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The Final Match
This weekend could be the end of the road for Charlotte FC, the Charlotte Independence, and one of the most important players of all time.
Win or go home
Tonight is the first round of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) playoffs for Megan Rapinoe’s OL Reign (the North Carolina Courage play Sunday), and the first round of the United Soccer League (USL) League 1 playoffs for the Charlotte Independence (USL League 1’s North Carolina FC has a bye as the regular season runner-up). All NWSL and USL League 1 playoff matches are single elimination.
By finishing in 4th place, Charlotte has the home-field advantage at American Legion Memorial Stadium against the Greenville Triumph tonight. The match starts at 7:30 PM, and tickets are still available.
Meanwhile, if the thunder and overcast skies in Charlotte are too foreboding, you can stay in and watch what could be Rapinoe’s final professional match at starting at 10 PM EDT on Paramount+. The Reign have home field advantage and the blessing of oddsmakers, but anything is possible in professional soccer. If they win, they’re one match away from the 2023 Championship in San Diego.
Win and/or go home
Unlike Rapinoe and the Independence, Charlotte FC still has work to do to make the playoffs - and even if they beat Inter Miami and Lionel Messi, they’re not guaranteed a playoff spot.
Wednesday’s draw defined what has become a cliché for Charlotte: “a draw that feels like a loss.” With Messi and other key Miami players off the pitch, Charlotte scored two go-ahead goals; both were later equalized by Miami. With the draw, Charlotte dropped another 2 points from winning position for a season total of 25, the highest in Major League Soccer. The final result could have been worse if not for some heroic saves from goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.
In Charlotte’s new reality, they must win against Miami at home, while also hoping for Montreal, the New York Red Bulls, and the Chicago Fire to lose or draw. A draw or loss does nothing for Charlotte; if they win and two of the three teams above lose or draw, they finish in 9th and play away; if all three teams lose or draw, Charlotte finishes in 8th place and hosts Montreal for the wild card match.
Though Inter Miami is out of the playoff race, and #10 wasn’t on the pitch, the match was still a who’s who of celebrities. President and co-owner David Beckham was in attendance with his wife Victoria, as was Messi himself in a club box. Fashion designer Tom Ford, Usain Bolt, and others graced the field-level suites.
More photos from the match are available on the Soccer Sheet Instagram.
At a pre-match press conference, Charlotte FC Coach Christian Lattanzio was optimistic about the team’s chances, while recognizing other factors were now out of the team’s hands.
“The way we played in the last game can show [we can win],” said Lattanzio. “Last year, in the last game of the season, we were [out of the playoffs] … In this year, in the last game, we are still in the frame to be there. I think this is progress for a young club, for a young team that just formed.”
Charlotte hosts Inter Miami CF tomorrow at Bank of America Stadium. All MLS Eastern Conference “Decision Day” matches start Saturday October 21 at 6:00 PM EDT. By 9:00 PM, when the Western Conference matches start, Charlotte FC will know if their destiny includes the playoffs.
If it doesn’t, it may well be Lattanzio’s final match as coach.
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