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A difficult path to the playoffs for Charlotte FC
Down but not out after another late blown lead; Charlotte FC still has a shot at playoffs, crunching numbers and contemplating scenarios; plus boos at The Bank, dropped points and Messi injury
It’s time for Fútbol Friday, The Charlotte Ledger’s weekly newsletter getting you up to speed on Charlotte FC, the city’s new pro soccer team.
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Today’s Fútbol Friday is sponsored by Pomfret Financial.
Go after your GOALS!
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How many points is enough? Charlotte FC needs three or four more wins in the final stretch; ‘We’re running out of games’
Justin Meram lamenting a missed opportunity: a header over the crossbar vs. D.C. United. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
Four consecutive draws for Charlotte FC, after leading late in three of those games, has left work, and a lot of math, to do. But let’s simplify it this way: If this team is going to make the playoffs, it’s probably going to need to win three of its final six games. And it wouldn’t hurt to draw one of the other three.
Charlotte has 33 points, in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. The top nine teams make the post-season. Based on tallies from recent years, a top-nine team generally finishes with around 42 points. Charlotte would get to 42 points for the season with three wins, worth three points apiece. Even then, they’re probably sweating out ninth place and that final playoff spot. (Tiebreakers are not Charlotte’s friend. The first tiebreaker is wins and the second is goal differential, neither of which is a strong suit.)
If Charlotte finds a way to get 12 more points — getting to 44 points for the season — their footing would be a lot more solid. To do that would require winning four of the last six or winning three and drawing three.
For a team (7-9-12) that has won only seven times all season, winning three or four more games seems like a pretty tall order. But this is also a team that’s shown since a Leagues Cup tournament run that it can play with anybody. Charlotte just has to find a way to put the clamps down after taking a lead late in games, or none of this math matters.
“The belief is there,” said captain Ashley Westwood. “We just need to get out of this mental block for the last five minutes when we’re leading games, and we need to do something about it quick because we’re running out of games.”
Where do wins come from? If you’re like me, you need a visual, so here’s a look at the remaining schedule:
Sept. 23 at FC Cincinnati
Sept. 30 at New England
Oct. 4 home vs. Toronto
Oct. 7 at Chicago
Oct. 18 at Miami
Oct. 21 home vs. Miami
Realistically, with two road games coming up against two playoff teams — Cincinnati (already clinched) and New England (soon to clinch) — Charlotte would be doing well to get a point or two there, and it’s OK if teams so far up the table accumulate more points. The absolute must-wins are at home against Toronto on Oct. 4 and at 11th-place Chicago on Oct. 7. Toronto has probably been eliminated by then and might send out a scaled-back lineup, which could help.
Miami and Miami: Even if you win those two games, the season and the playoffs will likely come down to the final two games with Miami, which Charlotte will play in a span of four days. Miami is the team chasing Charlotte FC from behind (at least for now: Miami is sitting in 13th place with 31 points now and closing in). Those two games, in essence, represent 12 points — six points you can get, and six points you want to keep from the opponent.
The last time Charlotte played Miami — and Lionel Messi — it got blown out 4-0 in a Leagues Cup quarterfinal. That was the only loss Charlotte took in its last 10 games since losing 2-0 in Montreal on July 14.
Since the mid-July arrival of Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba (10 wins, one loss, three draws), Miami has shown its first glimpse of vulnerability coming out of the international break. Both Messi and Alba are nursing injuries. Messi didn’t play in a loss to Atlanta United last Saturday, and both he and Alba came out of Wednesday’s 4-0 win against Toronto after 35 minutes in the first half.
Messi has what’s been described as “the lingering effects of an unspecified past injury” and had not played in the second game of Argentina’s World Cup qualifying round. Both Messi and Alba are expected to miss Sunday’s game against Orlando, and Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Daniel said he might rest both again in the U.S. Open Cup final next Wednesday against Houston.
Even so, that still leaves Busquets and a much improved Miami team around him to contend with.
