Matthews finally has a pro team of its own, and the Charlotte Independence has a new home in what appears to be a more permanent one than Winthrop or UNC Charlotte. The Independence moved into its new digs at the Sportsplex at Matthews on June 17.
A sellout crowd of 2,648 turned out to watch the Independence (4-3-4) record its first shutout of the season with a 2-0 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders. Forward Jorge Herrera broke the scoreless tie 13 minutes into the game when he scored on a free kick from about 25 yards out. His goal was especially significant due to the fact the Independence has struggled most of the season to score early in games.
“The atmosphere was great, so being able to score first was huge for the team,” Herrera said. “It means a lot. I think it made it a little easier to take pressure off. I think going up 1-0 was really meaningful for the team. We faced a team that tried to play out of the box.”
Charlotte picked up an insurance goal in the second half when midfielder Alex Martinez made an impressive play to score in the game’s 61st minute.
Defensively, goalkeeper Cody Mizell was stellar in goal for Charlotte, while the Independence’s backline provided vital support to deny scoring opportunities and quality shots for Harrisburg.
Independence coach Mike Jeffries wasn’t overly impressed with his team’s performance, but he noticed stretches where it was sharp, moved well and created opportunities. Jeffries acknowledged the shutout was huge for the Independence. It gives his team something to build on moving forward.
Jeffries said it will take time to settle in to the new stadium, but said it felt like home.
“This is lovely,” Jeffries said. “This is fantastic. The guys are so excited. It feels so positive about the whole atmosphere, the Sportsplex, the stadium, the field, everything is such a light year step up for us.”
While the victory at its new home was a special moment for the franchise, it was arguably an even greater milestone for Matthews and the greater Charlotte area.
The moment took a decade to come into fruition. It wasn’t just about the Charlotte Independence, but more importantly, providing Matthews with a state-of-the-art complex that puts the area on the map in terms of being a place more than capable of accommodating major events, games and tournaments.
For Matthews to officially open the stadium with a pro soccer team of its own made it a perfect night for the town, because it gave people something more to identify with and take pride in.
“It has taken years of planning and discussion to make this facility what it looks like today,” Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said. “The partnership between the county and the Town of Matthews’ elected officials over many boards and many years, countless hours of county and town staff working on many details to make this great.
“I’m so proud of all the people that have helped to make this entire Sportsplex a reality, 11 fields and this wonderful stadium, nothing short of first class. We can all take pride in this beautiful complex. It is the community that has provided this world class facility and will continue to be an asset for our region for decades to come not to mention provide positive economic impact to our entire region with 30 to 40 tournaments annually.”