The Rough Road Ahead To The Playoffs
By Brian Maurer and Tyler Trent
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
Where Charlotte FC Currently Stand
Charlotte FC have gone through a real rough run of form. They have lost three of their past four matches. This poor run has seen them drop from seventh in the standings to eleventh. With a very tight table, any rough patch, or a three game win streak can change the entire outlook of the remainder of the season.
Charlotte FC have earned 29 points out of their first 24 games. Which gives them a points per game (PPG) average of about 1.21.
The table below shows where the teams ranked fourth-seventh in the Eastern Conference currently stand. The important statistic for these teams is the PPG. This stat shows the overall pace these teams are at, and can help us determine an estimate of how many points will be needed for Charlotte to find a way back into the playoff race.
4th - New York Red Bulls
5th - Columbus Crew
6th - FC Cincinatti
7th - Chicago Fire
The pace to get into the playoffs is generally about 47 or 48 points. This year the pace for seventh place is a bit lower than usual. Chicago’s current pace would have them finish with about 43 points*. Charlotte’s current pace is not much lower than that, which means one streak of three or four games where Charlotte goes undefeated could change the outlook of their playoff hopes.
However, the concern is the difficulty of the remaining schedule, and especially the difficulty of their next two road games. Charlotte has to play two of the best teams in all of MLS on the road in the span of five days.
What The Other Contenders' Schedules Look Like
Looking at the teams filling out the spots from 5th to 13th, Charlotte FC, FC Cincinnati, Orlando City, and Atlanta United have the most difficult remaining schedules on paper.
FC Cincinnati has three potentially tricky matches against Western Conference teams still on the schedule with three games in a row against San Jose, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle. Throughout the remainder of the season they will also be playing other playoff spot contenders Charlotte FC, NYCFC, and Chicago before finishing the season against DC United.
Orlando has remaining trips to New York Red Bulls, Charlotte FC, Inter Miami, Philadelphia Union, and NYCFC. At home, they also have a difficult match against Seattle, and matches against fellow Eastern Conference playoff contenders NYCFC, Atlanta United, Toronto FC, and Columbus Crew.
Atlanta United has managed to get themselves one point behind Charlotte FC with a game in hand, but they’re upcoming schedule won’t be easy. Matches against FC Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls, Columbus, Philadelphia (home and away), Portland, Toronto, New England, and NYCFC will prove difficult.
The tightness of the Eastern Conference can make any match a difficult game, but there’s hope in looking at some of our closest contenders remaining schedules. Charlotte is not the only team that will have a rough run into decision day.
It is also worth mentioning that many of the Eastern Conference contenders still have games against each other, so some major point swings could still be in the cards. For the most part it will come down to which teams can both keep the pace with the pack, and who can go on a three to five game point streak, similar to what the Chicago Fire are on now.
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
The Corujo Injury
Charlotte FC announced earlier this week that Guzman Corujo will be out for the remainder of the season after a successful surgery to repair an ACL injury suffered in the game against Chicago Fire. This will be a major blow to Charlotte’s defense.
Corujo has been a consistent presence in Charlotte FC’s backline all season. He has also been the guy who makes a ton of defensive recoveries and who cleans up the mistakes and turnovers that the team makes. An occurrence that is quite common for this young and inexperienced squad.
With Corujo out injured, one of the biggest question marks for Charlotte will be how their backline sets up for the remainder of the season, especially in these next two matches, because of LAFC and NYCFC’s high-powered attacks.
Charlotte will likely depend on Anton Walkes to step up as the last line of defense. Can he become the guy who makes the defensive recoveries that Corujo has become so well known for making? Or will we see the rise of Jan Sobociński? The new addition, Adilson Malanda, could be called on early to step up for the team as well, after his Visa is secured.
The Games Remaining
At LAFC - They are currently leading the Supporters Shield race, and are likely the front runners to win the MLS Cup.
At NYCFC - They are second in the Eastern Conference, and while they lost their best goalscorer, Taty Castellanos, they are still an extremely dangerous attacking side due to the amount of depth in their squad.
Vs Orlando City FC - Orlando are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference. They are one of the few teams that Charlotte play that are not currently in the playoff picture. Orlando City have been rather inconsistent for much of the season, but they do have some players who are capable of making the big play to get a result.
Vs Toronto - The recent loss away to Toronto is likely still too fresh in many Charlotte FC fans’ minds. They are not in the playoff standings currently, but they splashed a ton of cash during the summer and could be a dark horse to make a run into the top seven. This will be another crucial game for Charlotte for more than to avenge the blow out from a couple weeks back.
At FC Cincinnati - They currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference. They also have two of the most in form attackers in MLS in Brandon Vazquez and Luciano Acosta. This could be a very different feeling test for Charlotte in Cincinnati.
Vs NYCFC - Charlotte has to run it back against NYCFC. A brutal final part of the schedule. At home, and at this point in the season, with so few games left Charlotte could be desperate for a win against New York.
At Chicago Fire - Chicago jumped Charlotte into seventh place with their surprise win against the Black and Blues this past weekend. This is a chance for Charlotte to try and get those points back. A difficult task as Chicago’s main designated player (DP), Xherdan Shaqiri, is starting to find his rhythm with the Fire.
Vs Philadelphia Union - The Union are currently the top dogs in the East. Charlotte faced them early on on the road and lost 2-0. Another crucial and difficult home match in the final stretch of the season for Charlotte.
Vs Columbus Crew - This thunderstorm make up game could line up to be a very decisive game for both Charlotte and Columbus. The playoff hopes for both teams could be riding on the results of this match.
At New York Red Bulls - Christian Lattanzio led Charlotte FC to a dominant win against the Red Bulls in his first match as interim head coach. This game should end up having a lot of hype around it simply for the fact that it will be Charlotte’s first ever decision day game. The Black and Blues will be hoping that this game includes an ability to earn a result that can still decide a playoff spot for them.
8 of the last 10 games are all against teams currently sitting in a playoff spot. The two teams Charlotte FC play that are not currently sitting in a playoff position are Orlando City, who are just outside of playoff position, and Toronto FC, who just made three big signings this summer and who could start making a push.
The final stretch of games is going to be very intense, and is likely the most challenging part of the entire schedule. This is why missing out on getting points from some of their recent matches is such a hard pill to swallow. If Charlotte FC are going to legitimately have playoff aspirations in their inaugural season, they are going to have to dig deep and surprise a lot of people by getting some points against some of the most talented clubs in MLS.
*Rounded up to get to the 43 point total.