Sunday, March 27, 2022

Charlotte FC - FC Cincinnati (26-03-2022)


Charlotte FC is the newest “franchise” in Major League Soccer (MLS), the first tier of US soccer, and this is the third home game in its inaugural season. Like many other new “franchises”, Charlotte FC plays its first season(s) in a football stadium, in this case the Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.

I arrive about 30 minutes before kick-off, after a 3-hour drive, and see many people walk to the stadium. Parking is ridiculously expensive, but I find a spot in a neighborhood, hoping my car won’t be impounded during the game (and potentially saving $30-40). From my spot it is a 5 minute walk to the entrance.

Everything is done electronically and getting in goes very fast as it does not seem very busy. I have bought a ticket online, as they don’t sell them at the stadium. Even worse, the tickets are all resold by either season ticket holders or others, making them ridiculously expensive. I pay $90, which includes $25 “service costs” to Seat Geek, the monopoly seller.

My seat is row 2, which is actually the third row, in the corner. Pretty good view when the ball is on my side. The official attendance is 30, 242, which makes the stadium less than half full. As the upper tier is left empty, the lower tier feels pretty crowded. The audience is fairly mixed, by age, gender, and race, with notably few kids. The vast majority wear CTL gear, most notably their beautiful blue-white jersey. The CFC "ultras" are behind the goal. I see a few individual away fans.

In the 6th minute, in their first attack, Charlotte scores from an excellent counter: 1-0 and the crowd goes really wild — amplified by the unmatched sound system of the stadium. This keeps the fans in good spirits. The weather is also pretty good: mild temperature (17C) and sunny, but very windy.

The game is played on (seemingly dry) astroturf, which makes passing and controlling the ball easier, although the strong winds make particularly high balls problematic. Overall, the quality of the game is not too good. After a few minutes of injury break, the atmosphere drops considerably. Only the section behind the goal keeps going. The pace of the game also drops  considerable.

Although Charlotte FC has almost two-thirds of the possession, it feels the ball is mostly on their half and FC Cincinnati is at least as dangerous.  There are a few chances on both sides, but the hosts remain 1-0 ahead at Half Time -- mostly thanks to their goalie and the poor finishing of the guests.

A few minutes into the second half a Concinnati cross is pulled back by the wind and leads to good volley that goes just wide (but the goalie had the corner covered). In the 56th minute Charlotte scores another out-of-nowhere goal. A free kick just outside the box goes high in the far corner, picking up extra speed because of the wind: 2-0. While not really a mistake, it is also not the strongest goalkeeping.

After the sudden 2-0, FC Cincinnati keeps pushing, but remains ineffective. One long Cincinnati attack leads to a hidden shot from 10 meter, which is excellently saved by the goalie. As time passes, it becomes more and more clear that they won't score, and this leads to a quite lucky home victory, in which Charlotte FC scores 2 times from at best 4 good chances.

All in all, it was a quite pleasant experience. The atmosphere felt more like American football than soccer though, in part because of the stadium. It is difficult to foresee the future of Charlotte FC at this moment. It felt that many fans were there for the first time, like me buying extremely expensive tickets from "season ticket holders" who are just scalpers. I don't see that leading to a solid support base. I know I won't be back as long as the inflated prices are at around $100 or even higher.

Friday, March 04, 2022

KVC Sint-Eloois Winkel Sport – KFC Dessel Sport (20-02-2022)


It was good that we arrived more than an hour before kick-off to town, as it took us almost 30 minutes to find the stadium. The address online was more than 10 km from where the real Sportpark Terschueren is. Our last game of the weekend is again in the Eerste Klasse, the third division of Belgian soccer. We visit the KVC Sint-Eloois Winkel Sport, which was founded in 1940, during the Second World War, and has mainly made some promotions within the amateur divisions because of the many bankruptcies of Belgian soccer clubs.


After killing time to escape the still relentless rain and wind, we arrive 2 minutes before kick-off, park straight in front of the ground on a tiny parking lot that is nevertheless only one-third occupied. As we approach the small ticket booth, the guy starts to wave his hands and tells us enthusiastically that face masks are no longer necessary. He is also the first one this weekend not to check our vaccine status. We keep our masks on, completely confusing the man, and pay €10 ($11) for a generic ticket.


The stadium, if you will, has an Astroturf pitch and two small stands. We sit on the main stand, which is covered and has six rows of seats. On the other long side of the pitch is a small standing-only stand, also covered, with only 18 people on it. There are between 150 and 200 people in the stadium, including a sizeable section from Dessel, who are top of the league. The supporters are again older, white men from around town (which explains the lack of cars on the little parking lot).


In the 11th minute there is an awful misunderstanding between a defender and the goalie of Winkel Sport, after having received a free kick some 25 meter from their own goal. The defender kicks the ball softly to his goalie, who thinks he is going to take the free kick himself, as a Dessel striker gets in between them, picks up the ball, goes around the goalie, who protests and motions that he is to take the free kick, and shoots from 20 meter in the goal: 0-1. The group of some 35-50 loud (and drunk) away supporters jumps up to celebrate.


