By Ryan Bailey

Charlotte FC’s U17 side earned a 3-2 win in the first-ever Academy match to be played at Bank of America Stadium

CHARLOTTE—History was made at Bank of America Stadium on Halloween, as Charlotte FC’s U15 and U17 Academy teams played a double-header against I-85 rivals Atlanta Utd. 

The U17 side marked their status as the first-ever team to represent the club on the field in Uptown Charlotte with a highly entertaining 3-2 victory. 

Charlotte registered the opening goal after eight minutes, when Boni Salinas’ cross spilled into the path of Samy Kolby, who beat Atlanta goalkeeper James Spurlin at his near post with a low drive:

The lead, however, lasted a little over three minutes, when a penalty was conceded at the other end. Atlanta’s highly rated Brendan Lambe—who made his professional debut for the MLS side’s reserves this season, at the age of just 15—equalized from 12 yards with a precocious finish past goalkeeper Carter Nunnery.

Charlotte were highly impressive across their three-man midfield and threatened on the counter attack on numerous occasions. Their diligent play was rewarded midway through the first half, through a successful set piece. Xander Martin’s inswinging corner was met at the far post by centre-back Bryce Swinehart, who towered above Atlanta defender Nigel Prince to head home. 

In addition to posing a constant aerial threat in the opposition box, Swinehart was a commanding defensive presence, whose reliability and strong communication skills were evident.  

“I never thought I’d score a goal on such a big stage,” said Swinehart, who was keen to credit the role of the home crowd in the team’s success. “The energy that the fans brought really raised our game. Our energy, our press, our intensity, our communication—everything was sparked by them.”

Charlotte were presented with a number of chances to extend their lead in the first half, notably when Kevin Jimenez found the net with a looping diagonal shot. His goal, however, was ruled out for a foul on the goalkeeper. Shortly before the half, Kolby saw his opportunity for a second goal on the day sail narrowly over the bar from an ambitious angle.

Atlanta were dangerous on the left, with Cristiano Bruletti and Amari Salley posing a constant threat. Equally, Charlotte offered plenty of creativity on their left channel, predominantly through the highly talented Salinas.  

“I think he did great things today, and gave an assist on the first goal,” said Salinas’ uncle Dennis, who watched from the stands with the rest of his family. “We trained him since he was six and we’re glad he’s at Charlotte FC. We’re very proud of him. He’s gonna do big things.”

Salinas’ father, Boni Sr., was also in attendance, and revealed that his son had a premonition to appear on the biggest stage in Charlotte: “Years ago, we came to watch Mexico play at Bank of America Stadium. During the game he turned to me and said ‘I’m gonna play here some time. I don’t know when, but I’ll be here.’ Well, look at him now!”

Salinas came close to adding Charlotte’s third with an effort that skewed narrowly wide before the hour mark.

Atlanta tied at 2-2 in the 65th minute when the second penalty of the day was called. Lambe stepped up once again to convert, this time beating substitute goalkeeper Jonathan Munteanu. 

Munteanu, signed from South Carolina United, proceeded to make a series of excellent saves to keep the score level, including a superb effort to deny Atlanta’s Matthew Taylor:

Charlotte’s winner came in the 79th minute, when a rapid counter attack was carried into the box by second-half substitute Christopher Thaggard. An impressive team goal was finished with an instinctive one-touch finish from fellow substitute Brayden Keenan: 

“It was a great first showing here at Bank of America Stadium, and a great victory for the U17s,” said David Gusler, president of the Mint City Collective supporters group. “We definitely tried to show up for the team, and for the city—and they did us proud.”

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