If you didn’t know Brandon Cambridge before Charlotte FC’s 2-1 comeback victory over Chicago Fire FC on Wednesday evening, you should now – especially his cultured left foot, which bent in both of Charlotte’s goals with sublime touch and precision.
The 21-year-old's breakout performance came in only a 31-minute cameo performance off the bench, his fourth-ever MLS appearance and the first in which he logged more than 13 minutes.
Only five months ago, the midfielder was still an amateur soccer player, just wrapping up a successful junior season with the University of Portland. Vancouver Whitecaps held his homegrown rights, but Cambridge was more focused on taking his Pilots to greater heights in his senior year than turning pro.
Then Vancouver called, on behalf of Charlotte FC. The second-year MLS club wanted to acquire Cambridge's homegrown rights, and they wanted him to play. Fast forward half a year and now Cambridge is in the MLS record books with former LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimović. Yes, that Zlatan, who made arguably the greatest single-game introduction in MLS history.
But as stunning a leap as the first-year pro has taken since last winter, his standout performance in Charlotte’s fourth win in five league matches didn’t quite come out of nowhere. The British Columbia native made the most of opportunities earlier in March, when he was loaned down to Charlotte FC’s brand-new MLS NEXT Pro side, Crown Legacy FC.
There, he scored three goals in two straight starts, quickly earning his way back to the first team and, for Charlotte, proving the importance of a dedicated MLS NEXT Pro side to help facilitate fluid talent development.
More than the infrastructural benefits of having a second team though, Charlotte will be delighted to find themselves firmly above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference after Wednesday's win. The Crown now sit seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 18 points after starting the MLS season with three straight losses.
As a rookie who thought he'd be finishing up his second semester at the University of Portland right about now, Cambridge is soaking it all in. After being exalted by Charlotte FC’s supporters’ groups with their ceremonial man-of-the-match crown, he found his way to a headset to give MLS 360 a brief interview, where he made sure to show love back to the fans – even throwing some shade at regional rivals Atlanta United for good measure.
“Our fans are the best in MLS. I mean, they’re great. Last weekend, they were down in Atlanta with us and they were louder than the whole stadium,” said Cambridge. “Being able to get these two goals and get the win for them, it made me proud inside and happy to give the fans what they really deserve."
Now that both he and Charlotte have found a winning groove, they’ll look to keep the momentum going on Saturday when hosting another Southern rival, Nashville SC, at Bank of America Stadium (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). Maybe his goal celebrations will be more on point, too.
"You dream of that moment as a kid and when it finally happened, you’re always practicing celebrations in your bathroom or your room, those all go out the window," Cambridge said postgame.