Dessel remains better but by and large stops playing. Still, they do get some chances, often through breaks after poor defending by the hosts. In the 30th minute, after a foul, a hard, low shot from 20 meter is saved by the home goalie, first with his hands and then the rebound from 5 meter with his leg. After that, Winkel Sport gets several chances. The most notable, in the 42nd minutes, sees a beautiful action by the striker, who cuts free in the box and shoots hard in the short corner from 5 meter, but it ricochets off the post. In extra time, Dessel attacks and a saved header is rebounded with a beautiful half volley from 16 meter, but lands on top of the crossbar. Half time: 0-1.


Although Dessel has the much better team and cannot afford to lose any points at low-placed Winkel Sport, they seem uninterested in making the lead bigger. You see the confidence of the hosts grow, as they create a few chances. In the 55th minute a Winkel-Sport break leads to a foul in the box. The penalty is scored and it is 1-1.


At the end of the game Winkel Sport becomes stronger and stronger. In the 85th minute they have an excellent break, with a great through pass, a strong cross back, and a volley from 5 meter that is saved by the goalie. Unfortunately, three minutes later a player gets his second yellow and has to leave the pitch. It is only now, a few minutes before the final whistle, that Dessel starts to really pressure. But it won’t help them. They lose two points, as it ends 1-1, which is quite sour for Winkel Sport, who deserved more, particularly given the unfortunate goal they got against them.



KVC Sint-Eloois Winkel Sport is really just a small amateur team. Although they play in the third division of Belgian football, they have never played professional, unlike many other teams in that league (like Dessel). Not the most exciting groundhop destination.

KVV THES Sport Tessenderlo - FC Mandel United (19-02-2022)

The drive from Wegberg to Tesssenderlo is so short that even with an excellent pig out stop in Geel, we arrive to the town far too early. As it is cold and rainy, Belgium and the Netherlands are punished by a crazy storm (which would create major damage, particularly at the West coast), but we find shelter in a canteen opposite to the stadium, where we can also park. We are visiting the KVV THES Sport Tessenderlo, a team in the Eerste Nationale (First National Amateur Division), the third tier of Belgian football. Unsurprisingly, this is another fusion club, with THES standing for Tessenderlo, Hulst, Engsbergen and Schoot.


Two minutes before kick-off we cross the street to the stadium and pay €12 ($13) for a generic ticket. The stadium at the Gemeentelijk Sportpark (Community Sports Park) Tessenderlo has only one stand, on one long side, but it is quite big, giving the ground a more real football experience. The pitch is Astroturf.


There are some 250 to 300 people in the stadium, almost all sitting on one half of the main stand. The fans are local, almost all men (40+), and again very few women and children. As far as I can see, there are no away fans. KVV THES Sport Tessenderlo is somewhere mid-table, while FC Mandel United is bottom of the table.


The game is played under atrocious conditions. It rains almost the whole game but the real problem is the extreme wind, which is not just cold, but makes particularly passes high passes problematic. In the 13th minute the guests have their first good attack, but the striker heads the ball wide. Two minutes later a too long THES free kick goes from right to left, the cross is missed by the goalie but the rebound is missed. A minute later, the hosts have a counter, the player goes around the goalie, but shoots hard wide.


In the 20th minute a long ball is missed by a defender and a THES striker goes alone at the goalie, followed closely by three defenders, and scores cool: 1-0. Two minutes later, the hosts head a free kick at the goalie from close by. Ten minutes later they have a fantastic counter, with a brilliant cross in the run, and the striker totally misses the ball. Criminal! Three minutes before half time, the guests, who escaped several time, score in an unexpected move. 1-1 is the half time score.


After a classic Belgium stadium snack, a bit too crispy Mexicano Sandwich with Samourai sauce, it is time for the second half. The weather remains horrible. In the 57th minute a THES cross is poorly boxed away by the Mandel United goalie, fantastically volleyed in the rebound, and even more spectacularly saved by that same goalie. Two minutes later a beautifully executed attack by the hosts is missed from 7 meter by a striker who shoots hard but wide.


The longer the game continues, the poorer the hosts play. In the 63rd minute Mandel has an enormous chance, after a counter, but striker, who goes alone at the goalie, shoots wide. Although THES has been much better, and should have won this game easily, Mandel seems to win it in the last minute of extra time, when the ball is pumped into the THES box, and after a header a group of players jump and one heads it in from about 3 meter… 1-2. No, as the goal is disallowed because the goalie is attacked in his protective space.


So the game ends in a 1-1 draw, which is almost lucky in the end for THES, which should have easily have won this game against the bottom team of the league. They created enough chances, despite strong rain and wind, but failed to finish. 


Overall, not a good game, but many very good chances made it entertaining. And while there are few supporters, and there is not too much atmosphere, the big stand gives it a real football feel.