Charlotte FC vs. Birmingham Legion: Who won? Score

Charlotte FCs Karol Swiderski, right, in a 2022 match, led the team to a 3-2 preseason win against Birmingham Legion on Saturday.

Charlotte FCs Karol Swiderski, right, in a 2022 match, led the team to a 3-2 preseason win against Birmingham Legion on Saturday.

On a sunny and cool day, Charlotte FC closed out its preseason exhibition schedule with a 3-2 win against Birmingham Legion of the USL Championship. Originally, the match was a closed door affair that was opened up to 5,000 fans just last Wednesday at the request of head coach Christian Lattanzio.

“I thought it would be a good idea to have the supporters with us,” Lattanzio said. “It makes the atmosphere better. Simple as that. It’s good for the fans to have a glance at the team, how it’s going to be for next season. A view before is always positive for everyone.”

With this the last tune-up before the opener against the New England Revolution on February 25, Saturday’s starting lineup was most likely close to what Charlotte fans will see next Saturday.

Pablo Sisniega started in goal with Nathan Byrnes, Derrick Jones, Adilson Malanda, and Harrison Afful in front of him. The midfield included Kamil Jozwiak on the left with Ashley Westwood and Brandt Bronico in the middle, and McKinze Gaines on the right flank. Enzo Copetti and Karol Swiderski were the starting forwards with Swiderski again taking a deeper role.

Clad in the traditional blue and white home stripe, Charlotte pressed from the start and the ball spent most of the half on the west end of the pitch. Sisniega was called on to make two saves, neither threatening. In all fairness, the Legion is only two weeks into the preseason training and still sorting out the roster and tactics.

The Polish pair of Swiderski and Jozwiak put the Crown up 1-0 in the 11th minute. Swiderski, who played for his country in the FIFA World Cup last year, took a throw-in from Byrnes on the right and crossed to Jozwiak, who headed the ball in at the far post.

Taken down in the 26th minute, Swiderski earned a penalty kick that he slotted to the goalkeeper’s right to double the lead.

That grew to 3-nil in the 34th minute when Westwood’s free kick from about 35 yards out on the left was met by the head of Copetti, a sight that Lattanzio would like to see often this season.

“We know Ashley is great,” Lattanzio said. “He was one of the strongest players in the Premier League in this kind of assist so I don’t see why he shouldn’t do it here.”

However, the coach cautions patience: “We have to keep in mind that they have played together two games, three games, not more than that.”

Neither of Birmingham’s two former University of North Carolina players, Mikey Lopez or Enzo Martinez, played due to injury. Martinez was a mainstay on the 2021 Charlotte Independence side that featured CLTFC players Bronico, Adam Armour, and current assistant coach Christian Fuchs.

Birmingham drew one back on the last kick of the first half when former MLS and U.S. men’s national team player Juan Agudelo volleyed a cross from the left inside the far post. While giving up a goal like that would infuriate most coaches, Lattanzio saw it as a teaching moment.

“I was grateful to concede because it is a lesson we still need to instill in ourselves,” the coach said.

Developing a killer instinct that eschews complacency is something Lattanzio will be discussing with his team this week.

“The first half the boys played really well and created many chances,” he said. “We scored three but could have had many more.”

Charlotte’s dominance worked against that. “As a team, we learned that we have to keep our focus for 90-plus minutes because after 3-nil, we played really soft the last five minutes (of the first half),” Lattanzio said.

Second-half subs included Jaylin Lindsey, who began the half in place of Byrne. Nelson Vargas, Jan Sobocinski and Joseph Mora came on for Gaines, Malanda, and Afful in the 61st minute.

Charlotte’s defense was playing a high line and was beaten on a through ball in the 71st minute that set Diba Nwegbo, a player not yet signed by the Legion, in on goal from straight out where he shot past Sisniega to make the score 3-2.

Charlotte then subbed Andre Shinyashiki, Ben Bender, and Nuno Santos for Swiderski, Bronico, and Jozwiak in the 76th minute.

More chances came – Bender’s 79th-minute header off a Lindsey cross and Copetti’s from Shinyashiki in the 82nd were the closest – but nothing found the net.

“In the second half, I felt we had chances to score another one, maybe two or three,” Lattanzio said. “But we don’t have this belief that we can score five, six, seven, when of course, we can. The result doesn’t worry me because it’s a win. The boys won but we should have scored a lot more than that.”

Tobacco Road connections

Along with the two former UNC players, Birmingham has another Tobacco Road connection in the Legion’s president and general manager Jay Heaps. Heaps won the Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top soccer player his senior season at Duke in 1998.

Also a bench player on the Blue Devils’ basketball team from 1996-99, Heaps went on to become the MLS rookie of the year in 1999 for the Miami Fusion. He later moved on to the New England Revolution, where he played before becoming the team’s head coach from 2011 to 2017. He joined Birmingham in 2018.

Coincidentally, Darrius Barnes, the president of Charlotte’s MLS Next Pro team, the Crown Legacy, also played at Duke before also playing for the Revs.

Another 70k day?

Charlotte FC president Joe LaBue said that ticket sales for the opener are at about 60,000. Another sellout could be possible. The Crown set an MLS record in last year’s home opener against the LA Galaxy with 74,479 at Bank of America Stadium and became the buzz not only in the Queen City but around the soccer world.

The captain

Wearing the captain’s armband for the match was Westwood. When asked if he will maintain that leadership role for the opener, Lattanzio responded, “I think it will be Ashley. I think he has been captain at big clubs, at Burnley, in the biggest league in the world. He gives us this kind of calmness, this kind of experience, and the kind of communication that is needed in the team.”

Christian Fuchs, who came to Charlotte from Leicester, the 2015 EPL Champions, provided that same leadership last season. After retiring, Fuchs is now an assistant coach with the team.

Central casting

With Guzman Corujo still recuperating from an ACL injury, sporting director Zoran Krneta has been diligently searching to bolster the central defense, which led to the acquisition of Bill Tuiloma from the Portland Timbers this past week in exchange for $800,000 in General Allocation Money ($500,000 in 2023 and $300,000 in 2024).

Lattanzio says that the New Zealand national team player has been in preseason training with the Timbers and could feature in the opener. He joined Portland from French Ligue One side Marseille in 2017 and has made 117 appearances in MLS. In 2022, he also scored six goals with three assists in 30 games.

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