Miguel Ibarra provided the spark and Khori Bennett provided the early goal as Charlotte Independence comfortably defeated Appalachian FC in the Second Round of the 2023 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Wednesday night.
Charlotte captain Clay Dimick made it 2-0 halfway through the second half and that’s how the scoreline would finish. It was the first US Open Cup victory for the Independence since 2017 when they defeated the Charlotte Eagles (USL League Two). Since then, they have been winless in their last four tournament games, with the last three eliminations coming at the hands of amateur teams (Ocean City Nor’easters in 2018, Florida Soccer Soldiers in 2019, NC Fusion U-23s in 2022).
“For me ‘Miggy’ was man of the match, he dictated the whole damn game … he must have had 200 passes,” said Independence head coach Mike Jeffries when asked about the players that stood out.
Jeffries also added, “I thought Khori was also good, he was very effective. I thought his movement was good, and he found the game really well. He is going to be a guy that starts a lot of games for us and he is the one guy who did get a fair number of chances.”
Both teams got off to a rocky start as there were many giveaways and changes of possession in the first 10 minutes. There was even a 3rd minute yellow given to Charlotte’s Bachir Ndiaye for dangerous play on an aerial duel at midfield. When Charlotte was able to secure possession, they were able to generate a few link ups and chances, none of them on target. Many of Appalachian FC’s successful early pressures and interceptions did not translate to possession, including three straight long balls that resulted in the forward dribbling out through the end line.
Charlotte settled in the match over the next 15 spreading Appalachian FC thin and working in between the space left behind. Luis Alvarez provided some great combination play and crosses that led to two separate poorly defended headers by Khori Bennett, neither of which caused the goalie much trouble. Bennett’s quickness and large frame was beginning to show signs of troubling Appalachian’s back line.
On a relatively routine clearance Bennett harried the backline into a giveaway near Appalachian’s endline, he ended up winning the ball and looked to find a pass but was hacked down in the box earning a penalty in the 24th minute. He smartly converted on a well-placed effort to the bottom left corner, Appalachian’s Agnew did well to get a hand on it. For Bennett, it was his third career US Open Cup goal. His first two coming as a member of USL League Two side Reading United AC (in 2016 and 2018).
Some teams exchange pennants but we realized pennants don’t taste very good so… ???????????? pic.twitter.com/vPhpSi4HuC— Appalachian FC (@AppalachianFc) April 6, 2023
Appalachian FC lacked creativity for much of the remainder of the first half. Often Appalachian FC would lump the ball forward to one of their speedy forwards who would run onto the ball and fail to hold the ball up until reinforcements arrived. The first half ended with Charlotte in control but failing to show killer instinct in front of net.
The second half started with Appalachian FC showing more fight earning a flurry of early corners. However, their attack remained toothless with one of the corners going straight out of bounds for a goal kick. Other than the corners Appalachian FC did not generate a real chance at goal in the second half. Charlotte continued to maintain most of the possession without generating many chances. That all changed halfway through the second half when Avionne Flanagan ran onto a through ball and took it to the end line where he crisply centered a pass to the penalty spot and Clay Dimick smashed it home on a one-time shot.
The pace of play slowed down dramatically for the remainder of the game with Charlotte maintaining a level of comfort over their 2-0 lead. Both teams utilized their substitutions and impressively racked up seven yellow cards in the second half.
Despite the mismatch, Appalachian FC did hold their defensive line for much of the game, they gave up very few big chances outside of the goals and most of the shots faced by Agnew were non-threatening.
Charlotte Independence look to play in Round 3 of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and will know their opponent following the conclusion of the third round draw on April 6th