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Charlotte FC dropped a critical match against an Eastern Conference playoff rival, Orlando City SC, on Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium. A late goal from Tesho Akindele on a second effort in the 89th minute sealed CLTFC’s fate on the night.

The first half was heavily conservative from both sides, with Orlando generally having the run of play. Chances were still few and far between, but Head Coach Christian Lattanzio was not happy with the way his team approached the opening 45 minutes.

“It was clear we needed to make some adjustments, so we did it in the second half and the boys understood it.

“I think there was also an element of wanting to please the crowd in the first half. Sometimes, you think you do that by being conservative, but you’re not. You have to go out and play free. I think the crowd can sense that.”

Certainly, the fear of conceding and letting down yet another boisterous home crowd held the team back in the first half. Lattanzio addressing this head-on in the halftime locker room clearly had a positive effect in the second 45.

CLTFC immediately came out much more on the front foot, with fluid passing moves and more chances.

Still, it was Orlando who found the first goal of the match in the 62nd minute from forward Ercan Kara. While the margins were razor thin, he was just onside and calmly passed the ball into the bottom corner past Kahlina.

However, Charlotte FC immediately responded just four minutes after conceding, and it was through two players in much need of some box score statistics to back up their positive influence on the field.

After just two minutes on the pitch, Kamil Jozwiak cut inside on his right foot and delivered an inch perfect cross onto McKinze Gaines’ head. He kept the momentum on the cross, flashing it past Pedro Gallese and into the back of the net to send the crowd wild.

“I saw that he [Jozwiak] cut onto his right foot, and it’s actually a sequence we train all the time in training where he cuts onto his right and he looks to bend the ball onto that back post. He did his job, and my job was to get on the end of that, and the ball flew in.”

From there, The Crown dominated the run of play as they pushed for a second goal and all three points. Orlando appeared happy to escape with a point, and the most likely outcome of the game felt like a draw.

Then, it all unraveled in a single, unfortunate moment.

A mix-up on a long ball led to it bouncing past Anton Walkes and Derrick Jones, leading to Tesho Akindele streaking through on goal. Kahlina made a big save on the first attempt as Jan Sobicinski and others desperately slid in for the block, but the rebound fell right back to Akindele with a now open net to slot the ball into.

“We are in a good position to deal with that, and we should deal with it better,” said Lattanzio.

“Again, this is a moment, and there are many other moments. All in all, I am proud of the way they played because they played to win the game and I liked that. They put the game to Orlando, but a couple of moments cost us.”

Soccer is a game full of a million tiny decisions that have knock-on effects, and sometimes small moments can have huge impacts on the outcome of the game. Lattanzio was clearly frustrated that the key moments have not been going CLTFC’s way, whether through poor execution or bad luck.

“I’m frustrated on one side because I think we should not lose this game. Never. Maybe we don’t win it, but we don’t lose it.

“And I’m frustrated because we made mistakes that we know how to prevent, and we train how to prevent them. When the game comes and those moments come, we make them [mistakes]. And that’s frustrating because the boys played really, really well by creating chances and getting back into the game.”

The Road Forward

The path for Charlotte FC’s playoff ambitions just got a lot tougher with tonight’s loss.

Instead of finishing the night up in the playoff spots, the team are now three points back from the playoff line. To make matters worse, the majority of teams around them have one to two games in hand.

Still, all is not lost. Games against fellow Eastern Conference fringe playoff contenders abound in the remaining schedule (Toronto, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Columbus), meaning plenty of opportunities to grab three points and deny a competitor three points at the same time.

Orlando stealing three points tonight means now, more than ever, CLTFC needs to put together a run of results that it has yet to do this year. The season has largely been a rollercoaster with two victories in a row the best streak the team has managed.

If the Club wants to be in the playoffs come the final whistle of Decision Day, they’ll have to string together some victories to charge back up above the red line, starting when Toronto come to town this Saturday.