Game Recaps presented by Wells Fargo
CHARLOTTE, NC (Aug. 31, 2016) — The Charlotte Independence (12-7-6) on Wednesday night defeated FC Cincinnati (13-7-7) in a five-goal thriller at Ramblewood Stadium to clinch their first USL playoff berth. Second-half substitute Jorge Herrera scored the go-ahead goal directly from a long-distance free kick in the 85th minute, while goalkeeper John Berner preserved the win with the Wells Fargo Save of the Game in stoppage time.
“I always think the role on the bench is to analyze and see what I can do if I get the chance to step onto the field and make a difference,” said Herrera. “I saw that today it was a really tight game and one of those where a set piece could be the difference and it was.”
Brian Brown won the Independence a penalty 11 minutes in when he was brought down in the box after holding off his defender long enough for the contact. Enzo Martinez stepped up to take the kick and his initial attempt was saved by Mitch Hildebrandt. But Martinez was first to pounce on the rebound, giving Charlotte a 1-0 lead.
The advantage was short-lived though, as Cincinnati’s Andrew Wiedeman chipped the ball over a charger Berner for the equalizer just four minutes later.
After a spell of play restricted to the midfield, Martinez added his second goal of the match to bring his season tally to nine. The midfielder beat Hildebrandt with a curling effort from nearly 15 yards outside of the box, restoring the Charlotte lead in the 19th minute, an advantage which held to the halftime break.
Charlotte would rue a missed opportunity to double the lead 14 minutes after the restart when Alex Martinez turned his shot from in close wide of the post, as Cincinnati leveled the match seconds later. Sean Okoli got his head on a ball from Wiedeman’s lofted cross across goal, which beat Berner to the bottom corner.
The Independence’s situation was compounded when captain Bilal Duckett picked up two yellow cards three minutes apart, leaving the hosts with 10 men for the final 10 minutes. But the Independence regained their advantage in the 85th minute when Herrera’s free kick grazed a Cincinnati defender’s head and flew into the net.
“It was good character to come back from down a man and manage the game, and from giving away two leads,” said Independence Head Coach Mike Jeffries. “I give so much credit to Jorge. He’s handled a very difficult role with incredible class and style. Every time he comes on the field he steps up the level of the game and brings us a different element and I know it’s not been easy for him, but he’s done it and today is a prime example.”
Despite losing the Queen City Cup to Cincinnati on an away goal tiebreaker (aggregate 4-4), Charlotte secured a playoff berth with five regular-season games remaining. The Independence will be back in action on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Toronto FC II before returning home to face the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday, Sept. 10.
— compiled by Allen Gunn, Charlotte Independence