FCC travels for battle of Queen Cities

Pavel Bucha dribbles against New York City FC. Photo courtesy Brian Mack.

When it comes to March Madness, Carolina natives are used to seeing Dean Smith guide his team through the chaos with a stout defense and clutch late-game shots. However, watching it happen on a soccer field versus a basketball court is certainly a new twist to an old classic.

Entering this season, Charlotte FC (7th in East, 2-2-1) was faced with a chance to reset their club and parted ways with manager Christian Lattanzio. With no discernable candidates, they broadened their search and found a surprising candidate in ex-Premier League manager Dean Smith. With stints at Norwich City, Leicester City, and most notably Aston Villa, he brings a tremendous amount of managerial cache to the young club.

And the early results have been influenced by him, as they have had their best start in club history, starting with a robust defensive approach to start the season. They have given up four goals through their first five games, which is the lowest in club history, and have only allowed one second-half goal thus far.

FCC have allowed just 1 second-half goal. Only two other clubs have allowed just 1 2H goal so far: TOR and Saturday's opponent, CLT Last season, FCC conceded just 10 2H goals all season, the second-fewest 2H goals allowed by a team ever ('07 Houston Dynamo, 9)

Their back four has been protected by the heart of the team in seasoned veteran midfielder Ashley Westwood and 2024 newcomer Djibril Diani. Both played a pivotal role in their 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew last weekend, in a game that can only be described as madness.

Despite the defensive solidity, the squad has lacked a lethal offensive bite so far this season. Part of that has been shoddy finishing, as they have five goals on 8.8 expected Goals with two missed PKs. But, Dean Smith dismissed two of their original Designated Players in the offseason, and one of their replacements is just coming in this week.

Liel Abada, an Israeli creative winger, was brought into the club just before this past international break from Scottish giant Celtic. After struggling with injuries for part of the season, he had become the target of fan scrutiny as the supporters of Celtic have been vocally Pro-Palestinian, with many urging the club to split with the player. They eventually found a partner in Charlotte FC, and there are high expectations that he can be a real difference-maker for the team.

“He’ll add creativity in the final third,” Smith said of Abada. “He scores goals and he creates goals. I think the last two seasons he’s probably scored 10 and created seven or eight. If you’re getting a player, a wide player that’s having 18 goal involvements a season, then that’s a good player.”

Though it is unknown if he will start this weekend, there are high hopes that he could provide one shining moment for Dean Smith and the Carolina faithful and upset the defending Supporter’s Shield Champs.

When: Saturday, March 30 @ 7:30 PM EST

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

How to Watch: MLS Season Pass on AppleTV+

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