|Independence host first-ever USL Championship playoff match|
|Group G champ plays Charleston Oct. 10|
|Published Monday, October 5, 2020 11:00 am|
|The Charlotte Independence earned a spot in the USL Championship postseason by beating North Carolina FC 1-0 Saturday to clinch first place in Group G. The Independence play Charleston Oct. 10 at the Sportsplex in Matthews.|
For the third time in club history, the Jacks punched their ticket to postseason USL Championship play in addition to another first – hosting a playoff match for the first time on Oct. 10 against the Charleston Battery (7 p.m., Sportsplex at Matthews, limited fans).
Charlotte finished the regular season 8-4-4 with 28 points, winning Group G. They advanced to the playoffs with Birmingham, which finished 7-5-4 with 25 points. North Carolina FC (6-8-1, 19 points) and Memphis (4-7-4, 16 points) are eliminated.
“It’s great for us to have a home game in the postseason for the first time, even if it is with limited fans,” coach Mike Jeffries said. “We could’ve finished anywhere from first to third in our group. It’s nice to come out first, and get at least one game at home during the playoffs.”
Charlotte secured their place as group winners with a 1-0 win at NCFC over the weekend. The win completed a four-game sweep for the Jacks, who had never beaten NCFC in league play prior to this season. Their only previous win came in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match in 2015. Midfielder Valentin Sabella struck late in stoppage time to put the Jacks ahead. Jeffries credited his right-footed strike outside the box as Sabella is left-footed.
“He’s capable of scoring great goals, although right footed from outside the box is more impressive than we had expected,” Jeffries said. “He’s taken it on his shoulders to learn different roles in the game. We’ve asked him to play more as a midfielder than he did previously, and he’s done a good job. He’s bought into it. He works hard every day. As much as I joke about the right foot, he does work at it.”
Striker Dane Kelly, who had the assist against NCFC, leads the Jacks with 11 goals. The league’s all-time leading goal scorer is tied for third in the league for goals, and will prove crucial to Charlotte’s postseason run. “Dane may be the first pure No. 9 that we’ve had,” Jeffries said. “Jorge [Herrera, who retired after the 2019 season] was more of a No. 9-10 that was really comfortable playing underneath as well. Dane is sort of that target guy that’s going to be purely a box guy. It’s nice to have a guy who is capable of finding a way to get goals in a tight game. He’s been huge.”
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