Charlotte FC ended FC Cincinnati's two-game winning streak to start their own with a 2-0 victory in the first-ever Queen City Derby at Bank of America Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The expansion side opened the scoring in the sixth minute off a beautiful 11-pass build-up capped off by Designated Player Karol Swiderski.
The Polish forward later closed out the Orange & Blue with a free-kick finish that rocketed past Alec Kann into the top corner to earn his second brace in back-to-back matches.
Take a bow! Swiderski BLASTS home free kick
While Swiderski stole the headlines with his set-piece goal, an AT&T 5G Goal of the Week nominee, head coach Miguel Angel Ramírez was most proud of his team's defensive ability and their awareness of when to swarm the ball and counterattack Cincinnati's high press after regaining possession.
“I think we knew in those situations offensively how to handle it intelligently, in the form of creating a counterattack, recuperate the ball, and when they got the ball, they would stop and look for more people," Ramirez said. "You would see a 3 vs. 5, 3 vs. 4, 3 vs. 6, which shows how logically the offense handled these situations, had control, and figured out if they needed more people to complete the play. I always say the team knows when to suffer and know when to defend. Knowing how to protect is an art, and I have improved as a coach and am improving.
"This experience has helped me improve as a coach, and I think working with my staff has helped me. This is a long journey, and I know this is helping me professionally. I still have a lot to learn, and I know I am improving and that the players are helping me improve. I love working with this team and receiving this feedback and how they feel. I believe this all makes us defend better.”
Ramirez praised the whole team's defensive play, but only one player deserves credit for earning the club their first-ever clean sheet: goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina. The Croatian netminder was given the game ball after the match with five saves, including a diving stop on Luciano Acosta's curling outside-the-box shot that was goalbound.
"It was amazing because the first time I was MVP or Man of the Match, we lose to LA Galaxy," Kahlina said. "But now when you win the game, a tough game like this, and it was a really important game. This game back us in the right way where we want to be, and yeah, we are inside a game for the playoff, and we just need to keep this road."
SAVE: Kristijan Kahlina, Charlotte FC - 43rd minute
It may be a bit early for the expansion side to start dreaming about the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. Still, Charlotte's looked impressive in their last two performances and even showed positive signs in their three losses.
"Well, even though we lost three games when we started, we have won two, and I think the team has played well every game regardless of the results," midfielder Sergio Ruiz said. "Of course, we want to win, but we need to focus on what is in our control: working hard during the week, having an idea of the game, having that same energy for the game, and trying to win.
"What comes next? We all, of course, want to be in the playoffs, but that happens by winning next weekend and the next, and so on. We will train all week and make sure we prepare for the next game and get the victory."
Charlotte's next test as they look to continue their winning streak and push closer to their postseason hopes will be April 2 on the road against Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada).