Charlotte FC hits home attendance mark
Plus: Lattanzio extension coming soon, Krneta and Swiderski say Polish star is likely to stay, MLS unveils Leagues Cup 2023, advancing final game Sunday against New York
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Charlotte finishes second in MLS in home attendance
Charlotte fans take in the festivities at the final home game of the season Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
Charlotte FC’s rally from two goals down to tie Columbus Wednesday night 2-2 left the expansion franchise just shy of reaching one of its audacious goals for its first MLS season — making the playoffs. Charlotte FC was eliminated from contention by tying instead of winning their makeup game against the Crew, falling what felt like five minutes short of scoring again.
The Bank of America crowd of 34,122 there not just to witness it, but to participate in it, helped Charlotte achieve another of their goals for 2022: eclipse 30,000 fans per game. Charlotte FC averaged 35,244 fans per game this season, which was second only to Atlanta United’s 47,353.
Charlotte FC finished 10-6-1 at Bank of America this season.
But what everybody in the stadium, players and coaches included, sensed Wednesday night was not just the importance of an attendance figure, but the connection that’s developed between Charlotte FC and its fans.
“Their presence is just such a momentum boost,” Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes said afterward. “If you think about the days of Covid, if we were to play that game and we were (2-0) down and there were no fans, you don’t come back into that game. The drive when we were attacking, you could hear them, it’s so much more encouragement, and they’ve been amazing all year.”
Midfielder Brandt Bronico said he “got chills in the game,” Wednesday night because of the energy he felt from the fans.
Charlotte FC players started a tradition this year of sprinting as a group to the front of the supporters section in the East Goal after wins, as a thank you to the loudest and most raucous fans for their continuous chanting, cheering and flag waving. On Wednesday, Charlotte didn’t have a win as an excuse to rush toward the stands, so they circled the field instead, offering applause to thousands of fans who stuck around to soak in the moment one final time.
Daniel Rios expresses his love for Charlotte fans during a final lap around the field. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
“Tonight was just another example,” Charlotte FC team president Joe LaBue said after the game. “A full building on a Wednesday night in October for a match that was 74 minutes to see the city show out and celebrate. They were on their feet for the entire second half. They almost willed this team to victory, scored a late goal to tie it. I think everyone in this building thought we were going to get the third too. To see that and the applause at the end and people walking out smiling — I think they know we gave it our all. We have something special here, after Sunday I think we’ll all take a step back and think about the year as a whole. We’ve so much to build on, so much momentum.”
Lattanzio extension announcement coming
Lattanzio working the sidelines Wednesday vs. Columbus. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
Charlotte FC president Joe LaBue confirmed after Wednesday’s game that the team is on the brink of announcing an extension with interim coach Christian Lattanzio. Reports surfaced and we confirmed last week that Lattanzio was expected to sign a 3-year-extension, removing the interim tag he got when promoted from assistant coach in early June. Lattanzio replaced Miguel Angel Ramirez after he was fired 14 games into the season.
Lattanzio has gone 7-9-2 in 18 games since taking over Ramirez and brought Charlotte FC to the brink of a playoff berth.
“We should have something soon,” LaBue said. “Christian has done an amazing job. You saw it tonight. You’ve seen it throughout the year. So we’ve gone through a process, and there will be more to come after the season is over. Consistency is big for us. We don’t want this to linger. We also didn’t want it to be a distraction as we were chasing a playoff spot.”
Krneta calls Swiderski ‘untouchable’ amid rumors
While international demand for Charlotte’s star striker Karol Swiderski is building — so his agent told the Polish sports network PSN Futbol last week — Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta told WFNZ this week he had no designs on letting go of his marquee player.
“Right now, Karol Swiderski is absolutely untouchable,” Krneta told The Mac Attack on WFNZ Radio on Tuesday. “That’s not even a discussion."
Swiderski scored the lone goal for his native Poland in a 1-0 win over Wales during the international break, raising speculation that his days in Charlotte could be numbered if he plays well for Poland during this winter’s World Cup. The report suggested Charlotte would only listen to buyout offers of around $15 million.
Swiderski, 25, who leads Charlotte FC with 10 goals, was signed through 2025 for about $5 million.
“There are rumors going around, but that’s part of the soccer world,” Krneta told WFNZ. “Karol is our captain, he’s doing great for us, we love him. I think he’s enjoying life in Charlotte and playing in MLS. Until this changes, he’ll be our player.”
When asked about his future after Wednesday’s game, Swiderski said, “I don’t think about leaving. OK I play a couple (good) games maybe…but I want to play like this all next season and after we’ll see. But I think for sure I will stay next season.”
MLS unveils Leagues Cup tournament for 2023
Just when you think you’ve got an MLS schedule figured out comes this wrinkle for 2023: MLS announced Thursday it would take a month break next summer for its teams to play in the inaugural Leagues Cup, a tournament pitting teams from MLS against Liga MX teams in Mexico. MLS called it a “monumental new chapter for North American soccer.”
The regular MLS schedule will halt from June 21 to August 19 of next year for the tournament which will feature all 47 teams from MLS and Liga MX. The stakes will be for more than bragging rights too. The champion, second and third place finishers will all qualify for the Concacaf Champions League and earn a chance at a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup. The tournament will be played across the U.S. and Canada.
“Leagues Cup 2023 is an important step in the partnership between MLS and LIGA MX,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “There has never been anything like Leagues Cup in major professional sports on this continent or anywhere else, and we believe the tournament will help elevate the profile of Concacaf throughout the world.”
Up Next: Charlotte FC (13-17-3) vs. New York Red Bulls (14-11-8)
When/Where: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
How to watch: WAXN (Channel 64), Telemundo, or live stream at www.charlottefootballclub/live or on the Charlotte FC app. Local restrictions apply.
Christian Lattanzio will be back to having a full roster of players to choose from Sunday after MLS rules forced him to go without newcomers Nathan Byrne, Adilson Malanda and Nuno Santos in the makeup game against Columbus.
Charlotte FC is 3-0 in MLS play against teams from New York this season, including a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls on June 11 and not including a 3-1 loss to the Red Bulls in U.S. Open Cup play on May 25. Charlotte FC also swept two games against New York FC.
Charlotte has a chance to see defender Christian Fuchs in action for the first time since Sept. 10. He picked up a red card against New York FC that day for throwing an elbow to the face, forcing Charlotte to play a man down the final 35 minutes of a 1-0 win. He’s been serving suspensions the past three games.
The Red Bulls have clinched a playoff berth, sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The top seven teams qualify.
Carroll Walton is a longtime baseball writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution now cutting her teeth on soccer and the Charlotte FC just as fans in Charlotte do. She would love to hear from you. E-mail her with questions, suggestions, story ideas and comments!
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