(Note: This appeared in the print edition of The Charlotte Observer on Thursday, Aug. 21)
Charlotte Eagles midfielder Wells Thompson said he was having a little trouble hearing the interviewer’s questions after his team’s 2-0 victory over Orlando City Soccer Club on Wednesday at the Queens University Athletic Complex.
No surprise, given the left ear full of gauze that he was sporting after rupturing an eardrum in a collision with an Orlando player. But that didn’t stop the former Wake Forest star from scoring a pair of late goals to give Charlotte (9-13-3, 30 points) another push in its scramble for a USL Pro League playoff spot.
“Maybe I should do the other ear for the next game,” Thompson said. “Crazy things happen. But a game like this shows what a team can do when they believe in each other.”
The win was the first ever for the Eagles against league-leading Orlando (16-3-4, 52 points). And barring a playoff rematch it might be the last, given the the Florida club’s departure for Major League Soccer at the end of this season.
Regardless, it’s a major stride in Charlotte’s late-season playoff drive. If the playoffs started today, the Eagles would be in the eighth and last spot by a point — matched up against Orlando. Three regular season games remain.
“We have to be careful not to think that we have it made,” Charlotte coach Mark Steffens said. “We’re still in a hole, but this is really good for our confidence.”
The Eagles played the visitors to a standoff for much of the match. Neither team generated many scoring chances in a scoreless first half in which Orlando outshot Charlotte, 6-4.
“We decided to press them for certain periods in the game,” Steffens said. “Our best shot was to disrupt their rhythm and I think we did that pretty well. The guys stepped up to the challenge.”
Steffens praised the defensive effort of Thompson on Orlando’s standout defender Luke Boden. And Thompson became the offensive star as well starting in the 72nd minute.
He took a pass from Zak Boggs and launched a low, hard shot from the top of the 18-yard box for the game’s first goal.
The second goal came in stoppage time at the end of the match, when forward Tyrone Hall collected a loose ball and left a back pass for Thompson. His shot from about 10 feet out found the back of the net.
“Those were two great finishes,” Steffens said. “We came close to taking him out (after the ear injury), but the doctor said he could still play. He’s a special player.”
NOTES: The Eagles’ next game is Aug. 29 at home against Pittsburgh at the Queens Athletic Complex..Former Charlotte 49ers standout Giuseppe Gentile, who started the season with the Eagles, was signed by Orlando last month.