CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For months, Charlotte FC promised it would be and they delivered: Saturday was a party in the Queen City.
Charlotte took the field for their first-ever home match in MLS to a league-record standalone crowd that spent most of the day bringing the noise downtown into Bank of America Stadium at night. The city was awash in Carolina blue and CLT FC gear.
On the field, the LA Galaxy were intent to spoil the party, though. A fairy-tale result for Charlotte in their home opener wasn’t to be, falling 1-0 to the Galaxy, thanks to a wonderstrike from Mexico international Efrain Alvarez in the 77th minute in front of 74,479 fans.
“We play football because we want to win, but today I believe I’m the happiest coach in the world,” head coach Miguel Ramirez told media after the match. “It was amazing. I cannot describe it with words, the energy. I’d like to thank everyone who joined us in this party because it really was a party. If we won, we’d continue to party. But we cannot party.”
Alvarez’s goal was deserving of the moniker of first-ever MLS goal at the stadium. As the 19-year-old wheeled away in celebration, he shushed the record-setting crowd. A chance deep into stoppage time for Daniel Rios to equalize put fans on their feet, but the forward’s header fell harmlessly to goalkeeper Jonathan Bond.
Despite the result, the game will serve as a positive memory for those around the club.
“It was unbelievable, I tell you what,” defender Jaylin Lindsey said.
Lindsey is a North Carolina native who left to join the Sporting Kansas City Academy and signed a homegrown contract with the Western Conference club in 2017. This winter, he was traded to his hometown market for Charlotte’s expansion season.
“That was the best game I’ve been apart of my entire life,” Lindsey, 21, said. “Before I walked off the pitch, I sat at midfield trying to soak it all in. Picturing myself seven to eight years ago in the nosebleeds watching [Carolina] Panthers games and countless ICC [International Champions Cup] games. Now, I’m that person on the field. It was unbelievable. … It was one of the best nights of my life, to be honest with you.”
Symphony of chanting, drums & more
The record crowd brought the energy.
Even 10 hours before kick-off, Charlotte was particularly colored in light blue. In the streets, in the parks, at the bar, Charlotte FC kits were visible and plentiful. Around the ground, the swell of people built as afternoon gave way to the evening. Bars and tailgates overflowed. Various marches to the stadium coalesced into a symphony of chanting, drums and more as fans poured into Bank of America Stadium.
A pregame ceremony featuring a light show set the mood and the crowd burst into cheers as the home team took the field in Charlotte for the very first time.
The on-field product will take time, though.
Charlotte required a little bit of luck, which maybe would have been a bit deserved after an unlucky opening match at D.C. United rife with being on the wrong side of controversial decisions. But it wasn’t to come on Saturday.
A delightfully cheeky back-post chip from Victor Vazquez knocked off the crossbar from 30 yards, while Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez missed a handful of chances throughout the 90 minutes. They were the kinds of opportunities he’s made a career of scoring with the Mexican national team, Manchester United, Real Madrid and elsewhere. He even crashed into the post when an Alvarez cross for a seemingly-certain tap-in floated just over his head in the 75th minute. The inevitable opening goal came just two minutes later.
The Galaxy outshot Charlotte 21-5.
"Give us some time"
Prior to the Galaxy’s lone goal, Charlotte had a penalty shout waved away by the referee. Christian Fuchs got a shot off as he was falling to the ground in the penalty box, claiming a defender pulled him down. The referee waved it off.
“Fuchs told me it was a penalty,” Ramirez said. “He told me he was pushed and it was a penalty. But I don’t waste my time talking about the referees.”
After two matches in MLS, Charlotte are yet to score a goal.
Polish center forward Karol Swiderski made his debut. The (early) club-record signing and Designated Player showed a bit of rust but no lack of fitness despite being away from the team for a bit securing his visa. For all the solidity in their defensive structure, attacking output just wasn’t there. Reinforcements are on the way, though.
“Just give us some time,” Lindsey said. “Once we get halfway through the season, look, I think we’ll be a really good team.”
Their ambition isn’t slowing down after a pair of losses.
“We have quality for the playoffs,” goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina said.
There are at least 74,479 people hoping he’s right.
“Thank you North Carolina, South Carolina and Charlotte,” Ramirez said. “I have one request: I would like to see them back in the next game. Because they will enjoy it."