(Note: A shorter version of this story appeared in the April 25 version of the Charlotte Observer.)
Charlotte Eagles forward Giuseppe Gentile practiced on his old college field Thursday afternoon, preparing to play against the organization that chose him in the Major League Soccer draft in January.
Wells Thompson, who became a father two weeks ago, is ready to get back on the field with the Eagles — just coincidentally against that same MLS team that employed him last season
Story lines abound as the Eagles take on the Chicago Fire Reserves at 7 p.m. tonight at Transamerica Field on the UNC-Charlotte campus.
“We know this team pretty well because we played them twice last year,” Charlotte coach Mark Steffens said. “And they know the kind of team we are. The connections that some of our guys have with (Chicago) makes for a little more motivation, but you don’t need a lot when you’re playing an MLS team.”
The game counts as a league game for both the Eagles, who play in the USL Pro League, and the Fire Reserves, who play in the MLS Reserve League.
But don’t let the name fool you. The Chicago team that will show up tonight has top-notch talent.
“In a lot of ways there’s not a big division between the guys on the MLS roster and the reserve team,” said Thompson, a former Wake Forest standout and seven-year MLS veteran. It’s a tough challenge, but I think we’ll be up for it.”
The Fire, which doesn’t play an MLS game, this weekend, will send several of their starters on the trip to Charlotte, including leading scorer Quincy Amarikwa (4 goals) and top assist-maker Harry Shipp.
They’re also teammates of Gentile, the former 49ers standout who’s on loan to the Eagles from Chicago. He made his Charlotte debut in the second half of a 2-1 loss to Richmond on April 12, the last time the Eagles (1-1 in USLPRO) played.
But it was truly a homecoming when the Eagles held a practice session at Transamerica Field on Thursday afternoon.
“The last time I played here was on Nov 23 against Coastal Carolina (in an NCAA tournament game),” he said. “SIx months, but it doesn’t seem like that long ago. I’m excited to be playing. It’s a good opportunity for me and for the team. (The Fire) are a technically sound, physical and good passing team.”
Eagles coach Steffens, whose team swept a pair of game with the Fire Reserves last season, sees it as one more opportunity to develop some cohesion on a team with 18 new players.
“We’re getting some guys healthy and I think we’re in good position,” he said. “We still have a few training days where everyone’s not on the same page, but it’s coming together.”
NOTES: The pairings for the 2014 U.S. Open Cup were released Thursday. The Eagles open play in the tournament, the oldest in U.S. soccer, with a second-round game against the Greensboro-based Carolina Dynamo of the Professional Development League at 7 p.m. May 14 at the Queens University Sports Complex. Charlotte reached the third round of the Open Cup last year before losing 2-0 to the Fire’s MLS squad.