Charlotte FC was looking for a win away at Miami to take a critical three points in the playoff chase with their game in hand. Despite goals from Enzo Copetti and Kerwin Vargas, The Crown were unable to hold on to the victory late on.
The draw does not sink CLTFC playoff chances, though. A win at home on Decision Day, coupled by losses or draws from two teams above them, would put the team into the Wild Card match.
Lineup: Kahlina, Lindsey, Malanda, Privett, Byrne, Westwood, Bronico, Dejaegere, Jozwiak, Vargas, Copetti
The first half started inauspiciously for Charlotte FC. Adilson Malanda had a few turnovers in the opening 15 minutes that the team was lucky not to pay for. Fortunately, the back line – Malanda included – emergency defended well to avert the danger.
After riding that initial wave of Inter Miami pressure, it seemed CLTFC would have the opening goal. Good interplay between Kamil Jozwiak and Jaylin Lindsey gave the Polish winger a chance to get behind the left back. His cross was blocked by a sliding Kamal Miller inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot for a handball.
However, after a video review, the penalty kick was waved off. Replays appeared to show the ball come off Miller’s left hand, which was tucked into his chest, rather than his outstretched right arm.
Shortly after, Enzo Copetti earned a free kick in a dangerous position after Ashley Westwood played him in with a clever scoop. Westwood, though, curled the ensuing free kick over the bar.
In the 27th minute, Diego Gomez missed the best chance of the half up to that point for Inter Miami. Facundo Farias squared the ball across the box and Leonardo Campana dummied it past Malanda, setting up Gomez with a free look just inside the box. Luckily for The Crown, he passed it wide of Kristijan Kahlina’s post.
Copetti then opened the scoring in the 45th minute with a wonderfully worked goal. Westwood took a quick free kick that Copetti nodded back to Brandt Bronico, whose one-time pass found Kerwin Vargas. The Colombian confidently sent Deandre Yedlin the wrong way and whipped in a great cross. Copetti rose and flicked his header far post, and Drake Callender was only able to push the ball off the post and in.
However, the lead lasted only a few minutes. In the sixth of six minutes of stoppage time, Miami recycled a ball wide right. The cross took a deflection off Westwood on the way in and evaded Andrew Privett on the front post, allowing Nicolas Stefanelli to tap it in on the back post and send the sides to the locker room knotted at ones.
Lineup: Kahlina, Lindsey, Malanda, Privett, Byrne, Westwood, Bronico, Dejaegere (64’), Jozwiak (76’), Vargas (Meram 64’), Copetti
Substitutions: Meram (64’), Swiderski (64’), Arfield (76’)
After conceding that late first half goal, Charlotte FC came out firing with three good chances in the opening three minutes of the second half. Vargas had two good looks at goal on his right foot but couldn’t find the back of the net, and Brecht Dejaegere intercepted a Miller pass on top of the box but fired his shot tamely at Callender in the end.
CLTFC got their reward in the 53rd minute through Vargas. Jozwiak broke in behind on the right side and squared a hard cross on the ground across the box past Copetti. Vargas arrived on the far post and curled his effort past Callender to give Charlotte the lead.
Miami struck back with a vengeance with one good chance and one great chance over the next five minutes. Kahlina made a strong left-handed save on the first one, but he then outdid himself on the second. Noah Allen was on a free 1v1 breakaway, but Kahlina patiently closed down the angle and made an exceptional save with his left foot to preserve the lead.
The Herons found the back of the net on another breakaway soon after, but it was immediately called off for offside.
Both sides made changes with around a half hour to go. Jordi Alba and Jean Mota came in for Miami, and Justin Meram and Karol Swiderski entered for The Crown.
Swiderski, who just played for Poland on Sunday and so wasn’t able to start the match, made his presence felt quickly. His best early chance came from a one-two with Copetti, but his shot from distance was palmed over the crossbar by Callender.
Scott Arfield checked in for Jozwiak in the 76th minute, taking over the attacking midfield role. This shifted Swiderski to a more pinched in winger role, with Lindsey providing the width on the right side.
Unfortunately, CLTFC couldn’t hold on to the lead the whole way. Robbie Robinson equalized matters in the 84th minute, ghosting in between Malanda and Lindsey to tap in a well-delivered cross past a helpless Kahlina.
Kahlina rescued the draw in stoppage time, though. Charlotte had numbers pushed forward to press for a winner and got caught in transition. Robinson cut inside the box and fired in a deflected shot that the Croatian pushed wide with a sharp right hand.
Ultimately, the draw does help CLTFC have a few more positive scenarios going into Saturday’s final match. While the Club no longer controls its own destiny, the team can find itself in the playoffs with a win at home and a few results going their way elsewhere in the Eastern Conference.