CHARLOTTE, NC — On Thursday, the Charlotte Independence professional soccer team announced five players will return for the upcoming season; midfielder Alex Martinez, defender Joel Johnson, midfielder Kevan George, goalkeeper Brandon Miller and midfielder Jake Areman. The club is currently in negotiations with forward Jorge Herrera. Also, newly announced Independence Head Coach Jim McGuinness made his first addition to the technical staff with Assistant Coach Dave Dixon. The club is proud to announce former Independence defender Donnie Smith has joined the front office, upon his retirement as player. Smith will assist the Marketing and Sales teams as he pursues further education at UNC-Charlotte.
“This group is made of seasoned campaigners who have a high work-ethic and skill level,” said McGuinness. “That’s important. They know their way around the pitch and they know their way around the league. They have the football club in their veins and that’s really important.
“The most important thing now is to keep bringing people into the club that have the core values that are going be our leaders out on the pitch,” said McGuinness. “These guys are going to be able to deliver energy and work-rate for us, so it’s really exciting to re-sign this group.”
- Alex Martinez, 27, returns for his fifth season with the Independence. The fiery midfielder was a pillar of the starting lineup last year with 29 selections, tying Joel Johnson for the most on the squad. Martinez’s two-way, work rate paced the team with 77 tackles and 1,403 passes. A proud resident of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Martinez spends his spare time as a coach for Discoveries Soccer Club.
- Joel Johnson, 26, returns for his fourth season with the Independence. As a mainstay on the backline, Johnson led the entire squad with 2,586 minutes played for the 2018 season. He contributed heavily to the attack with two assists and 111 crosses. As a Liberia National Team player, Johnson has helped position the Lone Stars to the cusp of the team’s first Africa Cup of Nations Qualification since 2002.
- Kevan George, 28, returns for his second season with the Independence. Catering to the Independece’s possession-oriented attack, George ballasted the team with 1,396 passes and a 84.7% pass-accuracy rate. He netted two goals including the game-winner versus Nashville SC and anchored the Independence defense, leading the club with 57 intercepted passes. A veteran for the Trinidad and Tobago National Team, George is sure to factor for the Soca Warriors in the 2019 Gold Cup.
- Brandon Miller, 28, returns for his second season with the Independence. During the 2018 pre-season, Miller was set-back by a broken wrist, but came on strong during the regular season making 20 starts with two clean sheets. During the 2015 season with the Rochester Rhinos, Miller was named USL Goalkeeper of the Year en route to an USL Cup Championship. An alumni of UNC-Wilmington, Charlotte Country Day High School and Charlotte Soccer Academy, Miller has strong local ties and is a figure in the Charlotte community.
- Jake Areman, 22, returns for his second season with the Independence. During his rookie campaign in 2018, Areman rapidly grew into a substantial role, eventually earning 10 starts and 23 games played. Notably, Areman notched two goals including the game-winner against the Richmond Kickers in a critical, late-season game. The Monmouth University product was a standout at the 2017 Independence Player Invitational Combine.
As a substantial figure in Charlotte coaching landscape, Assistant Coach Dave Dixon becomes a natural fit for McGuinness’ staff. Dixon served as Head Coach for USL League 2 side Charlotte Eagles from 2014-17. The 2015 PDL Coach of the Year won back-to-back South Atlantic Championships in his first two seasons at the helm. On the back of the Eagle’s 2017 PDL Championship, Dixon joined Head Coach Martin Rennie’s staff as an assistant coach for Indy Eleven. Dixon has previously worked with Independence General Manager Mike Jeffries and has served as the Director of Coaching for Charlotte Soccer Academy Matthews.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” said Dixon. “The new direction and excitement is something I’m looking forward to. The Independence plays a really important role in building the game in Charlotte and I’m looking forward to being a part of that.”
“I’m really looking forward to Dave coming in and working with him,” said McGuinness. “Dave has a wealth of knowledge and knows his way around the league. It’s important when you’re coming from outside, like myself, you have someone who understands the dynamic of the league. That was a simple decision.”
The following players from the 2018 roster have become free agents; Conor O’Brien, Bilal Duckett, Greg Jordan, Henry Kalungi, James Kiffe, Je-Vaughn Watson, Kay Voser, Mutaya Mwape, Cordell Cato and Donnie Smith (retirement). Former Independence midfielder Yann Ekra has signed with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and former Independence forward Eamon Zayed has signed with Chattanooga Red Wolves SC. The Independence wishes the best of luck to each player and thanks them for their contributions in advancing the club.
The Independence will return to USL Championship action next spring at the Sportsplex at Matthews. For more information on 2019 Season Memberships, please click here or call the Independence front office at 704-206-1515.