The Independence won 5-4 in a penalty shootout
OMAHA, N.E. (October 28, 2023) – The Charlotte Independence advanced to the 2023 USL League One Championship with a victory over Union Omaha in penalty kicks on Saturday night. The match was scoreless through 120 minutes of regulation and extra time. The Jacks won the shootout 5-4, scoring all five penalty kicks taken. The Independence await their opponent and match details for the final.
After a lengthy, physical battle, Head Coach Mike Jeffries spoke highly of the effort shown by his players to emerge victorious. “The intensity level, concentration, and work rate throughout the game was great. We did a good job of keeping shape and not allowing it to be a crazy game despite the tired legs. Some of our guys ran into a brick wall with how hard they ran and what they put into the game. It’s great to win and advance to the final.”
Omaha started the match on the attack through multiple set pieces in the Charlotte defensive end. The first major opportunity for the Independence on offense came in the 15th minute as #56 Gabriel Obertan flicked the ball on to #27 Bachir Ndiaye, but his cross landed out of reach for #90 Khori Bennett on the back post.
On the other end, #1 Austin Pack slid out to stop a breakaway in the 16th minute. A long goal kick by Pack in the 26th minute sent #11 Tresor Mbuyu on a break towards goal. Goalkeeper #24 Rashid Nuhu’s ensuing punt was intercepted by Bennett, but his shot sailed high of the goal.
Pack made a huge save in the 28th minute, swatting away a close attempt on goal following a corner. He managed to keep the ball out of the net while falling backwards into the goal.
“We did a great job on set pieces,” Jeffries added. “They have been very effective on set pieces throughout the season. We had to deal with a lot of corners and dead balls, but the guys did a great job. When it did break down, Austin made the plays so credit to him.”
The Jacks ramped up the pressure towards the end of the first half. A corner kick in the 39th minute created a dangerous chance on the back post, but Mbuyu’s shot was saved by Nuhu.
Halftime: Union Omaha 0, Charlotte Independence 0.
The Independence notched an impressive series of team saves in the 56th minute including a header off the goalline by #8 Joel Johnson and a sliding block by Ndiaye.
Johnson had a clear look at goal in the 72nd minute from outside the penalty area, but Nuhu secured the save. Obertan launched a long-distance shot of his own in the 79th minute, also saved.
Charlotte thought a breakthrough was found in the 81st minute as #6 Omar Ciss was unmarked on the back post receiving a cross, but Ciss was ruled offside.
The Jacks continued on the attack through the end of regulation, but 90 minutes was not enough to decide the winner of this contest.
End of regulation: Union Omaha 0, Charlotte Independence 0.
In the 97th minute, Obertan sent a cross to the far post finding the head of Bennett. His header deflected to Ciss whose shot was saved out of bounds for a corner kick.
After Omaha earned a free kick just outside the penalty area in the 101st minute, Pack recorded a pair of saves on the shot and subsequent rebound attempt.
The first 15 minute period of extra time finished scoreless, leaving 15 minutes left to play before the match would be settled in penalty kicks.
Ciss sent a dangerous cross into the penalty area in the 113th minute which tailed towards goal but went slightly wide. As the final minutes of extra time approached, Charlotte sent numerous long balls into the offensive half. Neither team found the back of the net in 120 minutes, sending the match to a penalty shootout.
End of extra time: Union Omaha 0, Charlotte Independence 0.
“The whole team fought hard for 120 minutes,” Pack commented. “Getting to this stage and playing in the final is a great achievement for us.”
Johnson took the first penalty kick for Charlotte and drilled it into the top left corner. #10 Steevan Dos Santos missed the second kick for Omaha, allowing the Independence to take the lead with #3 Hector Acosta’s kick. Bennett gave the Jacks a 3-2 edge with his shot, despite Nuhu getting his fingertips on it. #14 Luis Alvarez fired his shot into the bottom left corner, setting a 4-3 advantage for the Jacks. With the winning kick, #4 Nick Spielman earned the Independence a spot in the USL League One Championship.
“It was an unreal moment,” Spielman shared. “We all work so hard our whole careers for these moments and to convert makes it even more special.”
Full time: Union Omaha 0 (4), Charlotte Independence 1 (5).
NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE: The Charlotte Independence will play in the USL League One Championship next weekend. The details will be available soon.