It was the best of halves. It was the worst of halves.
For 45 minutes, Memphis put in one of its best performances of the season last weekend against the Charlotte Independence in North Carolina. But at halftime, a large lightning storm delayed the game, and the resulting electricity powered a machine to resurrect Charlotte’s Frankenstein monster, and the home team emerged reborn for the second half. In the space of just 16 minutes, 901 FC conceded three unanswered goals en route to a 3-2 defeat on the road.
- Eric Glemser
- Fullback Mark Segbers scored his first goal of the season, and was Memphis' best performer on the night
Let’s start with the good stuff, though. Captain Marc Burch finally made a full start after a lengthy injury battle, and replaced Zach Carroll in the starting lineup. The rest of the back four remained unchanged in front of goalkeeper Jimmy Hague, and in the first half, the defensive unit had almost nothing to do.
The opening 45 minutes were all Memphis. The entire team pressed in unison, starving Charlotte of any space and pinging around quick passes that left the Independence chasing shadows. Midfielders Duane Muckette, Leston Paul, and Michael Reed were keenly aware of each other’s positioning and shifted to cover every time Charlotte threatened to break through the lines. In fact, the only real scare for Memphis was a highly acrobatic effort from Tresor Mbuyu that crashed off the crossbar.
Offensively, Memphis was ruthless and efficient, its slick passing machine humming along nicely and getting into good positions. In the 13th minute, the players produced what was almost a carbon copy of Keanu Marsh-Brown’s winner against St. Louis earlier this month. This time, it was Duane Muckette who turned into space in midfield and spotted a wide-open Mark Segbers making a run in behind. The former’s looped ball over the top found the fullback, who this time took the ball inside and hit his shot between Charlotte keeper Brandon Miller’s legs for 1-0.
Memphis saw out the rest of the half in complete control, but lightning storms at halftime caused a delay upwards of 45 minutes. That put a stop to 901 FC’s momentum, and allowed the Charlotte squad to take an extra breather and regroup. I don’t know what it was after the break (perhaps complacency?), but Memphis seemed unprepared for a reinvigorated Charlotte.
What rankles the most is that, in the 50th minute, Memphis should have put any lingering nerves to rest after scoring its second goal. Muckette and Segbers combined in the midfield third before the latter’s deep cross found Rafa Mentzingen unmarked at the far post, who took his volley with one touch to score his first goal of the season.
From there, though, it was all downhill. The Memphis press was no longer effective, with Charlotte easily playing through the midfield. And with Memphis’ center trio all having committed bodies forward, it left the 901 FC back four isolated against onrushing Charlotte attackers. Sloppy play made it too easy for the Independence to get back in the game, and the catalyst for the 16-minute turnaround came from the home team’s Dane Kelly, USL’s all-time leading scorer. Burch just missed his kick on a potential clearance in the 53rd minute, and Kelly pounced to reduce the deficit to 2-1.
In the 59th minute, Hague spilled a shot back into the center of the box and took down the attacker in his rush to reclaim the ball. Just like that, it was 2-2 after the resulting penalty was tucked away. Then, in the 69th minute, fullback Rece Buckmaster misjudged a long ball and Charlotte’s Luke Haakenson latched on to the pass. He beat Hodge all too easily as he cut inside and scored past Hague to make it 3-2 to Charlotte.
The pendulum swung wildly from one extreme to another in this game. If you told me at halftime that Charlotte would be the eventual victor, I’d have said you were crazy. After the first period, Memphis had held its rivals to zero shots on target. Unfortunately, the second half saw the reemergence of defensive frailties that had mostly been tamped down on in recent performances. 901 FC showed over the last month that it possesses the right players to string together some impressive attacking moves, but these kind of defensive showings will undermine any good efforts.
If Burch retains his spot in the side, as captain, it will be his responsibility to marshal the troops when things start to go wrong. Judging by the frailty shown in the second half (coupled with some of the performances from earlier in the restart) the upcoming match against runaway Group G leaders Birmingham Legion will require a strong and vocal leadership presence on the pitch. Memphis shouldn’t have let this lead slip at 2-0, but these things happen in soccer. Now, as always, on to the next.
901 FC travels to face Birmingham Legion this Saturday, August 22.