An equaliser from the penalty spot in the last seconds of open play, followed by a shoot-out that did not go the Blues way, denied us what looked set to be a second win of our USA-based pre-season.
A goal in the States by America’s star soccer player, and a first sighting of Raheem Sterling in a Chelsea shirt, are the other take-home messages from our midweek visit to North Carolina.
Christian Pulisic, playing 500 miles south of his home town, was a scorer half-an-hour in as the side selected for the opening 45 minutes of our second pre-season match netted our one goal without reply during their time on the pitch.
As in the first pre-season game in Las Vegas, Thomas Tuchel gave the majority of his squad plenty of minutes and those on the pitch before the break looked fluid in attack as they switched play well, but were fortunate not to concede the first goal when a shot was deflected onto the post.
For the start of the second half, Raheem Sterling was introduced and he went on to show the odd exciting flash of his talent, and was denied a goal by a good save towards the end of the second period, but a Trevoh Chalobah handball gave our MLS opponents a lifeline they grabbed.
A saved Conor Gallagher spot-kick decided the penalty shoot-out that followed.
Edouard Mendy was given his first match action of pre-season as part of the starting line-up and Pulisic, in his homeland, was also in the 11 that began the game. Only Thiago Silva and Hakim Ziyech were in the first-half side for both the Club America game at the weekend and this one. The outfield team changed entirely at half-time.
Thunderbolts and lightning
It was a game that kicked off just over an hour late. An electrical storm rolled over the Bank of America Stadium before the players had run out to warm up, and the few fans already inside were told to move into the undercover areas for shelter.
The lightning eventually subsided, even if the rain did not, so the action got underway.
Chelsea kept the ball very well from the off, with the first shot a low one flying narrowly wide from the boot of Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Mateo Kovacic forced the first save, Hudson-Odoi had a cross deflected into the goalie’s hands, and Ziyech curled one wide of the left-hand post, all inside the first 15 minutes.
On the debit side, Pulisic picked up an early yellow card for sliding through onto the shin of Jan Sobocinski, before Charlotte had their first chance.
Former Leicester left-back Christian Fuchs, who spent a season on loan at Mainz under the management of Thomas Tuchel over a decade ago, was the creator with a cross but Karol Swiderski, very well placed, did not apply the header onto it he would have wished and Mendy scrambled the ball away from goal.
Midway through the first half, Charlotte hit the woodwork. Yordy Reina was the striker of the ball and his shot took a deflection on the way to bouncing off the far Chelsea post.
The Blues, playing in yellow, steadied our ship and began to use the width of the pitch to good effect again. The opening goal however came down the middle when our centre-forward had a shot. To the MLS side’s misfortune, when a defender blocked Batshuayi’s effort, it fell kindly to Pulisic who took the easy chance from close range with his second touch.
A ball over the top gave Michy another chance to shoot soon after but after the Belgian’s run took him inside the centre-back, the highly rated Kristijan Kahlina made a good save.
Charlotte could have done better with an opportunity of their own before the interval. Instead they went back to their locker room one goal in arrears.
It took a tip-over save to prevent Charlotte scoring a freak own goal at the start of the second half after Ethan Ampadu, one of 10 outfield changes at the interval and playing in midfield, had bundled the ball goalwards.
Sterling, mostly playing on the left but with a diagonal run to the right, was brought down only just outside the penalty area to win the Blues a free-kick.
Similar to the first half however, Charlotte, who had also made multiple substitutions, had a spell when they caused problems midway through the second period. Daniel Rios narrowly missed out at the far post when a cross flicked up off the leg of Chalobah, and then Mendy was forced into a save.
Sterling embarked on a threatening run as the pendulum swung back Chelsea’s way, and Havertz very nearly made something of some loose play by the home side inside their penalty area. However it was a more fragmented display by the Premier League side than before the break.
With just over 15 minutes to play, it took a near-post save to prevent Mason Mount adding to his winner from Saturday’s game, and Gallagher rather scuffed an attempt when he ran onto a Kenedy ball.
There would be a far cleaner strike by Sterling on the run but the substitute keeper’s outstretched leg kept it out at the near post.
Charlotte players and their supporters had their hands on their heads when Andre Shinyashiki powered a header from a corner wide with time running out but the Americans’ moment would come.
Into added time, there was a Brian Romero shot inside a crowded Chelsea penalty area. Close-by Chalobah tried to block but the ball hit his hand and Rios dispatched the penalty past Mendy, the one member of our squad to play the full game.
The final whistle went almost immediately. Competitions rules stated there would be a shoot-out decider.
Charlotte went first and scored all five of their penalties but although Havertz, Chilwell and Sterling were successful for the Blues, Gallagher with our third spot-kick got very little lift on his effort down the middle, and the save proved decisive.
There is one more game to go before Chelsea fly back to England and that is on Saturday evening local time when the Blues take on more familiar opponents in Arsenal, the prize being the Florida Cup. After that just one more pre-season game remains, in Italy versus Udinese, before the big kick-off 2022/23.
Chelseafirst-half team (3-4-3): Mendy; James, Thiago Silva, Emerson; Hudson-Odoi, Jorginho (c), Kovacic, Alonso; Ziyech, Batshuayi, Pulisic.
Chelsea second-half team (3-4-3):Mendy; Chalobah, Colwill, Sarr; Kenedy, Gallagher, Ampadu, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz, Sterling.
Unused subs Sharman-Lowe, Azpilicueta
Scorer Pulisic 30
Booked Pulisic 17, Chalobah 90+1
Charlotte first-half team Kahlina; Lindsey, Corujo, Sobocinski, Fuchs (c), Bronico, Bender, Ruiz, Gaines, Swiderski, Reyna.
Charlotte second-half team Marks (Sisniega 76); Afful (Santos 82), Walkes, Makoun, Mora, Jones (Hegardt 82), McNeill (Alcivar 76), Jozwiak, Shinyashiki, Rios, Vargas (Romero 89).
Scorer Rios 90+2
Referee Rosendo Mendoza