On a still and humid South Carolina night, Charlotte Independence began its first ever US Open Cup tournament with a convincing 4-1 win over NPSL side Upward Stars SC. While Independence was technically the home side, Rock Hill, SC, is pretty much half the distance between the two. Charlotte’s home stadium is still under construction (due to open June 13th), so this Open Cup fixture was played across the state border on Winthrop University’s campus.
The beginning of the night didn’t seem like a “David and Goliath” situation, with Andre Carle of the Stars opening up the scoring on the night. Independence goalkeeper Diego Restrepo and centerback Mechack Jerome had some miscommunication that Carle took advantage of, leaving Restrepo ten feet away from his goal while Carle simply walked the ball into the back of the net.
The Charlotte defense wouldn’t allow another mistake like that to happen for the rest of the game, as the players turned it on, pressed high and bossed possession for the next 25 minutes. Just eight minutes after going down, Independence forward Tomasz Zahorski got his head on the end of a Ben Newnam corner, put the ball in the near corner where Stars keeper Matt Amis had no chance of reaching it. Twenty minutes later Charlotte right back Jack Metcalf hoofed a long ball up to local lad Enzo Martinez, who headed it toward goal. The ball bounced down off the top bar and the referee Jeffery Muschik judged that it went over the line, giving the home side a 2-1 advantage. Just before the halftime whistle Zahorski would find the back of the net again, this time from the middle of a scrum in front of goal. Martinez found the ball at his feet, quickly put it in a good position for Zahorski to take care of business and it he didn’t miss his opportunity. By the time the dust settled, Independence was going into the locker room at halftime up 3-1.
Martinez’s goal would be the last one they needed, as the Stars struggled to put together many meaningful attacks against the home team in the second half. Carle had two half chances around the 60 minute mark, but his team was slow to aid him pushing forward and both would end up in uneventful corners.
Tomasz Zahorski wasn’t done yet though. Earning his hat trick in the first minute of second half extra time after Ben Newnam pulled Amis off his line, crossed the ball to the other side of the box where Zahorski chested the ball down and laid the ball clean into the back corner.
Charlotte coach Mike Jefferies after the game: “Credit to the Upward Stars, they made it difficult for us and we made it difficult for ourselves after that first goal, thats a gift and gives them momentum that we had pretty well under control. Credit to the guys for keeping their composure.”
“Minimum expectation [in the Open Cup] was tonight. We obviously wanted to get through and give ourselves an opportunity to play upper division teams. The goal for most teams in lower divisions is to get a game against a MLS team and see how far you go and we’re no different.”
Charlotte midfielder Enzo Martinez on playing in front of family in hometown: “To play in front of my family and friends is a huge blessing.”
Martinez on earning more regular season minutes: “That’s my mentality right now. Its a lot of games, so we all have to be ready. Hopefully I keep taking advantage of the opportunities given to me and make a case for myself.”
On how far he wants to go: “We take it a game at a time, but we want to win it. Obviously it would be really tough, but there’s no reason why we can’t do it.”