|Charlotte Indepdence move ahead with USL Championship success|
|After subpar 2019, they made 2020 playoffs|
|Published Monday, October 19, 2020 4:23 pm|
|PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|The Charlotte Independence rebounded from 2019's franchise-worst nine-win season to advance to the USL Championship postseason in 2020 as winner of Group G.|
While their season ended in a 2-1 overtime defeat to the Charleston Battery, it was in the USL Championship playoffs. Charlotte may not have figured out how to make it past the first round, where they’re 0-3 all time, but they made it back to postseason play. Almost anything looks like progress compared to the 2019 debacle of a season under Jim McGuinness, who had no experience coaching in America.
His time with the Jacks resulted 1-7-6 start to the season, the worst in club history. He was subsequently fired, and inaugural head coach turned general manager Mike Jeffries began the process of salvaging a broken vessel. Jeffries led the Independence to eight wins that season, including four in a row to close the schedule 9-14-11, the first time they did not win at least 10 games.
Jump forward to 2020, and a condensed season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The preseason looked bright with the addition of league all-time leading goal scorer Dane Kelly, who led the club with 11 of their 26 goals and Nashville SC loanee Luke Haakenson’s three goals in his rookie season. Goalkeeper Brandon Miller kept five clean sheets and led the league with 61 saves.
Charlotte opened the season with a 2-1 win at Sporting Kansas City II, after going 2-6-9 on the road the previous season. The Independence found a way to be successful on the road, going 5-2-1 this season and 3-2-3 at home during the regular season. They finished the regular season 8-4-4 with 28 points as the overall winners of Group G, which allowed them to host a playoff game for the first time in club history. Charlotte last made the postseason in 2017.
“Every team is a little different, and certainly this team is, in terms of getting it done, winning our group, and having a better percentage record than any of our other teams,” Jeffries said.
The Jacks have the potential for another first-time playoff location when they move from the Sportsplex at Matthews into the newly renovated American Legion Memorial Stadium for 2021. The club bounced around Mecklenburg County and collegiate venues since its inaugural season in 2015, with Memorial Stadium as the ultimate goal.
Off the field this season, the club’s front office faced backlash from players and fans for failing to support the team’s players of color.
When majority owner Dan DiMicco shared anti-Black Lives Matter content on Twitter, season ticket holders began pulling their financial support. Miller and defender Hugh Roberts emerged as social justice leaders, sparking conversations and initiatives on and off the field. Miller and Roberts supported local nonprofit Heal Charlotte in their quest to raise $10 million to address Charlotte’s housing crisis by donating based on their performance each game. Roberts used his BackYardFooty podcast to connect Black players and coaches to share their experiences. He also connected players and coaches throughout the club itself on the youth and professional sides.
Two types of silence have come from the organization, one where action speaks louder than words, such as Jeffries, who wore a BLM armband each match above his dress shirt, quietly connecting Roberts with guests for his podcast. Players continued to press forward until the front office responded with the launch of the One Club, One Love initiative to promote inclusivity that features free community clinics.
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