CHESTER — The Union’s inaugural trip to Charlotte last year is best left to the historical dustbin.
The Union were trounced, 4-0, on Oct. 1, thanks to four goals from Daniel Rios. The North Carolina no-show came after two weeks off and marked the club’s only loss in its final eight regular-season games.
Armed with that experience, the Union are hoping to avoid a similar fate Wednesday night (7:30, AppleTV+), albeit amidst a more treacherous run of games.
“That was one of our worst performances last season,” manager Jim Curtin said Tuesday. “We weren’t up for it. They played a great game on that day as I recall, and certainly that is in the players’ minds, no doubt about it. But their personnel is different. Our personnel is a little different as well, and it’s a new set of circumstances.”
The Union (14-8-5, 47 points) face an odd slate this week. Sitting fourth in the East (third on points per game), they had last Saturday’s playoff rematch with East-leading FC Cincinnati circled. High on that list of priorities is next Saturday’s visit from Los Angeles FC, a replay of the 2022 MLS Cup final.
In between is a classic trap game down in Charlotte (7-9-11, 32) against the 11th place team in the East that has been neither here nor there this season. About the only consolation is that LAFC’s run is even more chaotic – a 4-2 win over El Trafico rival LA Galaxy Saturday, then a 1-v-2 West battle at St. Louis Wednesday before traveling straight to Philly, plus the Campeones Cup charade next Wednesday against Mexican club Tigres.
“You don’t value one set of three points higher than the other, but you want to approach it and give yourself the best chance to win,” Curtin said. “We will have some rotation, just like I’m sure Charlotte will. We have a quick turnaround and have to play a really strong LAFC.”
With all that swirling, the Union will prioritize the points in front of them. They beat Charlotte, 1-0, in Chester on May 31, a thoroughly forgettable affair won by an own goal.
Charlotte finished ninth in its expansion season and is two spots and three points outside the playoff spots this year, with two games in hand on ninth-place D.C. United. It has just one win in its last 12 – in typical nonsensical MLS fashion, it was over LAFC – and is 1-3-8 since May 31. It is just 4-3-7 at home, a mark better only than East doormat Toronto FC.
Charlotte’s 43 goals allowed, third-most in the East, speak to a team with Manchester City-like principles under coach Christian Lattanzio that is very much still a work in progress.
Enzo Copetti, signed as an expensive target forward, has five goals in 17 starts, while Karol Swiderski remains a prime chance creator, as a No. 10 or winger. Better midfield structure, if a weaker backline, accounts for the defensive regression.
“They’re a team that is fighting in and around the red line to get into the playoffs, which is always difficult,” Curtin said. “They’re a team that presents some challenges because they’re comfortable having the ball. We’ll have to be compact and organized. Obviously it’s a difficult place to go play – we have to navigate different variables like the turf and travel and a team that’s going to be hungry for three points.”
Both teams are coming off draws, Charlotte’s a scoreless stalemate with D.C. that marked just its fourth clean sheet of the season, the Union a 2-2 draw with Cincinnati after leading 2-0 at half. Curtin won’t have Jack Elliott, who was sent off in stoppage time. That likely forces a 4-4-2 diamond formation with Jakob Glesnes pairing Damion Lowe in central defense.
Jose Martinez, who left in the 63rd minute Saturday after a screamer of a goal and a shot to the ribs, trained fully Tuesday. Lowe missed training with an illness but is expected to be ready.
Curtin will likely make small alterations. A swap at right back, with Olivier Mbaizo swapping in for Nate Harriel, has been a frequent choice. Alejandro Bedoya will return after being suspended for Cincinnati. If Martinez can go, Jesus Bueno might nudge Jack McGlynn out of the left side of the diamond.
This week shapes up not just as a test of depth but of mentality and, as Cincinnati showed, the ability to sustain it for 90 minutes.
“The teams that use their depth the right way, the teams that execute and play at their max will come away with the result,” Curtin said. “That’s the reality of our league.”
Source: Berkshire mont