This was the first league final appearance in club history
CARY, N.C. (November 5, 2023) – The Charlotte Independence fell just short in the 2023 USL League One Final after North Carolina FC won in penalty kicks, 2-1 (5-4). The Independence posted a historic season, reaching the first league final in club history.
After the match, Head Coach Mike Jeffries shared his thoughts on the match. “I’m just gutted for the guys. They put everything into the game, and you know, the little plays didn’t quite bounce our way. I’m so proud of the guys. We showed up, and I thought we played an exceptionally strong game. We probably had chances to win it, but unfortunately we couldn’t close it out, and that’s a little disappointing and frustrating. I think the hard part will be to deal with it.”
The first half was fairly even with much of the play in the center of the pitch. The Jacks’ offense primarily flowed down the sides of the field looking for crosses.
In the 29th minute, a corner kick opened up two dangerous chances for the Independence as the punch by goalkeeper #31 Brooks Thompson landed near #56 Gabriel Obertan. His shot deflected towards #27 Bachir Ndiaye whose shot was blocked.
As the Independence continued attacking, a shot by #10 Miguel Ibarra was deflected in the air, but Thompson made the save despite this.
Halftime: North Carolina FC 0, Charlotte Independence 0.
Both teams came out with increased energy for the second half. In the 47th minute, #13 Louis Pérez launched a powerful shot from outside the penalty area which #1 Austin Pack secured.
The Jacks earned a free kick outside the penalty area in the 52nd minute which resulted in a couple corner kicks. On the other end of the field, Pack made another important save after a close-range shot by NCFC in the 54th minute.
Much of the pressure for Charlotte in the second half started with Obertan’s distribution through the middle of the field. The Jacks held possession around the NCFC penalty area with excellent ball movement halfway through the second period.
#3 Hector Acosta showed his defensive prowess in the 79th minute, tracking back to catch the opposition on a counter attack and shield the ball out of bounds for a goal kick.
Moments before regulation ended, NCFC’s Perez hit a threatening shot low and hard, but it landed just outside the right post.
End of regulation: North Carolina FC 0, Charlotte Independence 0.
The first major opportunity for the Independence in extra time came in the 98th minute as a shot from Obertan deflected into the path of #9 Dane Kelly, but Kelly’s shot was deflected out for a corner.
Charlotte earned a series of three corner kicks, and the third one did the trick. #14 Luis Alvarez’s kick sailed into the center of the six-yard box, and Acosta sent a targeted header into the back of the net to give the Independence the lead in the 99th minute.
The Jacks concluded the first extra time period with a vital catch by Pack on a contested corner kick.
In the 111th minute, North Carolina FC equalized with a shot by #44 Raheem Sommersall following a free kick. The shot bounced off the crossbar into Pack’s back and in the goal.
As extra time was waning, Kelly sprinted on a breakaway, chasing a long ball from the defense, but Thompson slid out to make the save in the 119th minute.
End of extra time: North Carolina FC 1, Charlotte Independence 1.
For the second time in the playoffs, the Jacks entered a penalty shootout to determine the winner. Kelly opened the shootout with a confident goal. Next up, #8 Joel Johnson’s shot was tipped off the crossbar and out. Acosta, Alvarez, and #4 Nick Spielman all scored their kicks, but it was not enough as the hosts scored all five to win 5-4 in the shootout.
“We talked about it before the game,” Jeffries explained. “You are developing as the season goes on, you take the lessons from the season and it all shows up, and I thought it really did tonight. I thought we did so many things well once the game settled. From day one, the guys believed in themselves and had confidence in themselves and thought we would be a championship team, and they certainly showed it and played at the level of a championship team today.”
Full time: North Carolina FC 2 (5), Charlotte Independence 1 (4).