By Sam Vanolinda/NPSL.com
Appalachian FC played in the highest-stakes game of its short history Wednesday night, playing professional side Charlotte Independence in the second round of the U.S Open Cup. There was a potential third-round MLS matchup on the line.
Unfortunately, Appalachian FC lost 2-0 at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex, and they were eliminated them from the tournament.
The first half was one of few chances for the visitors.
The Independence penetrated Appalachian FC’s box and were able to take the lead in the 24th minute via a Khori Bennett penalty.
Shortly after Charlotte took the lead, in the 30th minute forward Kevin De Lange was able to work his way through and have a chance to take a shot inside the Independence box. He would go down in the box but no penalty was awarded.
That proved to be the only real chance for Appalachian FC. The first half finished with the team trailing 1-0, a small enough deficit to potentially come back in the remaining 45 minutes.
Despite early pressure by Appalachian FC, the second half proved to be more of the same. The Independence had 74% possession and out-shot their opponents 17-3.
The Independence were able to double their lead in the 65th minute, when captain Clay Dimick tapped in a great pass by midfielder and NPSL alum Avionne Flanagan.
From that point on, the game consisted of the Independence passing the ball around and seeing off the game. It ended 2-0 in front of two passionate fan bases in the suburbs of the Queen City.
It was clear Appalachian FC’s game plan was to defend well behind the ball and counter attack via the long ball, but they couldn’t manufacture enough clear chances. It ended in a well-fought loss against an experienced and talented Independence team full of professional players.
Appalachian FC head coach Dale Parker was proud of the team’s effort despite the loss.
“Tremendously proud,” Parker said. “It’s never easy to come and play against a pro team, even if we were in the middle of the season with our strongest team here, it would still be difficult…Disappointed with the result, but can’t fault the effort we put out there tonight.”
Parker looks forward to the upcoming NPSL season starting in May.
“This could be a good springboard for us,” Parker said. “It put the club in the national spotlight. We’re big dreamers, we thought we could have a chance of making it into round three, but that’s not going to stop the momentum now going into the NPSL season.”
Over 2,000 tickets were sold for this Wednesday night event, and hundreds of Sasquatch supporters packed their drums and flags and made the two-hour journey from Boone, showing the level of support that this NPSL team has.
“It’s incredible,” Parker added. “It felt like a home game, there aren’t many USL One, USL Championship, MLS teams that travel with that kind of support, we are very blessed that we play for a fan base and community that gets behind the team.”
The 2022 NPSL Coach of the Season will try to lead the team to another Southeastern Conference championship when the regular season begins in May.
Photo Credit: Sam Vanolinda/NPSL.com