First published on IMSoccer News
The USL-Pro Charlotte Eagles continue their run into USOC play with a 2-1 quarterfinal win against the San Antonio Scorpions FC (NASL). The match was locked up at the end of regulation but an extra time penalty was the deciding factor that sees Charlotte advance to take on Chivas USA in the next round.
What FC Dallas slowly learned, the Scorpions quickly realized. Don’t expect the Charlotte Eagles to play like a team from the lower division who is on the road.
The Charlotte Eagles pressed on the gas early and resembled a free flowing offensive minded outfit committed to constantly attacking the opponents goal. In the first 20 minutes, Charlotte created several chances and ended up with seven shots in the first half. Their formation was fluid and resembled a 4-3-3, which switched to a compact formation when on the defensive side of the ball.
“We try to attack, we like to attack, whatever game it is we try to set the tempo and make a statement early and we defend as far as we can, but we’re coming after it,” said head coach Mark Steffens.
But as one would expect, any team who is offensive minded, can be left open to counter attacks and that was certainly the case with Charlotte. In the 16th minute Pablo Campos was released into the box near the byline and centered the ball to a semi-open Esteban Bayona who lazily swung his leg in an attempt to catch Charlotte keeper Irwin Clinton but he was easily in the right place.
Bayona would continue to keep getting involved in the offense at the outset but for all his work, couldn’t find the right connecting pass on several occasions.
Things came to a head for the Eagles when in the 27th minute Charlotte forward Nathan Thornton went on a run from deep within midfield and punished the Scorpions back line for allowing him through unmolested while he powered a 25-yard shot past Scorpions keeper Daryl Sattler. The goal was the first allowed by Sattler in USOC play.
After a few opportunities from the Scorpions, the attack continued for Charlotte and in the 35th minute a corner came in and resulted in a shot on Sattler’s goal who dealt with it but immediately got up and gave his defenders an ear full.
Immediately after on the other end, Pablo Campos was released on the right-hand side of the box from a short pass by Hans Denissen. Campos was patient enough to expertly get round the defender and take a shot toward the opposite side of goal that just rolled into the goalpost and deflected back into the traffic of the oncoming Charlotte defense.
After a yellow on Campos for diving in the box, Bayona was fouled on the left for a free kick. The cross ended up at the head of Campos whose header was saved by Clinton to end the half. The Scorpions were frustrated but they were not defeated and came out immediately in the second with an early shot from Campos once again, on the left side of the box. Campos finished with eight shots on the night and put in a 120 minute performance to score his team’s only goal.
Charlotte never wavered and in the 57th minute Charlotte continued to pester the Scorpions defense and Eagles forward Mauricio Salles broke free from San Antonio defenders and shot low and toward the feet of Sattler who smothered the ball.
Scorpions winger, Walter Ramirez, was putting in an encouraging effort on the left flank and even assumed defensive duties in order to allow Blake Wagner, at left back, to move forward in attack at times.
He wouldn’t finish the match, however, as he was subbed for Javier Saavedra to which he exited the game visibly disappointed. Meanwhile, Hans Denissen was replaced due to injury, and Esteban Bayona was replaced by Fabian Kling, who usually plays as a defender.
Despite the changes, in the 73rd minute, Scorpions midfielder, Jonathan Greenfield, pounced on a misplaced pass and rifled a shot on goal forcing Irwin to save wide. The resulting corner was cleared but ended up at the feet of Javier Saavedra, on the right, who sent the ball to the opposite side where campos leaped over two defenders to just direct the ball toward the ground where it rolled just out of reach of a Charlotte defender to equalize, 1-1.
Just as the Scorpions finished celebrating, Charlotte advanced the ball from their own half at lightning quick speed and shot the ball from a forced turnover in San Antonio’s box almost instantly going ahead if it weren’t for Sattler’s quick reaction save.
The play between Charlotte midfielder Juan Guzman and forwards, Mauricio Salles and Darryl Roberts proved to be dangerous throughout the night for San Antonio.
After that, Wes Knight rescued the ball deep in midfield and raced toward the box with only Campos to his right. Knight sent Campos into the box, and patiently waited for the return pass. When it was given, he was slightly off balance and shot the ball up and over the bar to finish out regulation time.
Both teams came out slow in extra time, until Wagner went on a tear through the Charlotte defense and shepherded the ball into the box and almost completed a glorious run until the last shot was snuffed out by the defense.
From that point, each team traded blows with creative efforts at both ends of the pitch. Charlotte continued playing with quality on every possession and picked out defensive lapses in the waining minutes to get forward with quite impressive passing into the first period of extra time.
The second period started with more of the same on both ends, and players on both teams were expecting to score at any moment. Until a handball penalty was awarded to Charlotte when Scorpions defender, Ryan Cochrane, handled a low flying cross into the box.
Mauricio Salles stepped up and sent Sattler the wrong way to finish an impressive match deep into extra time.
“We had a number of opportunities but we just couldn’t finish them and that ended up being the difference,” said Scorpions head coach Tim Hankinson.
As the ball was sent into the box, it appeared to skip off the ground and strike Cochrane in the hand but the referee was forced to call the penalty.
“When games go late, referees can decide the result and we need to do better in controlling the result. Let the players finish and decide the result, referees should never decide the result [of the match] and I think that he did tonight,” said Hankinson.
The Charlotte Eagles move into the quarterfinals to face MLS side, Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Carson California, Tuesday, June 26th at 7:30 p.m.
“The Home Depot Center will get the guys pumped, it’s a couple of weeks away so we have some time. We’re struggling in the league but I think this will unify our team but we’re excited to play Chivas,” said Charlotte head coach Mark Steffens.