Kahlina sets Charlotte FC shutout record

Charlotte FC goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina deflects a shot against Miami in a game earlier this season. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — Now leading the MLS with seven clean sheets this season, Charlotte FC’s Kristijan Kahlina hopes he can continue the defensive prowess he showed last month with June underway.

The 31-year-old Croatian goalkeeper had a club-record fifth straight shutout in a scoreless duel with Philadelphia Union on May 25.

Throughout May, Kahlina was a defensive stalwart, keeping five consecutive clean sheets and going 524 minutes without allowing a goal.

“I didn’t really change anything. Honestly, this is all from the coach,” Kahlina said of Charlotte FC coach Dean Smith. “He put these tactics, this shape, and it really works. Everything is from him… I think how he prepared our team from the start and now the whole team plays really good defense.”

The goalkeeper holds club records for appearances (72), starts (71), minutes played (6,480), goalkeeper saves (225), and goalkeeper shutouts (19).

This season, he has racked up 50 saves with only 18 goals allowed.

“Calmness. He’s a calm goalkeeper,” Smith said of Kahlina’s latest stretch of play. “He does the basics really well, and that’s what you want from a goalkeeper: to keep the ball out of the net.”

Kahlina attributes his recent success to an emphasis on timing that was preached by his goalkeeper coach — Aron Hyde — who served as the goalkeeper coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Kahlina saw the results begin to take shape at the end of the 2023 campaign, following a period where he was recovering from an offseason back surgery that caused him to miss all of the preseason and CLTFC’s first 10 league games.

Once some lingering pain in his back and leg dissipated, Kahlina fell into a groove.

“Even last season in the last eight or nine games, I improved a lot on this,” he said. “I was up to a high level with these things and now in all games this season. Last season, my goalkeeper coach helped me a lot with my positioning and where I need to be when somebody has the ball.”

His recent shutout stretch began May 4 when the Portland Timbers came to the Queen City and left with a 2-0 loss. A week later, CTLFC took down Nashville SC at home in a 1-0 finish before knocking off Chicago Fire FC on the road on May 15.

Kahlina’s next two shutouts in the five-match streak came in draws against the LA Galaxy and Philadelphia; he earned a spot on the MLS Team of the Matchday after his five saves against the Galaxy.

Kahlina’s next two matches resulted in five goals allowed — three in a loss at the New York Red Bulls and two in a win over Atlanta United. However, his five-game stretch of shutouts is still fresh in his mind.

He credits Charlotte FC fans for showing up to cheer on the club, both in Bank of America Stadium and on the road.

“It’s great because I work for myself and for them every day every week,” Kahlina said. “I’m the happiest person when I can get a clean sheet or good saves for them. I think I think they know that. I appreciate this because it gives me really big power even in away games.”

Following the club’s 3-2 win in Atlanta, Smith also commented on the increased fan presence the team is noticing.

“We drove up to the stadium and they were all lined up along the road walking towards the stadium,” the coach said. “It was great to see, and I think they had to turn their music up a little bit louder to drag down the sound of our supporters before the game. I’m glad that we’re sending them home happy.”

After CTLFC’s 23-29-16 combined record in its first two seasons as a franchise, it’s now on pace for its first winning season. The club’s next match is home against D.C. United June 15, followed by a home match with Orlando City SC June 19.