Charlotte FC’s friendly against Chelsea on Wednesday night was arguably a perfect first encounter with a European giant.
In front of a 52,673-strong crowd at Bank of America Stadium – the second-highest in club history – Major League Soccer’s newest club more than held their own against Premier League opposition.
By the time Christian Pulisic put the visitors 1-0 up in the 30th minute, Charlotte could have been a couple of goals ahead. And the fact it was Pulisic – star of the USMNT – who scored the goal would have softened the blow slightly.
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CLTFC continued to wrestle with Chelsea either side of half-time and were rewarded in the final minute when 16-year-old Brian Romero charged into the box and earned a penalty, with his shot hitting the arm of Trevoh Chalobah.
Daniel Rios converted, before Charlotte went on to beat Chelsea 5-3 in a penalty shootout – Rios stepping up again to get things started with a wonderful Panenka effort.
A top-class performance against a Premier League giant, a goal for ‘Captain America’, a teenager making an impact, and a penalty shootout win. What more could The Crown ask for?
“We can say that Chelsea maybe are in the second week of preseason, but I can tell you that players of that quality, it is difficult to play against them. It doesn’t matter,” interim boss Christian Lattanzio said after the match. “They couldn’t play the football so fluidly because I think our guys were determined to work hard and to press the whole game. I’m very proud for the way we played. And then after, even getting the win, it was the cherry on the cake.”
On Romero’s eye-catching cameo, he added: “[Romero] has this great confidence to do it against anybody. I don’t think he was fazed that he was playing Chelsea. He was playing like [they were] players and he does that against players.”
Wednesday’s result was that much more impressive considering Charlotte are licking their wounds after giving up a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 against Inter Miami last weekend.
Attention will now return to MLS play with Charlotte visiting Toronto FC on Saturday. But while this was still only a friendly, the stature of opposition and manner of performance should serve as a huge confidence boost.
“I think this shows a lot about the character of the boys because we had a difficult game in Miami and then to play at home [before] this unbelievable crowd against one of the best teams in the world,” Lattanzio said. “Only two years ago they won the Champions League, so that tells us the level that we were facing today. It takes a lot of heart, it takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of resilience to go on the pitch and to try to play the way boys did.”