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Heads Up, Independence’s Playoff Surge Continues

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 09/11/16, 10:01AM EDT


Three headed goals paved way to victory against Riverhounds on Saturday

Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With only one loss in their last 10 games, the Charlotte Independence appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time for a postseason run.

Saturday’s 4-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds at Ramblewood Stadium was the seventh win in that span, as the side took third place in the Eastern Conference standings ahead of FC Cincinnati’s game on Sunday afternoon against playoff-chasing Wilmington Hammerheads FC. With three goals in the span of 19 minutes either side of halftime, the hosts saw off a game effort from the Riverhounds, who moved to the brink of mathematical elimination with the loss.

“This is what you want your team to be – being at its best towards the end of the season and that’s what’s happening for us,” said Independence midfielder David Estrada after the game. Estrada had a pair of goals, both scored with headers, as Charlotte took control of the game in its middle third.

The key proved to be the team’s play down the right, as Joel Johnson in particular was able to push forward from his fullback position to provide dangerous moments. The Riverhounds dealt well enough with them in the early stages, but in the 37th minute a cross by Johnson to the back post found an open Brian Brown for his eighth goal of the season.

Estrada’s first soon followed as he redirected a strong near-post cross by Enzo Martinez into the roof of the net two minutes before halftime. Then 11 minutes into the second half Estrada was in the right place to capitalize when Jun Marques Davidson’s shot was parried by Riverhounds goalkeeper Zack Steffen and looped high in the air. Estrada picked his spot with his header, looping the finish over the retreating defenders into the top-left corner of the net.

“I think we matched our season total for headers,” said Independence Coach Mike Jeffries. “Our movement in the box on a number of plays was really good tonight and we ended up getting two goals off headers from two guys who don’t usually do that. We had a lot of options and were able to finish a couple fortunately.”

The goals put the game out of reach for the Riverhounds, who continued to push forward in the final half-hour in search of a way back into the game. Independence goalkeeper John Berner came up with the saves his side needed, however, finishing with seven for the contest as Charlotte took its first shutout in four contests.

Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

“John Berner is such a big guy at the back,” said Estrada. “We have guys like [Henry] Kalungi and Bilal Duckett being solid as always so it’s a complete team performance and we’re happy to get the three points we needed.”

Paired with Louisville City FC’s victory against the Richmond Kickers and the Rochester Rhinos’ draw with the New York Red Bulls II, the night couldn’t have gone much better for the Independence as they pursue a home playoff game. With a trip to Richmond on Wednesday night on the horizon, Jeffries said he was hopeful the side could replicate its play in the attacking third in the first of three big games to close out the season.

“What we take out of the game as we head into Richmond is that our movement was good,” Jeffries said. “When the game settled I thought we were able to possess the ball and break them down and we’ll have to be able to do that against another team that is well organized.”

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