Two down, two to go.
On Saturday night, Charlotte FC found themselves in a familiar situation. They desperately needed a victory at Soldier Field against the Chicago Fire to keep their playoff hopes alive, exactly as it was in the 2022 season. Ultimately, The Crown emerged triumphant for a second year in a row, securing all three points for their second consecutive win and bringing them closer to the coveted playoff positions.
Head Coach Christian Lattanzio expressed his satisfaction, saying, "It’s a big win but I think it’s nothing less than what the boys deserve. I think that they played with a lot of maturity, a lot of intensity in defending in open play and defending set pieces, and then played our game. I was very happy with the performance, and as I said, we are growing as a team.”
As anticipated, Charlotte dominated possession while the Fire sought opportunities for counter attacks. Tensions ran high as both teams felt the pressure for a winning result, resulting in a scrappy game that had the intensity of a playoff match. Captain Ashley Westwood opened the scoring with a stunning long-range strike that found the back of the net with a slight deflection, contributing to his team's 2-0 victory.
"We were aware of the expectations for this game,” Westwood said. “It might not have been our best performance, but we showcased a different facet of our game that was necessary.
“We dug deep, put in a solid effort, and secured another clean sheet. The defense was excellent, Kristijan Kahlina performed admirably, and the forwards worked tirelessly. The team spirit we've built is coming to the forefront at a crucial time."
While Ashley Westwood and Karol Swiderski will rightfully receive recognition, Enzo Copetti has epitomized the gritty and resilient side of Charlotte. His relentless presence up front has been a nightmare for opposing teams, even though it hasn't resulted in a goal for himself as of late. He has drawn several penalties for his team during this period.
"Honestly, I'm not that concerned,” said Lattanzio regarding Copetti’s lack of recent goals. “Because strikers, they go through these periods. Periods in which they score, periods in which they don't, but what I like about him is that he contributes to the game a lot.
“He got the penalty for us again today, and he puts pressure on the defenders. Obviously, I would love to see him scoring, because I agree with you, he deserves it through the work that he puts in.”
Charlotte has taken care of business in their recent matches, but they still have two more games ahead. Their playoff berth is on the line, and if they win both games, they could finish in eighth place and secure the right to host the playoff match between the eighth and ninth seeds. There are plenty of positives to draw from in the last two matches that could carry over to their upcoming back-to-back games against Miami, a team already eliminated from playoff contention.
Looking ahead to the two Miami matches, Westwood said, "We take the last two performances into it. We're confident even when people had written us off weeks ago. We knew how well we were playing; we knew what we were doing to teams on the pitch. We knew what we did, and we've stuck to it under difficult circumstances. It just shows the character that we've got now...
"We'll get a little international break now, so we'll get a couple of days off to rest and then we head up to another massive game. That's what we targeted for the last two games, to be within a shout [of the playoff places]."