Full Time: Charlotte FC Loses High-Scoring Match in First-Ever Playoff Appearance | 2023 MLS Cup Wild Card

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Charlotte FC scored two goals on the night – a brilliant Kerwin Vargas bicycle kick and trademark Patrick Agyemang drive – but could not keep the New York Red Bulls off the scoresheet. A hat trick from Elias Manoel contributed to five overall goals for the home team and CLTFC’s first-ever playoff run came to an early end.

First Half

Lineup: Kahlina, Byrne, Malanda, Privett, Uronen, Westwood, Bronico, Swiderski, Jozwiak, Vargas, Copetti

The opening 10 minutes of the match went just about as predicted. The New York Red Bulls pressed high and effectively, while Charlotte FC looked to build through the press and defend high themselves, but no real chances developed for either side.

Then, seemingly out of nothing, the Red Bulls got the opening goal in the 10th minute. Jere Uronen won a header in the defensive third, but New York picked up the loose ball and lobbed it straight away over Andrew Privett’s head. Elias Manoel ran in behind and chested it down well, firing a volley past Kristijan Kahlina and into the far post side netting.

Charlotte FC fashioned an excellent chance of their own just two minutes later, winning the ball high off the Red Bulls’ back line. Karol Swiderski sent Enzo Copetti streaking in behind, who opened his hips to finish into the far corner. New York goalkeeper Carlos Coronel was up to the task, diving low to his left and pushing it wide for a corner.

However, the first half continued to go against Charlotte FC’s plan in the 25th minute. A turnover in midfield led to a desperate missed tackle by Adilson Malanda on top of the eighteen, setting up a dangerous free kick. John Tolkin, scorer of the late penalty kick that put the Red Bulls into the playoffs, promptly curled it into the top corner for a 2-0 advantage.

Swiderski nearly responded with a free kick goal of his own, but his effort curled only a foot or so past the upper corner and brushed the outside of the side netting.

Things after that went from bad to worse. Copetti was stripped of the ball as he tried to hold it up and Tolkin found space on the left side with Nathan Byrne out of position. Malanda was dragged out of position and Manoel sat in the pocket right behind him, turning when he received it and curling it into the far top corner.

Just before halftime, Byrne pounced on a loose ball in the New York box and nearly pulled one back for the Crown. Coronel, though, came up with a huge point blank save and CLTFC went to the locker room trailing by three.

Second Half

Lineup: Kahlina, Byrne, Malanda, Privett, Uronen (45’), Westwood, Bronico, Swiderski, Jozwiak (66’), Vargas (76’), Copetti (66’)

Substitutions: Agyemang (45’), Dejaegere (66’), Arfield (66’), Meram (76’)

Head Coach Christian Lattanzio made an aggressive change at halftime, bringing on Patrick Agyemang and sacrificing a defender, Jere Uronen. This changed the team’s shape to a 3-5-2, with Kerwin Vargas and Kamil Jozwiak as wingbacks.

Agyemang made an immediate impact up top, enabling Charlotte FC to skip the Red Bulls’ press as he won battle after battle against center back Andres Reyes. Kerwin Vargas capitalized on this early momentum with a wonder goal in the 49th minute.

Charlotte FC played a well-rehearsed free kick routine, chipping the ball to Swiderski on the weak side to head back across the goal. With his back to goal, Vargas executed a brilliant bicycle kick that flew past Coronel, getting CLTFC right back into the game.

However, the hill to climb got even bigger. The Red Bulls got their fourth of the match with a well-worked goal, pulling apart Charlotte’s three-man back line effectively. They got the ball wide to Tolkin in space and he fired across the goalmouth for Tom Barlow to tap into an empty net.

It was nearly five a few minutes later, but Luquinhas banged a wide-open effort off Kahlina’s near post.

Agyemang, though, refused to let Charlotte FC bow out of the game without a fight. He single-handedly bullied his way to a second goal for his team, shrugging aside Reyes and fighting off a recovering Kyle Duncan. He drove his way inside the box while being dragged down, firing off his shot over Coronel’s shoulder and into the roof of the net. That made it 4-2 with almost 25 minutes still to play.

Right after the goal, Copetti and Jozwiak exited in favor of Scott Arfield and Brecht Dejaegere. The Belgian nearly scored right after entering, but Agyemang’s flick as the cross came in took it out of his path. Justin Meram also came into the match, replacing Vargas.

Still, every time Charlotte FC hit back, the Red Bulls had an answer. Manoel beat the offside trap in the 78th minute and sprinted in behind, finishing over Kahlina’s head for a hat trick that finally put the game out of CLTFC’s reach.

A late roll of the dice meant Swiderski came off for McKinze Gaines. Despite dominating possession late on, the team couldn’t find enough chances to overturn the significant deficit.

With that, Charlotte FC’s second season in existence – and first run in the playoffs – came to a bitter end on the road.