Match Preview: Charlotte FC at FC Cincinnati
Charlotte FC is locked in a tight battle for the final two playoff positions as the regular season winds down. The team has been undefeated since returning from the Leagues Cup break, but four of those five matches have ended in a draw. The team will need to quickly turn those draws into wins to keep control of their own playoff destiny.
Now, a visit to Eastern Conference-leading FC Cincinnati looms large. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Saturday's pivotal away match.
Match: Charlotte FC vs FC Cincinnati
When: Saturday, September 23
Where: TQL Stadium
Kickoff: 7:30pm ET
Watch: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV - How to Watch & Listen
Listen: WFNZ 92.7 FM (English) & WOLS 106.1 FM (Spanish)
For all other radio station affiliates in the Carolinas, click here.
Charlotte FC 2 - 2 Philadelphia Union (Major League Soccer | September 20)
FC Cincinnati 1 - 1 CF Montreal (Major League Soccer | September 20)
Eastern Conference Table: For the full live table, click here.
1. FC Cincinnati - 59 points, 29 GP
8. CF Montreal - 37 points, 29 GP
9. D.C. United - 36 points, 30 GP
---------- Playoff Line ----------
10. NYCFC - 34 points, 30 GP
11. Chicago Fire - 33 points, 29 GP
12. Charlotte FC - 33 points, 28 GP
Turning Draws into Wins
Charlotte FC's issue over the second half of the 2023 season has been no secret. With nine draws from their last 11 league matches, the team has struggled to convert great performances into three points late in games.
In CLTFC's inaugural season, by contrast, the team was boom or bust, securing only three draws over the course of the entire season. As that season came to a close, fans and players alike lamented their inability to eke out a few more draws to clinch a playoff spot, a narrative heavy with irony in retrospect.
"We need to overcome this mental block in the final five minutes when we are ahead in games," said Club captain Ashley Westwood following another frustrating draw against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night.
Despite this, draws rather than losses are the reason Charlotte FC are still in the playoff race. They still control their own destiny with six matches still to play, in large part due to teams around them in the playoff race also consistently dropping points in losses and draws. Win the majority of their games and it would no longer matter what teams around them do.
Young center back Adilson Malanda is taking a positive outlook on the final stretch of the season, saying the team has "six finals" left to get them to a playoff spot. Head Coach Christian Lattanzio earlier looked at the final part of the season as the team's "World Cup", noting the similar month-long stretch of games in the schedule of a World Cup and the schedule CLTFC has remaining.
Ultimately, it's still anyone's playoff spot to claim. Charlotte FC still have one to two games in hand on all their opponents. Six finals remain to fight for a playoff berth.
FC Cincinnati have been the cream of the crop in Major League Soccer throughout 2023. They sit a full nine points clear in first place of the Supporter's Shield standings, averaging an impressive 2.03 points per game. They have lost only twice in 25 home games dating back to June 2022, notching 16 wins during that stretch.
However, chinks in the armor may have appeared as of late. They lost at home to Orlando City on September 2nd and had to come from behind to scrape out late away draws at Philadelphia and Montreal. They did the same when visiting Charlotte earlier this year, erasing a 2-0 deficit to earn a 2-2 draw.
Regardless of recent form, Cincinnati are a formidable team spearheaded by number 10 Lucho Acosta in midfield. The MLS MVP frontrunner has 14 goals and 11 assists in 27 games (after a 10 goal, 19 assist season in 2022) and just received a new bumper contract from his club. He'll be the man to watch out for, alongside forwards Brandon Vazquez and Aaron Boupendza.
The Season So Far
Charlotte FC's second season got off to a tough start, with one win, three draws, and five losses in the opening eight matches. However, the Crown were able to stabilize in an extremely congested April and May, rattling off five straight wins at home in the league and the U.S. Open Cup. Over the course of the summer, wins were hard to come by, but the team kept themselves in touching distance of the playoffs with five draws in their last six games before the Leagues Cup break.
Leagues Cup served as a great reset for Charlotte FC. One penalty shootout win and one outright win put them through to the knockout stage as group winners, where CLTFC won two straight road games before falling to eventual champions Inter Miami in the quarterfinals.
Head Coach Christian Lattanzio's side have been carrying that tournament momentum over to the last third of the MLS regular season. With one win and four draws since then behind some of the best performances of the season, CLTFC need to start turning draws into wins to keep their playoff destiny in their own hands.
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