Trouble in pair-of-ties? Charlotte FC tied D.C. United 0-0 last weekend at home (above), and tied Philadelphia 2-2 on Wednesday. Ties are worth 1 point, but the team could really use the 3 points from a win. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
Boo birds out at Bank of America Wednesday
After Charlotte FC failed to hold a two-goal lead for the final 20 minutes on Wednesday night and settled for a 2-2 tie against Philadelphia, a portion of the 28,584 at Bank of America voiced their displeasure with boos after the game.
Coach Christian Lattanzio assumed the boos were directed at the team, and he didn’t like it:
We let another two points slip through our hands, but I think that the boys played well. I think it’s very harsh to boo them at the end. They can boo me, no problem. I take the responsibility. It’s my fault. I take it all on me. The players played well. Why the booing? I don’t understand. Yeah, we can be disappointed because of the result, but it is not a performance that deserved a booing. It is a performance that deserved clapping because the boys not only played toe to toe against Philadelphia — which is, you know, one of the biggest teams in the league — but even better.
Many fans took to Twitter after the game to clarify their boos were aimed at the referee, with whom fans took exception throughout the game. The pivotal call of the game — a Brecht Dejaegere foul resulting in a game-tying penalty kick — clearly looked correct. So the target of the boos wasn’t totally obvious.
When veteran winger Justin Meram was asked about the booing after the game, he had the same impression Lattanzio did about who the boos were intended for, though his response was the kind of example athletes and coaches could be taught in “How to Handle Media 101”:
“They’ve been amazing for us all year, and they’re frustrated,” Meram said of the fans. “They might have taken it out. Sometimes it’s rightly deserved, and for us, I know they’re still going to be behind us for the rest of the year. For me, I don’t look too deep into it.”
Another blown lead: Charlotte leads MLS in dropped points
For those keeping tabs, Charlotte FC has now dropped 23 points from winning positions, meaning they’ve blown leads that cost them either two points when they tied or three points when they wound up losing. That total leads Major League Soccer. That’s 10 games in which Charlotte FC has blown a lead. If they win half of those games, they’re in decent playoff position right now.
The amazing thing about these late-game meltdowns is that they seem to involve a different player every time. On Wednesday night, it was 32-year-old midfielder Brecht Dejaegere, a veteran of the highest levels of soccer in Belgium and France, making a fundamental mistake.
Dejaegere was beaten in the 18-yard box on a pass to Olivier Mbaizo and took out his legs from behind for a clear penalty. Daniel Gazdag converted the penalty kick to tie the game seven minutes into extra time. It was the third lead Charlotte has lost in stoppage time this season.
“If you’re beaten, you just stay with your opponent, and then you rely on the defenders and the goalkeeper to do their job,” Lattanzio said. “If we are beaten in the penalty box in the last minute, you shouldn’t gamble.”
Related Fútbol Friday article:
“Why does Charlotte FC keep blowing leads?” (Sept. 8)
Up Next: Charlotte FC (7-9-12) at FC Cincinnati (17-4-8)
When/Where: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, TQL Stadium, Cincinnati.
How to listen: WFNZ 92.7 FM in English and WOLS 106.1 FM in Spanish.
Charlotte travels to Cincinnati to play the top team in MLS in a venue where FC Cincinnati has gone 12-1-1 this season.
FC Cincinnati is atop the Eastern Conference and leads MLS with 17 wins and 59 points. They were the first to clinch a playoff spot some three weeks ago.
Charlotte had a 2-0 lead on Cincinnati at Bank of America Stadium on July 8 on a pair of Karol Swiderski goals over a 10-minute span in the first half. Charlotte gave up two second-half goals to settle for a tie.
Ben Bender twisted his ankle awkwardly and had to come out in the 78th minute Wednesday against Philadelphia.
Cincinnati midfielder Luciano Acosta is making his league MVP case with 14 goals, which is tied for second-most in MLS.
Carroll Walton is a longtime baseball writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution now cutting her teeth on soccer and the Charlotte FC just as fans in Charlotte do. She would love to hear from you. E-mail her with questions, suggestions, story ideas and comments!
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