomely, at 61:09 Mwape would score for the Jacks to tie the game at 1-1 with 30 minutes remaining, and a huge momentum swing.  This was the rookies first professional goal, “when I saw the goalkeeper was off his line, I just tried to chip the shot over him and it worked,” said Mwape.

Action in front of the Charleston net. (Ed Berti)

The largest crowd in franchise history erupted and the atmosphere was electric which seemed to translate onto the field giving the Jacks a big advantage.  “It was a great atmosphere, said Coach Jeffries.  “It was fantastic to see the upper decks with people in it.  So I think this was great and really helpful because we had a tired group, tired from a long road trip and a tough game against Atlanta.  So seeing the fans out there was a plus to help give us a push.”

Fireworks after the game. (Ed Berti)

With this draw the Independence are now 6-4-4 in fifth place in the USL Eastern Conference with 22 points.  Every point counts as the team continues it’s pursuit of a playoff spot and the elusive first home playoff game in it’s history.  More fan support like last night will certainly help motivate the players and coaches during the dog days of summer and into the fall.

More fireworks enjoyed by the fans. (Ed Berti)

The Independence will be away next Saturday against the Richmond Kickers.  They will return home to the Matthews Sportsplex on 6/27 when the Tampa Bay Rowdies come to town.

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Ed Berti
Ed is retired and remains active as a freelance writer, local journalist and independent contractor. He is engaged in print and electronic media writing stories covering business, sports, hometown news and veteran's affairs including articles of interest to various media outlets. Ed is a graduate of Wagner College where he earned an MBA and holds a BBA from Pace University.
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