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Talking Points - Week 1

By ETHAN TRIEBSCH -, 03/20/23, 12:15PM EDT


Defense reigns supreme and a derby is born in Knoxville

Defending League One champions stay undefeated, Akira Fitzgerald comes up big as he crosses the century mark and a derby is born between Knoxville and Lexington.

Here are the biggest takeaways from each Week 1 League One match.

1. Defending League One Champs remain unbeaten

With South Georgia Tormenta FC (1-0-0, 2nd) claiming a tight 1-0 victory against North Carolina FC (0-1-0, 12th) on Friday, League One champions are now 3-0-1 in matches opening up their subsequent seasons as defending champions. With a crowd of nearly 3,500 braving the cold and rain at WakeMed Soccer Park, John Bradford's new-look NCFC pressed the reigning champs hard, outshooting the Ibises by seven and controlling nearly 63% of the possession. Still, a perfectly timed ball from newcomer John Murphy Jr. in the 34th minute found a wide-open Mukwelle Akale down the pitch, allowing the Villarreal youth product to spin a low ball past the outstretched gloves of Nicholas Holliday in what would turn out to be the match-winning score.

"This organization shows up when it means something," Tormenta FC Head Coach Ian Cameron said. "We do the job. The second half wasn’t everything we wanted it to be, but our boys want to win football games, so they’ll do the dirty work, and they’ll do the hard yards. They’ll do all the running that is required as well as the pressing. They are a very accountable group."

2. Fitzgerald fends oFf Jacks in 100th regular season appearance

In what was advertised as a matchup of high-powered offenses, a defensive battle ensued between the Charlotte Independence (0-0-1, 3rd) and Richmond Kickers (0-0-1, 4th) resulting in a 0-0 draw Saturday afternoon. Kickers goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald became the first player in League One history to make 100 regular season appearances as the veteran shot-stopped recorded a clean sheet with his league-leading four saves on the week. The only disparity in a relatively even contest was chance creation; Charlotte fired off 16 shots with four landing on target, while Richmond could only muster an uncharacteristic three total shots with just one challenging Charlotte 'keeper Austin Pack.

"It was a good first game for us," Charlotte Head Coach Mike Jeffries said. "We did a good job in general of limiting Richmond's chances throughout most of the game. We made a really good push in the second half and had enough good opportunities to get the goal and win the game, but it didn’t happen. We have a lot to be positive about and build on in terms of our defending and shape.”

It may take some time, but whenever Charlotte and Richmond's respective attacking units get going, the rest of the league may have some trouble keeping them out of the back of the net.

3. A derby is born with Knoxville and Lexington's pro debut

Two penalties, a sending-off and a goalline stoppage-time scramble later, a rivalry was officially born in Knoxville. In the first-ever professional match for both sides, One Knoxville SC (1-0-0, 1st) downed rival Lexington SC (0-1-0, 11th) by a final tally of 2-1 in front of a raucous crowd of nearly 3,000 in downtown Knoxville on Saturday evening. Both sides will need to do some tweaking before facing the rest of the league, but it's exciting to see the reactions from each side's city, fanbase and team.

"We're not overjoyed with the performance on the ball, but there were positives in our defending, and we didn’t concede in open play," Knoxville Head Coach Mark McKeever said. "The main objective was three points, so we're excited for the players, the owners and all the fans that we got off the mark in the first game.

"What was good enough to get points today won’t be good enough in the coming weeks, so we're getting back to work as soon as possible to continue our growth and keep pushing on."

"Obviously, we’re very disappointed with the result," said LSC Head Coach Sam Stockley. "To lose one away from home for our first game of the season is disappointing with all the work that we’ve done. I thought we had a good response that came out in the second half. I felt at times we had the ball and we dominated the ball. The boys worked very hard and moved it, and never gave up. They always keep responding, and we’ll get back to work on Tuesday."

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