USLSoccer.com Staff Report
Saturday, February 27, 2016
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte Independence face North Carolina State at the OrthoCarolina SportsPlex in Pineville, N.C. to open their preseason schedule on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET with the club feeling it is further ahead in terms of preparation than it was a season ago.
At that time, as an expansion club in 2015, the Independence were in the process of building a squad from scratch. Now, with a good core of players returning to the Ramblewood Soccer Complex, Coach Mike Jeffries is pleased with where things stand.
“Last year it felt like it was always a scramble and we were just staying one step ahead,” said Jeffries. “This year it feels like we’re a little more on top of things. It’s nice to have a core group of guys back that know how we do things, what’s expected, what the day-to-day looks like. The baseline is already set so that’s a real plus for us going forward.”
One of the new faces in camp is former PDL standout Lewis Hilton, who arrives with the Independence after a stellar career for the Ocala Stampede and Division II college Young Harris College. As he prepares for his rookie professional season, Hilton is enjoying the experience of being in camp.
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“I’m enjoying everything so far,” Hilton said. “The way we’ve been treated, it’s all very well organized and I’m settling in very well and I think this is going to be a great environment to be in and I think I’m going to be very happy here.”
Saturday’s scrimmage will also be a test for the trialists the Independence have currently in camp. The club has 12 players signed so far, and is expecting four players to be sent on loan from its MLS partner the Colorado Rapids, leaving a number of slots open in the team’s roster.
Jeffries said he thinks the group of players the Independence have is at a higher level than a year ago.
“The trial group this year is far better than what it was last year,” said Jeffries. “On the field for us it’s a lot about speed of play — how quickly do they see things, how quickly do they react to plays, how quickly are they able to make decisions and read plays to intercept balls.“Whether it’s physical, whether it’s finishing ability, whether it’s one-on-one defending, whatever it is, do they have some quality that adds to our group.”