Charlotte FC celebration

Those around Charlotte FC often talk about building long-term, and on Saturday one of the most important bricks in the expansion club’s journey was cemented atop a growing pile of first-ever accomplishments.

The Queen City club beat the New England Revolution, 3-1, at Bank of America Stadium before a crowd that approached 30,000 fans, their first victory as a Major League Soccer team.

And the result means extra to everyone in the Carolinas, head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez said, considering the work that’s gone into securing these inaugural three points.

“Being a coach is so difficult, and being a professional player is also very difficult,” the Spanish manager said postgame. “But I believe we pay the price for nights like tonight, to enjoy playing football, this football that we play – goals, celebrations, fans.

“We really deserved it because of the work we are doing, because of the way we are playing, because being very new and very far from these giants, these big clubs, we are reducing the gap, the distance between us and them. How we are playing, we are reducing this gap. Most of the time today we were able to control the champion of the East Conference, so very happy.”

HIGHLIGHTS: Charlotte FC vs. New England Revolution | March 19, 2022

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It should be noted that New England were missing US men’s national team goalkeeper Matt Turner, first-choice center backs Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler, and Designated Player forwards Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa – nearly half of their Supporters’ Shield-winning group from 2021. And they ventured into Charlotte after a Wednesday night collapse in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, falling on penalty kicks at Liga MX’s Pumas UNAM after failing to hold onto a three-goal aggregate lead. Last weekend, they also dropped a 3-2 decision to Real Salt Lake amid wintry conditions after holding a 2-0 lead late.

The Revolution weren’t at full strength and are in poor form, having lost three straight matches for the first time since early 2019 – when Brad Friedel was in charge and before Bruce Arena joined as head coach/sporting director. Though those details didn’t detract from the feelings of sweet relief and exultation that permeated throughout CTL FC players, staff and fans alike.

“​​I think after the game you saw how much it meant to us. I'm so proud that we finally made it,” said defender and captain Christian Fuchs. “I think we have shown in every game so far that we can win the games. Looking back, the goals we conceded, I'm not a fan of saying we were unlucky because when you show the quality on the field, something like that happens like today.

“I'm very proud because of the consistency that we showed over those four games, constant development and with the heart that we played today. Finally there's a win that was overdue and well-deserved.”

The victory was spearheaded by a brace from DP forward Karol Swiderski, whose sixth-minute strike marked the first Charlotte goal at Bank of America Stadium. And the Polish No. 9’s efforts were augmented by a 64th-minute clincher from rookie midfielder Ben Bender, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.

To reach their potential, Charlotte will need Swiderski to be at peak levels this season. He’s their club-record transfer from Greece’s PAOK and will soon be joined by DP winger Kamil Jozwiak, his international teammate who joined last week via transfer from Derby County of the English Championship.

“I have more time to come back to my physical performance because after preseason I go to Poland to take visa and I stay there 10 days,” Swiderski said. “It's difficult to come back and be in the same level physically. I'm so happy because today I feel much better than last game and I'm so happy also because we won.”

Building off this accomplishment is the next test for Charlotte, which debuted in late February with a closer-than-it-looked loss at D.C. United. Then came an MLS-record 74,479 fans for a Week 2 defeat vs. the LA Galaxy, followed by a backbreaking setback at Atlanta United wherein Adam Armour’s headed finish became their first goal as a professional club.

The journey of a first-year team is a rewarding one ripe with challenges, Ramirez is quick to admit. But he’s also a “trust the process” believer, that it coalesces into memorable nights like Saturday’s historic win over the Revolution.

“They deserved it; they deserved it so much,” Ramirez said of the fans. “It made me sad in not being able to provide them with victories or with goals. So much in the games at home and away, the fans who bought tickets, I’ve been a fan before, and I know what it is to suffer. It was such joy; they deserved it."

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While most MLS teams head on a brief break for the March international window, Charlotte return to action on March 26 when hosting FC Cincinnati (5 pm ET | UniMas, TUDN, Twitter).

“Today was a good start, but we've got to stay humble as well,” said Fuchs, the 35-year-old former Premier League standout. “It was one win. I think everybody deserved it, the fans deserved it, we deserved it. Again, with the passion that we put on display. But there's a new challenge next week again and we'll see.”