Lineup: Kahlina, Byrne, Malanda, Privett, Uronen, Westwood, Bronico, Świderski , Jozwiak, Vargas, Copetti
On MLS Decision Day, with a playoff spot on the line, Charlotte FC faced off against Lionel Messi's Inter Miami and the stage was set for an unforgettable night in the regular season finale. Charlotte initially displayed some nerves and uncertainty given the high stakes, making a shaky start. However, they quickly settled into the game. Both teams were eager to establish control and took turns holding possession without truly posing a significant threat.
It was the home team that eventually seized the first clear-cut opportunity and made the most of it. Charlotte managed to exploit a gap in Miami's relentless press when they won the ball in their opponent's half in transition. The ball eventually found its way to Kamil Jóźwiak in the wide right channel, who then located Kerwin Vargas on the opposite side of the box Miami's penalty box. Vargas cleverly deceived the defense with a feigned first-time shot, smoothly switching to his left foot, and struck across the goalkeeper netting Charlotte the lead just 13 minutes into the match.
Notably, Adilson Malanda and Ashley Westwood received yellow cards within the first 25 minutes, which forced them to adopt a more cautious approach for the rest of the game. The match proceeded in a somewhat sluggish manner, returning to a tug-of-war for control, with neither team managing to establish a consistent rhythm – being a major culprit in disrupting the flow of the match, as both teams played physical.
Lineup: Kahlina, Byrne, Malanda, Privett, Uronen, Westwood, Bronico, Świderski (75'), Jozwiak (67'), Vargas (67'), Copetti (89')
Substitutes: Dejaegere (67'), Meram (67'), Arfield (75'), Jones (89')
Charlotte commenced the second half with confidence, displaying quick combinations and a touch of swagger in their style of play. Their dynamic play almost led to a prime opportunity to extend their lead shortly after the half, but Copetti's lofted cross to Vargas lacked the necessary power.
In response, Miami launched a counterattack of their own, with Messi finding himself in a clear position against the goalkeeper, attempting a chip that was ruled offside. However, Messi was given another chance from a free kick in the 62nd minute, just outside the right side of the penalty box. He struck the ball with venom, but a Charlotte defender managed to get a slight touch on it, diverting it as it kissed off the crossbar. Two minutes later, Messi had another opportunity to showcase his signature free-kick prowess, but to Charlotte's relief, it was blocked by their defensive wall.
Charlotte decided to inject fresh energy into the game in the 67th minute by introducing Brecht Dejaegere and Justin Meram, who replaced goalscorer Kerwin Vargas and winger Kamil Jóźwiak. This change made an immediate impact, as just moments later, Charlotte found themselves in a golden position to double their lead. They capitalized on a turnover generated by their high-pressing strategy deep within Miami's territory. Enzo Copetti gathered the loose ball and played it into Bronico's charging run into Miami's penalty area. Bronico spotted Świderski on his right, with plenty of space, and attempted to pass the ball to him. However, Świderski overthought the decision and was swiftly closed down by Miami's goalkeeper, who denied the opportunity.
From that point onward, The Crown dominated the game, applying relentless pressure on Miami, refusing to concede an inch to their struggling opponents. Every touch by Miami players was fiercely contested, clearly indicating that Charlotte was determined not to yield any ground easily.
In the 90th minute, it seemed as if Miami was on the verge of equalizing with a header, but once again, Kristijan Kahlina stepped up for his team with an acrobatic fingertip save, preserving Charlotte's lead. Following this chance, two corners were awarded, and during the ensuing chaos in the box from the second corner, a Miami player had what seemed an open net to score on. However, a heroic sliding effort by Scott Arfield blocked the the shot, helping secure a historic victory for Charlotte FC.
With the assistance of results from other matches, The Crown's tireless efforts over the full 90 minutes paid off as they clinched a playoff spot for the first time in their history.