CHARLOTTE — Playing in front of a near-capacity crowd of 69,345 people at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte FC was hoping to kick off its second MLS season with a win.
While the defense was steady, the offense was absent, and the club’s 1-0 home loss to the New England Revolution on Feb. 25 was not the start to the regular season that coach Christian Lattanzio wanted.
“We played against a very good team — a strong team individually and collectively — but I don’t think that they overplayed us,” Lattanzio said after the game. “In the second half when we started to play a little bit more individually rather than collectively, we opened up to these transitions and we found it difficult to win second balls quickly. … I think that we play our game and we create chances. Maybe we lacked a little bit of quality in certain moments where we could have created more problems for them.”
In the 89th minute of play, New England Revolution’s Henry Kessler found an opening for an easy goal past reserve goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega. Kristijan Kahlina, Charlotte FC’s primary goalkeeper, is still out while rehabilitating from an offseason back surgery in January.
Lattanzio credited his bench players’ performances in the opener.
“I think that they brought something to the party and came on with the energy. … For me, it is a plus because it means that the squad’s soul is alive and they want to really contribute,” he said.
Charlotte posted a 13-18-3 record in its inaugural season, and Lattanzio and his roster travel to St. Louis City (1-0) on March 4 before coming back home to host Atlanta (1-0) on March 11.
The hope will be that Charlotte FC can resemble the club that went undefeated in five preseason matches and not the team that looked a bit lifeless in the season opener.
“We cannot feel sorry for ourselves. We have to move on and we have to learn that there are lessons to be learned in this game,” Lattanzio said. “Every goal is important and every moment is important. Concentration at this level is vital because you make a little lapse and then all of a sudden you are chasing — especially when you play against quality players. But it is the beginning of the journey and the first game, so we have 33 more. We need to move on and focus on the next one.”
While the opener ended in a loss, it was another solid showing by the club’s fans, who ranked second in the MLS in attendance behind Atlanta last season. The opener was a mix of excitement and respect — the match was the first regular season game since the tragic passing of defender Anton Walkes in a boating accident in January, and a moment of silence was held in honor of his memory before the match.
It was also an offseason of change for Charlotte FC following an inaugural season that included a midseason coaching change and a near playoff berth after the club finished ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Earlier this year, Charlotte FC’s inaugural captain Christian Fuchs announced his retirement from professional soccer after a 19-year career for seven teams in four different countries. He was then hired as an assistant coach on Lattanzio’s staff.
The young team is now anchored by striker Karol Swiderski — last season’s team leader in goals who played for Poland in last year’s World Cup — and forwards Ashley Westwood and Enzo Copetti, who both joined Charlotte FC during the offseason.
Westwood, 32, has 286 career Premier League appearances over 10 seasons at Burnley FC and Aston Villa, scoring a dozen goals with 32 assists. Copetti, 27, finished his last season as the leading scorer in Argentina’s first division.
Veteran MLS midfielder Brandt Bronico, a returning player who competed collegiately at UNC Charlotte, performed well in the season opener, stretching the field and providing a physical element on the pitch.
New Zealand newcomer Bill Tuiloma, 27, adds experience to Charlotte’s defense with 112 appearances for the Portland Timbers.