Charlotte Independence coach Mike Jeffries isn’t exactly downplaying his team’s season-high seven-game unbeaten streak.
But he wishes more of those results were like Saturday night’s hotly contested 2-1 United Soccer League victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in front of 1,584 fans at Ramblewood Soccer Complex.
It gave the Independence a 3-0-4 record in the streak, which started with a scoreless draw at Rochester on July 18.
“It’s not enough to be unbeaten,” Jeffries said. “We’re at the stage of the season where we need to win. This is a big three points for us and it puts us a step closer to the playoff conversation.”
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Midfielder Enzo Martinez scored a goal and added an assist and Daniel Jackson also scored for Charlotte (7-6-8, 29 points), which entered the game six points behind the Riverhounds in the standings.
Pittsburgh (9-9-5, 32 points), coached by former Charlotte Eagles head coach Mark Steffens, came in occupying the sixth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The two teams have met only three times, including a 1-1 draw in Pittsburgh last Saturday, but there are already signs of a rivalry developing, Jeffries said.
“There’s a lot of crossover in players and coaching staffs between the two cities,” Jeffries said. “Plus we’re getting to the point of the season where the games are more meaningful and everything’s more tense.”
It showed on the field, with the teams combining for five yellow card cautions and two red card ejections. Charlotte’s leading goal scorer, forward Ryan Finley, will sit out the next game after earning a red card in a confrontation in the game’s final minutes.
“I don’t know if that means it’s a rivalry,” Steffens said. “You play a team a few times and you get to know them. But I don’t like it when it turns chippy like it did tonight. We talked after last weekend’s game about not losing our composure, but we did at the end.”
The Independence took a 2-0 lead to halftime. Jackson scored seven minutes into the game on a header off Martinez’ corner kick and Martinez took a cross from Carlos Alvarez in the 38th minute and buried a shot from 8 yards away.
The Riverhounds came close in the 61st minute when Miroslav Cabrilo banged a shot off the crossbar, and got on the scoreboard on William Hunt’s goal with one minute left in regular time.
NOTES: The Independence played the game without forward Dominique Badji, sitting out due to a red card ejection earned in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Pittsburgh. Midfielder Alex Martinez is also out while awaiting approval of a new visa application … Charlotte’s next three games are on the road, at Montreal on Wednesday, Toronto on Aug. 29 and Wilmington on Sept. 3. The next home game is Sept. 5 against Wilmington.