By Ryan Bailey

Charlotte FC’s youngest Academy side showed a positive style of play and several crowd-pleasing moments in a 5-3 defeat to I-85 rivals Atlanta Utd at Bank of America Stadium 

CHARLOTTE—In the second part of Charlotte FC’s Halloween double-header against Atlanta Utd, the U15 side took to the field at Bank of America Stadium, in front of a raucous and energetic home crowd. 

The first meetings between the rival clubs at this age category was an evenly matched affair, which boasted an intriguing midfield battle, several moments of sensational individual skill, and a total of eight goals. 

“The players really appreciated and enjoyed the experience,” said U15 Coach Mark Simpson. “That match provided an excellent early benchmark in their development as both individuals and as a team.”

Charlotte were aggressive from the outset and needed just 36 seconds to score the opener. Brian Romero, signed from Charlotte Soccer Academy, cut in from the right and split the Atlanta defense with a superb through-ball to Nimfasha Berchimas. The No.9 controlled with his left foot before finishing confidently with his right:

Atlanta’s George Okigbo, one of the top scorers in the U13 league last year, proved a constant threat, and provided Atlanta’s equalizer from the penalty spot.

Shortly after, however, Charlotte retook the lead when Simon Tonidandel skilfully beat his defender to pick out a run from Anthony Pena. The promising young forward showed exceptional movement and composure with his one-touch finish:

Minutes later, Adriel Sorto had an opportunity to extend the lead with a superb solo run that saw him weave past two defenders before having a low shot blocked by Atlanta goalkeeper Ethan Andrews. Sorto was one of Charlotte’s best performers in the opening half. 

Atlanta’s performance was notable for several high-quality moments, including the equalizing goal, which came courtesy of a long-range effort from Ayomideji Akintobi. 

The second half was more controlled from both sides, with Atlanta taking the lead via a well-taken goal from former Charlotte Soccer Academy prospect Rocket Ritarita. The visitors extended their lead from a set piece, when Braden Dunham met a Cooper Sanchez corner with a powerful header. 

Charlotte proceeded to pull a goal back with another well-taken one-touch finish from the increasingly clinical Pena. Romero earned his second assist of the afternoon after winning a challenge in midfield and delivering a perfectly weighted through-ball:

With 12 minutes left to play, Charlotte had an opportunity to draw level at 4-4 when Berchimas beat two defenders and the goalkeeper, only to see his shot dramatically saved on the line by Atlanta defender Gary Perez-Perez. 

With minutes left on the clock, the visitors put the tie out of reach with Ritarita’s second goal of the day—an unstoppable long-range finish that curled into the net from outside the box.  

“A couple of really high-quality plays stood out for Atlanta Utd,” said Bobby Belair, Charlotte FC Director of Player Personnel. “But it was really impressive for a younger side, playing in this stadium for the first time, to score three goals, with really good moments of play. They’ll build on this, for sure.”

The U15 and U17 matches were watched by socially distanced fans at Bank of America Stadium, who were treated to some excellent performances and a total of 13 goals. 

“I’d like to offer a big thanks to Tepper Sports & Entertainment and the club for providing this experience to our teams,” said Academy Manager Dan Lock. “We had two great games, and we’re very proud of the players for how they handled the occasion. If we want to produce professional players, we need to continue having experiences like this.”

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