The Charlotte Independence are riding a four-game winning streak, and have climbed from eighth in the USL’s Eastern Conference standings all the way to third in less than a week. It is one of the league’s hottest teams. Most recently, Charlotte celebrated the Fourth of July with a decisive 3-1, road win against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
The fireworks came when midfielder Enzo Martinez scored in the 40th minute and again when forward Jorge Herrera added goals in the 62nd minute and 79th minute. The Independence (7-3-4) fell just short of pitching a shutout when it allowed a goal in extra time.
Charlotte’s win over Pittsburgh was preceded by a much needed 2-1 win over Rochester Saturday, July 1.
The game had a 7 p.m. start time, but lightning delayed the kickoff till 9:30 p.m. and forced another hour and a half delay during halftime. However, the Independence did most of its damage in the first half when midfielder David Estrada scored two goals to push his team past the Rhinos.
It was another key confidence builder for the Independence, because Rochester has been a difficult obstacle for it to overcome in the past. The Rhinos beat the Independence 4-0 April 29 in the first meeting of the season between the two teams and eliminated Charlotte from the playoffs in 2016 with a 3-1 defeat.
Estrada told one of Rochester’s players before Saturday’s game to be ready to run. He wasn’t kidding. Charlotte set the pace at a fast tempo from the beginning and didn’t let up until the elongated halftime delay.
The Independence, which is doing a much better job of scoring early in games than it was for about the first month and a half of the season, didn’t waste time to strike first in the 12th minute. Herrera made a run on the outside, which created space for midfielder Alex Martinez to play a perfect through ball that caught the Rochester defenders flatfooted. Estrada then chipped it past the goalkeeper with his left foot for the score.
His second goal came when Herrera again made a run on the outside. Midfielder Enzo Martinez missed his shot, but Estrada was there for the rebound and tapped it in.
Independence coach Mike Jeffries said Estrada’s movement has been good for a while. He added it was nice to see Estrada get rewarded with those goals for the runs he took.
Herrera, Estrada, Alex Martinez and Enzo Martinez enable Charlotte to put pressure on opposing defenses.
“We are interchangeable,” Estrada said. “I think that’s what makes us dangerous.”
Estrada believes Charlotte’s greatest progress has come with the way he and his teammates move off the ball, which gives options for the midfielders.
“We’re on a roll,” Estrada said. “This team is confident. We can compete. I believe we can beat any team in this league.”
Jeffries added his team’s ability to move the ball and create has improved the last month and a half, which has been one of the greatest factors in producing successful results on the field.
“We came out really well,” Jeffries said. “I thought the first 25 minutes we were really sharp on the ball, our possession, our movement and our ability to create chances had them running all over the place for those first 25 minutes.”
The delay at halftime made things difficult for Charlotte, because it stopped its momentum and flow offensively. Rochester threatened to tie the game in the second half, but Charlotte goalkeeper Cody Mizell made some critical saves to stave off the Rhinos.
“The game was a little slow for us,” Jeffries said. “I didn’t think we played as quickly as we should have and weren’t as sharp (in the second half).”
“Cody was fantastic again. I also felt we had a couple of chances to get the game to 3-0 and we didn’t do well enough with them. That was a chance to bury the game. Those are things we got to be a little better with.”
The Independence returns to Matthews Saturday, July 8 for a 7 p.m. tilt with Saint Louis FC (4-6-4). Charlotte won its first meeting with Saint Louis FC 2-1 April 22.
The Independence had what appeared to be another large turnout Saturday, July 1, but the long weather delays largely lessened the crowd to only a faithful few when play resumed. Charlotte is offering a voucher deal for anyone who had tickets to that game to call the franchise’s office to get a free ticket to any other home game for the rest of the season.