Charlotte FC clinched playoff spot with win over Inter Miami behind Vargas goal and Kahlina late heroics in front of over 66,000 fans
CHARLOTTE, NC (Monday, October 23, 2023) – Charlotte FC goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina earned a spot on the MLS Team of the Matchday, and forward Kerwin Vargas was named to the bench.
Vargas scored the match-winner over Inter Miami in the 13th minute and Kahlina came up with multiple clutch saves to preserve the result late in the game. Earlier this week, Vargas scored one and assisted another in the 2-2 away draw with Miami.
The win at Bank of America Stadium clinched Charlotte FC’s first-ever playoff spot in the Club’s second season. Now, the team travels to the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, October 25 for the Wild Card playoff match between the 8 and 9 seeds. The winner will match up against FC Cincinnati in the Round One Best-of-3 series, guaranteeing a home playoff match in the second game of the three-game series.
Needing a victory at home over an Inter Miami team featuring Lionel Messi from the start for the full 90 minutes, Charlotte FC got off to the best possible start. Kamil Jozwiak drove down the right side and picked up the second ball from his blocked cross. He squared it across the box, past Ashley Westwood and into Vargas’s feet.
The Colombian winger shifted it onto his left foot and powered it past the Miami keeper, helped by a small deflection off Deandre Yedlin, cueing up his trademark backflip celebration.
Vargas also had a stellar game in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw away at Miami. He delivered an inch-perfect cross for Enzo Copetti’s opening goal and scored the second off another assist from Jozwiak.
Charlotte FC went back and forth with Miami in Saturday’s game after the opening goal. However, as time wound down, Miami poured on the pressure and forced Kristijan Kahlina to put in arguably his best performance of the season.
First, the Croatian saved a dangerous Messi free kick in the 62nd minute, pushing the Argentine’s shot off the crossbar. Then, as the match ticked over into stoppage time, Kahlina delivered his best save of the season.
Jordi Alba broke into space on the left side and delivered a great cross to Leonardo Campana, who had snuck between the Crown’s center backs. His flicked header was destined for the far corner, but Kahlina got his fingertips to it and pushed it just wide of the post. It was undoubtedly a match-winning and season-defining save.
On the resulting corner kick, Messi attempted to score an “olimpico” straight from the corner. Kahlina was able to scramble across to his near post for another top-class foot save, preserving the 1-0 victory.
With losses from CF Montreal and Chicago Fire FC, the win clinched a first-ever playoff spot for Charlotte FC. The New York Red Bulls’ penalty goal deep into stoppage time vaulted them past CLTFC into eighth place, giving them hosting rights for the Wild Card match.
For the full MLS Team of the Matchday, please see below:
F: Bernard Kamungo (DAL), Duncan McGuire (ORL), Johnny Russell (SKC)
M: Cristian Espinoza (SJ), Darlington Nagbe (CLB), Diego Luna (RSL), Richie Laryea (VAN)
D: John Tolkin (RBNY), Jackson Ragen (SEA), Griffin Dorsey (HOU)
GK: Kristijan Kahlina (CLT)
Coach: Troy Lesesne (RBNY)
Bench: Carlos Coronel (RBNY), Steven Moreira (CLB), Álvaro Barreal (CIN), Coco Carrasquilla (HOU), Kerwin Vargas (CLT), Dániel Sallói (SKC), Julián Fernández (NYC), Giorgos Giakoumakis (ATL), Gustavo Bou (NE)