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USL Review: Charlotte bolsters roster with additions of Jones, Maria

Charlotte Independence head coach Jim McGuinness watches from the sideline as his team battles Indy Eleven on March 15, 2019 in Matthews, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

Things have not started smoothly for the Charlotte Independence in 2019. Through six games, the side led by Jim McGuinness has just four points and sits at 15th place in the Eastern Conference of the USL Championship.

There’s no question the roster has talent. It features two-time USL MVP finalist Enzo Martinez, Celtic FC signee and Hermann Trophy winner Andrew Gutman, veteran forward Dominic Oduro and other solid players, such as Alex Martinez and Jorge Herrera.

But so far, the Independence have just one win and a goal differential of -4. Simply put, they need to score more and defend better if they want to be in the playoff picture at the season’s end.

And perhaps the club’s latest additions will help them improve. Earlier this week, the Independence announced a pair of signings, landing defensive midfielder Michael Maria from Curacao and young American forward Zyen Jones.

Maria, 24, is a product of PSV’s youth academy and has played for clubs in Germany and the Netherlands. He has 14 caps for the Curacao senior national team and helped the team qualify for this summer’s Gold Cup.

“(Maria has) shown that he can be versatile player,” McGuinness said in a statement. “He gives us a bit of flexibility. He sees things early and makes very good passes.”

Jones, 18, came up in Atlanta United FC’s youth academy and was signed by Schalke 04 of the Bundesliga last year. He featured in 18 games for the club’s U-19 ranks, including the UEFA Youth League games. Jones scored three goals and assisted on three others across all competitions for Schalke. He has featured for the U.S. national team at the U-17 and U-20 levels.

“Zyen is young and energetic and a really fast, direct winger that can press the game really well,” McGuinness said. “He’s fantastic in one-on-one situations and he carries a big threat going forward.”

Both of these signings should be impactful for Charlotte. Both have international experience, both are young and have something to prove, and they both address needs for the club: creating goals and stopping the other team from doing so.

Things to know

  • What are two USL teams doing to boost attendance numbers? Foam parties and farm animals. No, really. Phil West of Pro Soccer USA has the story.
  • Last Saturday’s game between in-state rivals Nashville SC and Memphis 901 FC featured a 78-minute lightning delay and 78 minutes of no goals. And then Ropapa Mensah shook things up, scoring a goal and assisting on another, leading Nashville to a 2-0 win. Nashville has 10 points through five games, putting them in third place.
  • JJ Williams scored twice and Kyle Culbertson dished out two assists as Birmingham Legion FC topped Saint Louis FC 3-2 last Saturday. The loss was the first of the season for Saint Louis. Williams, 21, just joined Birmingham on-loan from Columbus Crew SC.
  • Jackson Conway, 17, scored his first professional goal for ATL UTD 2 last Saturday vs. North Carolina FC. That goal in the 67th minute proved to be the game-winner, leading ATL UTD 2 to a 2-1 victory and handing NCFC its first loss of the season.
  • There are four teams remaining with zero losses on the season: the Tampa Bay Rowdies, New York Red Bulls II, New Mexico United and Fresno FC.
  • A future USL Championship club based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has filed a lawsuit against MLS expansion side Inter Miami FC. Pro Soccer USA’s Taylor Denman has the latest.
  • On Saturday, Talen Energy Stadium will host an MLS match and a USL Championship match on the same day. Joe Tansey goes behind the scenes to explain how that’s happening at Pro Soccer USA.
  • Nashville SC will play all of its U.S. Open Cup matches in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University at the Dean A. Hayes Track & Soccer Stadium. The first game Nashville will play in the competition is May 14.
  • The Birmingham Legion and New York Red Bulls II have rescheduled their April 6 match for Oct. 16. The game was called off in the 16th minute due to heavy storms. All stats from that match will be wiped from the record and the Oct. 16 match will start from the very beginning.


  • FC Cincinnati is sending No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick Frankie Amaya on a short-term loan with Orange County SC. The MLS side can recall Amaya at any point during the season.
  • Orlando City SC loaned midfielder Cam Lindley to Memphis 901 FC. Pro Soccer USA’s Jordan Culver has more on the deal here.
  • ATL UTD 2 landed forward Bienvenue Kanakimana on loan from Czech Republic’s MFK Vyskov. The loan is for the remainder of the 2019 season and includes an option to buy. A 19-year-old, Kanakimana hails from the African country Burundi and has featured for its U-17, U-20 and U-23 youth national teams.
  • Memphis 901 FC announced it signed goalkeeper Jim Barkei, who played college soccer at Loyola Chicago and Northern Kentucky.
  • Ottawa Fury FC announced the signing of Protais Bumbu Mutambala, a 20-year-old midfielder born in Tanzania. The signing comes after he had a successful trial with the club.
  • Las Vegas Lights FC acquired midfielder Junior Sandoval via transfer from fellow USL club Memphis 901 FC.
  • Former North Carolina FC manager Colin Clarke has joined the administrative staff of Wake FC, a youth football club based in Wake County, North Carolina that will launch a USL League 2 team in May.

Watch this

Jose Angulo’s shot from distance landed Hartford Athletic on SportsCenter, and deservedly so.

No goalkeeper, no problem.

Seth Cuhsiplee’s shot would’ve been difficult for any keeper to stop.

Five passes, then Jesus “Chuy” Enríquez goes to work in the box.

Dane Kelly dazzles to net his 69th regular season USL goal.

Dylan Castanheira needed cat-like reflexes to stop this shot.

Sonny Guadarrama makes this difficult shot look very easy.

They said it

ATL UTD 2 head coach Stephen Glass on Jackson Conway: “He has been great. He does a lot of work for the team. … He found the composure to finish off a pretty difficult finish. He got himself into two or three spots tonight where he could have had chances, but he did not stop, and that is a top striker. He just keeps getting in the box, keeps getting in positions to score goals, and he got the reward in the end.”

Charlotte Independence coach Jim McGuinness on Niki Jackson, via the Charlotte Post: “He’s a fine player, and we’re delighted to have him. Hopefully he’ll score a lot of goals for us in the coming season. From Colorado’s point of view, they rate him very highly, and they believe he can come here, score a lot of goals and go back to them, and do a good job for him as well.”

Pittsburgh Riverhounds owner Tuffy Shallenberger on MLS expansion, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “I really believe it could happen down the road. And I believe the MLS would like to be in Pittsburgh. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s a sports town.”

Game of the week

Saint Louis FC is coming off its first defeat of the season and is rolling into Pittsburgh, looking to rebound against the Riverhounds. But Pittsburgh is in good form right now, unbeaten in their least four games and taking wins in their last two games. Over those previous four contests, the Riverhounds have outscored teams 8-5. Beating Bob Lilley’s team at Highmark Stadium is never easy, but Saint Louis has the talent to make things interesting. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. EST and can be watched on ESPN+.




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