Late Sabella Strike Clinches Postseason Place in 1-0 Win North Carolina FC
CHARLOTTE - The Charlotte Independence earned a spot in the 2020 USL Championship playoffs and a late, dramatic 1-0 victory on the road against North Carolina FC on Saturday, courtesy of a goal from Valentin Sabella four minutes into second half stoppage time. The triumph clinched the Jacks' third appearance in postseason play and first since 2017.
In Saturday night's other Group G match, Memphis 901 FC beat Birmingham Legion FC 3-1, leaving the Jacks three points clear of Legion FC. With the win tonight and Birmingham's loss to Memphis, the Independence finish USL Championship Group G play in first place with a record of 8-4-4 (28 points) and are now guaranteed to host at least one playoff game at the Sportsplex at Matthews.
"What a great year it has been for us," said Independence Head Coach Mike Jeffries. "The game unfolded exactly how I thought it would unfold, especially in the second half with them throwing everything at us. We did a great job of weathering those storms and the guys came up with some unbelievable plays."
"I can't say enough about the courage, fight, and grit that we showed tonight to hang in there and get the result."
Jeffries made three changes to the starting lineup that lost to Memphis 901 FC on September 26, as Clay Dimick replaced Joel Johnson in the backline and Rey Ortiz and Luke Haakenson stepped back into the midfielder. The full XI: Brandon Miller, Clay Dimick, Duke Lacroix, Hugh Roberts, Aaron Maund, Jake Areman, Junior Etou, Enzo Martinez, Rey Ortiz, Luke Haakenson, and Dane Kelly.
After a scoreless first half, both sides threw numbers forward in transition, looking to exploit space in behind. That strategy nearly paid off in the 68th minute as Kelly danced past a defender in the box and got a clean look at goal, only to send his header over the crossbar.
With the fixture heading late into stoppage time and seeming destined for a draw, Sabella would send the Jacks into bedlam and into the playoffs, capitalizing on an Independence counterattack and a pass from Kelly in midfield. The winger raced past the NCFC backline and powered the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper, securing three massive points on the road.
Next on the Schedule: The Independence will face the Charleston Battery at the Sportsplex at Matthews in the first round of the 2020 USL Championship playoffs. This will be the Jacks' first-ever home playoff match, with the date and time still to be determined.
GOAL SCORING RUNDOWN:
CLT - Valentin Sabella (Dane Kelly), 90+4 minute: Off of a counterattack, Dane Kelly picked out a pinpoint cross to the top of the box to an unmarked Valentin Sabella. From just outside the top of the six-yard box, the winger took one touch and sent a powerful right-footed shot into the top right corner for the game-winning goal. CLT 1, NC 0
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
CLT 0 1 1
NC 0 0 0
CLT - Valentin Sabella (Dane Kelly) 90+4 minute
CLT: 33-Brandon Miller; 17-Clay Dimick,18-Aaron Maund (22-Joel Johnson, 12'), 3-Hugh Roberts, 14-Duke Lacroix, 4-Jake Areman, 7-Rey Ortiz (27-Derek Gebhard, 73'), 15-Luke Haakenson (11-Valentin Sabella, 73'), 21-Junior Etou, 19-Enzo Martinez(captain),
Subs Not Used: 1-Austin Pack, 20-Oscar Ramsay, 23-Guido Vadala, 90-Christian Chaney
Head Coach: Mike Jeffries
NC: 1-Alex Tambakis; 30-Akeem Ward, 4-Alex Comsia, 20-Conor Donovan, 27-D.J. Taylor, 7-Pecka (21-Daniele Proch, 81'), 16-Graham Smith (10-Nazmi Albadawi, 81'), 17-Ben Speas (captain) (92-Hadji Barry,55'), 8-Andre Fortune, 2-Manny Perez, 9-Marios Lomis (11-Robbie Kristo, 55')
Subs Not Used: 24-Paolo Pita, 5-Sam Brotherton, 15-Malick Mbaye,31-Steven Miller
Head Coach: Dave Sarachan
Stats Summary CLT/ NC:
Shots: 8 / 12
Shots on Goal: 2 / 4
Saves: 4 / 2
Corner Kicks: 3 / 3
Fouls: 15 / 12
Offside: 3 / 0
CLT - Luke Haakenson (caution) 45+ 1 minute
CLT - Dane Kelly (caution) 88th minute
CLT - Derek Gebhard (caution) 90+1 minute
CLT - Valentin Sabella(caution) 90+5 minute
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