Depleted Charlotte FC hangs tough but falls 2-1 in Montreal
Ten players unavailable due to health and safety protocol
By Steve Goldberg
It’s been hard enough for Charlotte FC on the road this season with two points from eight matches away from the Queen’s Castle. It couldn’t get worse, right?
When the starting lineup for Charlotte FC was announced in the hours leading up to kickoff, it was also learned that five primary starters, including goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina who had played every MLS minute so far this season, were in the league’s health and safety protocol and unavailable to play. In total, ten players were in the protocol and another, Alan Franco was out as he is reported to be in transfer to Argentine club CA Talleres.
Key players missing included rookie sensation Ben Bender, scoring threat Andre Shinyashiki, Titi Ortiz, McKinze Gaines, Sergio Ruiz, Kamil Jozwiak. Also out were Kerwin Vargas, Yordy Reyna, and Jan Sobocinski.
Starting their first regular season MLS match were goalkeeper George Marks, who had been Kahlina’s backup and defender turned midfielder Koa Santos, who has been playing on loan with the Charlotte Independence. Both had started previously in U.S. Open Cup matches for the Crown.
Bad went to worse early into the match when Montreal’s Romell Quioto shot from six yards out on the right went under Guzman Corujo’s foot and beat George Marks inside the far post.
But it got better three minutes later when Anton Walkes cross, after a Charlotte free kick was parried out, found Corujo in front of the Montreal goal where he redirected the ball into the net.
Charlotte didn’t threaten again in the half but played well enough to close out the first 45 minutes at 1-1.
Less than two minutes into the second half, Lattanzio said that his team had been overloading on it’s left side where they were pressuring Montreal deep in their own end, working to win the ball there to it’s
advantage. “We should have been stronger in that situation and not let the ball come out in that way. We knew it could create a problem.”
Montreal was able to escape the pressure at midfield, swinging the ball across to substitute Mathieu Choinière with a clear path into the box with the ball at his feet. Charlotte defenders got back but when no one closed him down, Choinière blasted the ball inside the far post for a 2-1 lead.
“I thought the boys did well,” said Charlotte coach Christian Lattanzio. “I think we had the chance to play our game a little bit more. If we didn’t, it’s my fault. My fault in the sense that I wasn’t clear enough with the players how we needed to play. At times, we went too direct and I thought there was room to play a little bit more with the ball, to advance together and be higher on the pitch. It’s one of those games where we could have come out with a point.”
Given the circumstances and the way Charlotte gave up goals early in each half, their resilience and ability to stay in the match until the end was impressive.
Called up from his loan to the Charlotte Independence, former Clemson star Quinn McNeill came on for Derrick Jones in the 68th minute, the third player to debut along with Marks and Santos.
McNeill, who has been an impact player for the Independence, showed similar promise in his Montreal minutes, finding space in central midfield and becoming a linchpin for the offense.
Marks feels his Clemson teammate – they won the 2021 NCAA College Cup together – is ready to play at the MLS level. “Absolutely. I probably know better than anyone because I played with Quinn for a few years. I wasn’t surprised at all when he came on and I wasn’t surprised at all when he changed the game. He’s fantastic. He’s quick. He’s athletic. He’s technical. All you can ask for.”
As for his own play, Marks said that the opportunity he had to play in the first two of Charlotte’s three U.S. Open Cup matches had paved the way for this first MLS regular season start. He learned two days earlier that he was likely to be between the posts as Kahlina was ruled out.
“We don’t actually get the starting lineup until the day of the game,” said the Raleigh native. “Every day I train the same way so I didn’t have to do much different today. There’s just a little bit that changes when you know you’re going to be the guy. My process was the same. I felt confident.”
One good note was Christian Fuchs, who had missed the previous two matches with a thigh injury, getting back on the pitch, replacing Santos in the 57th minute.
Another was Chris Hegardt, who saw his first minutes since the home opener against Los Angeles on March 5. After coming on as a sub in the first two matches, he had suffered a meniscus injury in training that required surgery in late March.
As for who will be available for Thursday’s home match against Austin FC, Lattanzio said that is something that will be monitored day-to-day but that he expects to have several players back.