The Oppo: Charlotte Independence

May the fireworks ensue

T. Cooper Hull Photography, LLC

Welcome back for another chapter of the Oppo. A series of articles breaking down Birmingham Legion’s 2021 regular season opposition. This time we’ll be diving into Charlotte Independence. “The Jacks” will be visiting BBVA Sunday, September 26. 

Overview

Charlotte Independence have been around the league for quite some time. They entered the league back in 2015 when USL teams were still playing division 3 soccer. Despite their long tenure, Independence has yet to find firm footing in the league. The highest up the table they’ve landed during regular seasons is 5th, and that has only happened twice. However, during 2020’s topsy-turvy year, they managed to place first in their return to play group. Charlotte made it up to the quarter finals in 2020, that also being the furthest into any playoffs the Jacks have been, making the quarter final mark twice before. Forever finding themselves as the league gatekeepers, the Jacks already have a preseason win over Tormenta FC (1-0) and will be hoping to build on that to push themselves further up the table this year.  

Coaches

Mike Jeffries leads the helm at Charlotte Independence. Jeffries found himself on a roller-coaster of a coaching career. Starting as a player-assistant coach, Jeffries has coached in several different leagues and at a few colleges, including his alma mater Duke. He has been head coach, assistant coach, volunteer coach, and even a World Cup scout. His biggest coaching accomplishments come as an assistant to Bob Bradley in MLS. He and Bob lead the Chicago Fire to an MLS cup(1998), and 2 US Open cups(1998,2000) together. 

Assisting Mike is Brian Haynes, a Trinidad and Tobago national team staple between 1987 and 1996, and 2013 NASL coach of the year. Between the two of them they’ll hope to build upon last season’s limited success and bring some awards to Charlotte Independence. 

Roster

Charlotte’s roster is in the middle of a huge rebuild. Only listing 13 players right now, and Thomas de Villardi doesn’t even have a number yet. Independence started their preseason with those 13 players plus up to 10 trialist. One of those trialist, Khori Bennett struck home the lone goal of their preseason win over Tormenta FC. 

Despite having no striker on the roster as of yet, Charlotte won’t be too worried about goal production. Midfielder Enzo Martínez man-bun will be back this season. He notched 37 goals for the Jacks across 5 seasons so far. Coupled with loanee Brandt Bronico, and Khori Bennett, the Charlotte Independence midfield really starts to shape up. 

Bronico spent three seasons with Chicago Fire, after being picked up by them in the 2017 super draft. Brant will be using this season to prepare for more MLS play with Charlotte FC in 2022.

Coach Jeffries and Co will be hoping to plug in some new names around this power house midfield and really solidify their place in the top half of the table.    

Schedule

The 2021 schedule will do no favors for the Jacks early on. The start of the season sees Charlotte Independence on the road with four straight away matches. The last of those four being against The Miami FC. We already know Miami FC are going to be a strong side this year, so to get out of this opening stretch of games with 6 points or more should be a win in coach Jeffries eyes. 

Then there’s the Birmingham Legion. And that match is away too. A young rivalry in the making, this tie is almost honor bound to bring fireworks. The two teams have only played each other four times. There have been four red cards, and 16 goals in those four matches! Legion coming out on top twice with 4-1 victories in each. Independence finally found a way to stop the Legion, to an extent. The last two matches between the two being a 1-1 draw and a 3-1 win to the Jacks. A Charlotte rebuild, and some new signings in Birmingham could turn this tie on its head again though. Either way, put this one down on the calendar and don’t miss it!

Conclusion

It’s going to be a tough one for Charlotte Independence this year. They’ve got ownership controversy. They basically have an entire roster to build. They don’t even get to play their home opener until a month after the season kicks off. And then there’s always Birmingham on the horizon. Sans a Cinderella story this year, expect an up and down(mostly down) year for Charlotte. I hope the best for the young guns Jeffries is looking to bring in, but at least a few are bound to break in this trial by fire of a season.

Final Grade: D

Petering out mid table or lower year in year out, and with all the cards stacked against them this year, it looks like the same again for Charlotte Independence.

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