|Charlotte Independence in wait and see mode for 2021 season|
|USL Championship schedule on hold|
|Published Saturday, January 9, 2021 6:30 pm|
|An artist rendering of the renovated Memorial Stadium, which will host Charlotte Independence games starting with the 2021 USL Championship campaign.|
COVID-19 continues to impact the state of the USL Championship, which paused its 2020 season from mid-March until July due to the pandemic. While sources say the league could start the 2021 season in mid-spring, it has yet to make an official announcement.
“We don’t have a start date to this point,” Independence coach Mike Jeffries said.
Charlotte bases their start date off when their first scheduled game is, typically beginning preseason training six weeks prior to their first match.
“Right now I don’t have a first game on the schedule, so I can’t tell you what the start date would be,” Jeffries said.
While other clubs have signed players throughout the offseason, the Independence have not to date. Goalkeeper Brandon Miller and midfielder/forward Enzo Martinez were the only two players from the 2020 roster whose contracts extended beyond last season. The Jacks also have options on other players, including midfielder Valentin Sabella, whom Charlotte sent on loan to Cancun FC in Mexico’s Liga de Expansion MX.
“We anticipated a late start to 2021 and had an opportunity to get Val in a good environment for him developmentally,” Jeffries said.
Sabella improved significantly during his second season with the club, and Jeffries did not want the time away from competitive matches to detract from his development. The 21-year-old midfielder could have a breakout season when USL Championship play resumes.
“It is going to be a long stretch from our last game of [October] 2020 through the first game of 2021,” Jeffries said. “It was nice to have an opportunity to get a young player out on loan where he does not lose the time in terms of development.”
The loan approach is not for all Independence players. The evolution of Sabella’s game is key at present, but Charlotte also has veteran players who do not need the same experience.
“We’ve had that discussion in a couple situations,” Jeffries said. “Val being 21 and still in a pretty heavy developmental phase, I felt like it was really important. There are guys who are more veteran players where it makes less sense to send them out on loan.”
Key to Charlotte’s season, whenever it begins, is their move to the newly renovated American Legion Memorial Stadium. Call it the Promised Land, for managing partner Jim McPhilliamy always intended for the club to play in the Elizabeth neighborhood, but the narrow field did not allow for professional soccer and the overall facility had fallen into disrepair. Mecklenburg County allotted $32 million to renovate the stadium as a capital project, with the city of Charlotte pledging $3 million from tourism tax revenue to provide artificial turf.
Jeffries has not seen the facility since prior to the holidays, but he is excited to finally call Memorial home.
“As much as I would have loved to be on grass and argued for that, the stadium itself is cool, and I always somehow manage to look at it from the side where you can see the city,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes it always looks better.”
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