CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Make it fourth time’s the charm.
The Charlotte Independence claimed their first postseason victory in club history at the fourth time of asking with a dominant all-around performance as first-half goals by Joel Johnson and Christian Fuchs paved the way to a 3-1 victory against Memphis 901 FC at American Legion Memorial Stadium on Saturday night in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires.
The Independence will either visit Louisville City FC or play host to Miami FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals next weekend as their bid for the first silverware in club history continues.
The hosts settled into the game quickly, switching play to create space centrally. That opened an early opportunity for midfielder Gabriel Obertan in the eighth minute for a powerfully struck shot that hit the left upright from 25 yards and caromed away to safety. A minute later a goal line clearance by Memphis’ Niall Logue denied the hosts as Obertan fired from 12 yards after controlling an attempt to clear across by the defense as 901 FC was forced to try and absorb pressure.
The breakthrough for the Independence in the 10th minute came of Memphis’ own doing, however, as Alan Winn appeared to have done enough to deal with a through-ball intended for Johnson into the right channel, passing the ball back to goalkeeper Cody Cropper. The goalkeeper misplayed an attempt to pass to a teammate, however, and instead delivered the ball straight to Johnson, allowing the Liberian international to deliver the ball first-time into the open net.
Unable to control much possession and the tempo of the game early, Memphis gradually began to gain a foothold after the opening 15 minutes as they looked to make amends for the error. The Independence defense wasn’t seriously challenged by the visitors as they entered the final third, however, and 13 minutes before halftime Charlotte doubled its advantage when off a corner kick from the right, Cropper was unable to clear cleanly which allowed Fuchs to quickly deliver a shot from the right side of the penalty area that just crossed the line before a last-gasp effort to clear.
The hosts almost added a third as the game moved into first-half stoppage time when Obertan threatened again, breaking into the right side of the penalty area onto a through-ball by fellow countryman Sylvan Marveaux only for Cropper to come up with a fine save as he kept himself big coming off his line to narrow the angle.
Held without an official shot in the first half, Memphis produced its first serious attempts soon after the break. In the 48th minute, Logue sent a header off a corner kick wide of the right post, while halftime substitute Michael Salazar also missed the target with a header of his own five minutes later. The threat from the Independence remained clear on the counterattack, though, and Obertan could have set up Dane Kelly for a third midway through the second half only to take an extra touch that allowed the defense to recover and clear.
Kelly then maybe should have scored with 20 minutes to go when Cropper came out of his penalty area to head clear a through-ball intended for Obertan, only to send the ball to Johnson, who tried to lob the goalkeeper quickly but instead sent the ball into the path of Kelly, who remained onside but volleyed wide of the left post. Two minutes later, however, the third goal arrived as Obertan played a pass centrally to Martinez from the left, and after dribbling past one defender the Independence stalwart found Marveaux with a slipped pass that the French midfielder finished into the right corner.
The hosts almost added a fourth with 12 minutes to go as Marveaux slid a pass to his right in the penalty area for Johnson, whose shot beat Cropper but was cleared off the line by Logue, while four minutes later Memphis got on the board as Kyle Murphy latched onto a through-ball into the right side of the penalty area by Mark Segbers and converted with 901 FC’s first shot on goal of the night.
Charlotte had another chance to add to its lead moments later as Irvin Parra was brought down in the penalty area, only for Cropper to deny Martinez from the penalty spot and keep it a two-goal game. Parra himself had a late chance as well that was also saved as the Independence racked up an 18-4 advantage in shots, leaving 901 FC no way back as their breakout season came to a close.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Christian Fuchs, Charlotte Independence – Fuchs was stellar defensively for the hosts to add to his first-half goal, winning 7 of 10 duels and 2 of 2 tackles while recording two interceptions and eight recoveries to lead his side to victory.
CLT – Joel Johnson 10’
CLT – Christian Fuchs 32’
CLT – Sylvain Marveaux (Enzo Martinez) 72’
MEM – Kyle Murphy (Mark Segbers) 82’