“We’ve worked hard all preseason, we had a game plan, we came out and executed it,” said CLTFC midfielder and captain Ashley Westwood. “Another clean sheet, I think that’s five on the bounce now [including preseason]. We are going in the right direction.

“The main thing for me is that everyone is working for each other. You saw it out there today, lads coming off the bench working hard. Everyone is on board, everyone is in it together, and it spreads onto the fans as well. We’ve given them a performance and finally a home win on the first game of the season.”

022424_AM_vsNYCFC _00540

Smith’s confidence in the younger players highlighted the team’s collective belief. In the Club’s season opener, he entrusted João Pedro, Nimfasha Berchimas, and Iuri Tavares with their MLS debuts, averaging just 19.33 years old between them.

Tavares, recently promoted from Charlotte FC’s second team, Crown Legacy FC, earned a starting position after impressing in preseason. He justified his manager’s faith with a standout performance, including a near-headed goal off the crossbar that set up Malanda’s score, along with some dazzling footwork bound for MLS highlight reels.

Tavares’s debut was impressive on its own, made more poignant by the tragedy he endured during preseason. Just over two weeks ago, Tavares lost his cousin to illness. In his post-match media availability, he shared the emotional challenge, reflecting on their close relationship and the time spent together in their native Portugal.

“For me it’s so hard, but life is continuing, and I need to stay strong,” said Tavares. In response to whether he thought his cousin watched his performance, he beamed brightly and replied, “Yes, of course.”

022424_AM_vsNYCFC _00658

Tavares and João Pedro were brought to the Club last season from Crown Legacy, where they excelled in a team that clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference in their inaugural season. Meanwhile, Nimfasha Berchimas has been a part of the team since its inception. Even before Charlotte FC’s inaugural match in 2022, Berchimas was honing his skills with the Academy at the age of 14.

From the sidelines as a ballboy, Berchimas watched on imagining himself on the field. That dream materialized on the week of his 16th birthday when he etched his name in history as the first-ever CLTFC Academy product to feature in an MLS match – a monumental achievement for both the player and the Club.

“It feels really great,” said a relaxed Berchimas following the match. “To finally accomplish what I wanted for a long time, so I’m just really happy to have been on the field.”

022424_AM_vsNYCFC _00964

Charlotte FC’s season opener in 2024 was the first real test of Dean Smith’s team and their style of play. Ultimately, fans will be happy to have seen a group of players that are already very organized following preseason, giving them an ability to close out leads and results.

“It always starts with something that is a given for me – hard work,” said Smith as he wrapped up the post-game press conference. “You work hard for yourself and, secondly, for your team. What we do next is take on information and help each other [improve].

“They’ve taken on a lot of information, but we are still working towards where we want to get to. It’s a good start today.”

This match set the tone for the demanding season ahead, providing a much-needed confidence boost as the team braces for a rigorous three-match road stint. However, the squad remains unsatisfied with just one commendable performance. Westwood emphasized that maintaining this level of excellence is the standard they aim to uphold throughout the entire season.

“There are the standards we’ve set, and we now need to keep these standards.”