Charlotte FC visited Chicago needing another win to continue to control their playoff destiny down the stretch. An Ashley Westwood volley and Karol Swiderski penalty kick did the job on the road, securing a 2-0 victory and three more points for The Crown.
Now, two wins from their remaining two against an Inter Miami CF team that was eliminated from playoff contention tonight would give CLTFC the #8 seed and hosting privileges for the first round playoff match.
Lineup: Kahlina, Byrne, Malanda, Privett, Uronen, Westwood, Bronico, Swiderski, Jozwiak, Vargas, Copetti
The opening quarter hour of the match went well for Charlotte FC. They dominated possession and kept Chicago pinned into their own half. The most danger of this period, however, was created by the Fire on a quick counter attack with two forwards against just Nathan Byrne. The English defender did brilliantly defending in space – as he has so often this season – to cut out the danger.
CLTFC then broke the deadlock in the 24th minute through a quality Ashley Westwood strike. Kerwin Vargas whipped in an in-swinging cross that was headed clear to the top of the box, where Westwood attacked it with a clean volley straight out of the air. A deflection took the strike past Chicago goalkeeper Chris Brady for the opening goal of the match.
After that, the game turned quite chippy with several fouls and very few, if any, chances for either team. Offsides and foul calls dominated the rest of the first half until the very last play. Kristijan Kahlina preserved the lead with a strong top hand save on a pacy free kick from a wide area, sending CLTFC to the locker room holding a 1-0 lead.
Lineup: Kahlina, Byrne, Malanda, Privett, Uronen, Westwood, Bronico (70’), Swiderski (76’), Jozwiak, Vargas (76’), Copetti (86’)
Substitutions: Jones (70’), Arfield (76’), Meram (76’), Agyemang (86’)
Chicago Fire FC Head Coach Frank Klopas made two changes at halftime to spark his team, bringing on Polish forward Kacper Przybylko and midfielder Maren Haile-Selassie, scorer of two goals off the bench against Inter Miami last time out.
It was Charlotte FC, though, who created two early chances. First, Enzo Copetti set for Karol Swiderski right on top of the eighteen, but he couldn’t get his first touch around the defender. Then, Brandt Bronico fashioned a solid chance for Jere Uronen, but his half volley bounced into the ground and flashed wide of the far post.
Copetti was the one who earned the next goal for The Crown. After sending Kerwin Vargas through in the channel, the Argentine burst forward into the box to get across the near post. He was being tracked by Miguel Navarro, who tried to take him down on top of the box off the ball. After he rode that initial challenge, Navarro intentionally swiped out his legs as Uronen played the ball to him. A VAR review led referee Natalie Simon to point to the spot for a clear penalty.
Swiderski then kept his composure and slotted the penalty kick past Brady to double the advantage.
Charlotte FC kept up the pressure from there, and Copetti nearly got the goal he deserved in the 65th minute. Vargas delivered an inch-perfect cross from a short corner routine, but Copetti’s header went straight at Brady.
The Fire started pressing to get back into the game from there. Kahlina did well to hang on to a strong Haile-Salassie shot and prevent the rebound. Soon after, Przybylko gave Charlotte FC a gift by skying a gilt-edged chance (which had looped over Adilson Malanda’s head from a deflection) and Rafael Czichos hit another opportunity right at Kahlina from close range.
On the other end, Kamil Jozwiak drove inside the box and set up Derrick Jones, freshly in the game, but he also struck his good chance straight at Brady. Justin Meram and Scott Arfield also entered for Head Coach Christian Lattanzio’s team with 15 minutes remaining.
From that point on, CLTFC went into protect mode to keep their lead. With that in mind, Patrick Agyemang entered for Copetti to see the game out, and the game got extremely feisty. Derrick Jones and Kamil Jozwiak both picked up yellow cards in stoppage time.
Despite a seemingly never-ending 11 minutes of stoppage time, their efforts ground out the result and the team secured a crucial three points in the playoff race.