Saturday’s match was ugly, physical, and an absolute grind in typical New York Red Bulls fashion. Charlotte FC, however, weren’t intimidated by MLS’s biggest bullies. They matched their intensity and physicality and if it wasn’t for an individual mistake could have potentially earned all three points on the night.
“I'm very proud of them,” said head coach Christian Lattanzio following the match. “Very proud of them. We played against a team that is renowned for their fighting ability. I remember when I was in New York (New York City FC) it was the same. Really tough games and they’ve kept their identity, but we went toe-to-toe with them from minute one to minute 95.
The highlight of the night was attacker Vinicius Mello’s first ever game for the Club after being signed 467 days before his debut. It was Mello who played a critical part in setting up the tying goal for the Crown as he found Kerwin Vargas with an elegantly floated ball. Injuries were particularly cruel to Mello who spent the last year sidelined because of them. For Mello, this appearance was the culmination of an arduous process that challenged him both physically and mentally.
“It’s very emotional for me because I arrived injured,” said Mello. “I was out for about a year and a half waiting for this moment so when I got on the pitch I was overcome with happiness. Images of all the work I had done for this moment raced through my mind. I felt super happy that I could help the team out with my appearance.”
Lattanzio has witnessed Mello’s journey in Charlotte from the very start.
“It's tough for a young guy coming from a different country, that is learning the language, he's learning the culture, and he can’t play,” said Lattanzio. “He went through tough moments but credit to him and all the lads that supported him. We got him back to where he belongs.
“I think he could be a very, very important player for us, but generally speaking and what is most important is that he has many qualities. It’s great that he came on and he found the pass, but we know that he can find even other passes; another way of playing the ball. He plays with a lot of confidence and belief, because he's conscious of his strengths and ability. I feel delighted for him, really delighted.”
As fans got to experience Mello for the first time, Mello himself got to experience the Charlotte FC fans – a moment he had envisioned since he arrived and credited the fans for helping drive the team until the end.
“I had always imagined this moment while sitting out. To be on the pitch and feel the energy of the fans. It was incredible. They supported us from the beginning to the end and that’s why we were able to push for the draw in the end.”
While the play at times wasn’t the prettiest to watch, what stood out about the Crown this match was their spirit. The passion in which they played with and despite going down, kicking it into the next gear and salvaging a point against a stingy Red Bull defense.
“I say to the boys the most important thing is the team spirit and it's up to us to lift up the players rather than to be lifted by the crowd. The crowd is great, and they always are there for us, but it's our it's our job to make sure that we excite them.
"Team spirit means having everybody on the same wavelength in terms of energy, in terms of body language, I want good body language as well. Good body language gives confidence to us and takes away confidence from the opposition. I think they are responded well, and again, I'm very, very proud of the boys and the way they played.”