MATHEWS, N.C. – The Charlotte Independence’s Valentin Sabella powered home a highlight-reel finish to cap a 3-2 victory against Hartford Athletic on Sunday night at the Sportsplex at Matthews that saw the hosts rally twice to level before bringing Hartford’s undefeated start to the 2021 season to an end.
The game opened evenly in terms of possession, but Hartford created the early chances including a shot by Bradford Jamieson IV in the ninth minute that flew high after a good piece of control on the left by Richie Schlentz that took him past his marker to lay off a pass for the former LA Galaxy forward. The Independence’s first chance came a couple of minutes later as a quick upfield move got the ball to Marcelo Palomino, but his shot took a pair of deflections on the way to a comfortable save for Athletic goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell.
The Independence got a big chance to take the lead in the 19th minute as Clay Dimick was brought down in the right side of the penalty area, but for a second consecutive outing Irvin Parra was denied from the penalty spot as Caldwell saved and held his low shot to the left corner to keep the game scoreless. The chance seemed to bring the hosts further into the game, and Palomino took another shot from distance five minutes before the halftime break that was claimed by Caldwell, but the game went to the halftime break scoreless.
Hartford grabbed the lead five minutes into the second half, however, as a ball over the top by Conor McGlynn into the left flank found Preston Tabort Etaka, who controlled and delivered a low pass to the top of the penalty area that found Danny Barrera. The playmaker opened up with his first touch and fired a quick, low shot that caromed in off the right post for his fourth goal of the season.
Brought on as a halftime substitute for Parra, Dane Kelly almost pulled the hosts level in the 67th minute as he stretched to head a deflected cross from the right by Clay Dimick on target, forcing a sharp save by Caldwell. Charlotte threatened again as Noah Paravicini put a strong header on target off a corner from the left by Palomino that Caldwell parried aside, but with 17 minutes to go, though, Kelly struck for his first goal of the season and the 89th of his glittering career, letting possession run through his legs to beat a first defender before cutting centrally onto his left foot for a low shot to the bottom-right corner.
As quickly as Charlotte leveled, the Athletic responded as just a minute later Preston Tabort Etaka regained possession after challenging for a long ball upfield and delivered a beautiful, curled finish into the right corner of the net to add to his earlier assist. The Independence hit back again in the 80th minute, though, as Caldwell came but was unable to gather a corner kick from the right, allowing the ball to fall for Palomino to shoot through a crowd of players and into the back of the net.
The Independence then took their first lead of the night with seven minutes to go as a sweeping crossfield pass from Tresor Mbuyu found Sabella in space near the top-right corner of the penalty area. The 21-year-old cut in onto his left foot and rifled a shot into the top-left corner of the net for his first goal since returning from a loan spell in Mexico, and that proved enough to see the hosts home for all three points at the end of a thrilling end to the contest.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Jake Areman, Charlotte Independence – Areman notched an assist on Dane Kelly’s goal and was excellent in midfield throughout, completing 52 of 60 passes and 6 of 6 dribbles while winning 9 of 11 duels for the hosts.
HFD – Danny Barrera (Preston Tabort Etaka) 50’
CLT – Dane Kelly (Jake Areman) 73’
HFD – Preston Tabort Etaka 74’
CLT – Marcelo Palomino 80’
CLT – Valentin Sabella (Tresor Mbuyu) 83’