The Charlotte Independence’s debut season has had hiccups. The home field still is being readied. It’s trying to recover from a subpar start to the United Soccer League season.
Jorge Herrera’s spectacular goal during the 55th minute and a steady defense Wednesday night changed the narrative. The Independence is one of 16 teams left standing in the U.S. Open Cup.
New goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap made two key saves late as the Independence stunned the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer 1-0 in the fourth round.
“The guys have put up with a lot being a first-year franchise,” said coach Mike Jeffries, whose club plays two levels below MLS. “For us to put ourselves on the map and make a name is big.”
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Herrera silenced the home crowd when he chested Alex Martinez’s pass to his feet, then rocketed a right-footed volley from 25 yards into the upper right corner.
“It was a nice goal,” Herrera said, smiling.
His coach was more forceful, describing it as a “heck of a goal.” Gilstrap called it “beautiful.”
Gilstrap made a sprawling save to his right eight minutes later and batted an errant clearance off the crossbar during the closing moments as Charlotte withstood New England’s late charge.
Players embraced at the final whistle, then they sprinted to the corner to greet a small, but vocal group of Charlotte fans.
MLS teams normally dominate this competition open to teams of all levels.
“I’ve probably had four or five chances in my career to play an MLS team in the Open Cup and it’s never gone well,” said Gilstrap, a recent injury replacement from the Carolina RailHawks. “It’s huge, because everyone is going to be paying attention to Charlotte now. Who are the Charlotte Independence?”
The Revolution, which won the U.S. Open Cup in 2007 and reached the MLS Cup final last season, used a mostly reserve lineup for the game played in an intimate atmosphere at Harvard University instead of its cavernous Gillette Stadium home.
Charlotte clearly had more motivation, and it will find out its next U.S. Open Cup opponent in a draw Thursday.
Then Charlotte will get to finally play at its new home field, Ramblewood Soccer Complex, on Saturday against Charleston in its return to league play.
“We have a good group of guys,” Jeffries said. “A lot of them have been on the cusp of MLS, in and out. For those guys especially, these are meaningful games.”