Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
The Charlotte Independence’s upward ascent in the Eastern Conference saw the side in contention for the conference lead for much of the 2017 season, which allowed the side to claim a second consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs. Enzo Martinez remained the key player in the squad as he notched a career-high 16 goals, which earned a second consecutive nomination for the USL Most Valuable Player award, while veteran Jorge Herrera had a stellar season with 12 goals as well.
The club also had much to celebrate in midseason as the opening of the Sportsplex at Matthews provided a new home, but a late-season swoon saw Head Coach Mike Jeffries’ side unable to earn its first home playoff game in its short history. Instead there was a second consecutive trip to face the Rochester Rhinos in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and while there was an element of misfortune to the Independence’ extra time defeat, it also symbolized the run Charlotte experienced down the stretch, and will look to rebound from in 2018.
Record: 13-10-9, 48pts
Place: Fifth in the Eastern Conference
Goals For: 52
Goals Against: 40
USL Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (L 2-1 AET vs. Rochester Rhinos)
2017 leaders: Enzo Martinez (17 goals, 5 assists), Jorge Herrera (5 assists), Cody Mizell (85 saves)
The Independence continued to have a strong offense, with the third highest goal tally of the USL Eastern Conference, with Enzo Martinez leading the way with 16 regular-season goals, falling just short of the USL Golden Boot award. With Jorge Herrera also in double figures with 12 goals, the only side with a higher-scoring duo was Reno 1868 FC with Dane Kelly and Antoine Hoppenot. Nine other players got on the score sheet throughout the season as Charlotte topped 50 goals in the regular season for the first time.
The end of the season was about as horrific run as any team had all year as the Independence lost six straight games in the final five games of the regular season. Home defeats to Toronto FC II and FC Cincinnati, which saw Herrera have a stoppage-time penalty kick saved, cost the Independence the chance to remain in the top four of the Eastern Conference, which means instead of hosting the Rochester Rhinos they had to visit Capelli Sport Stadium, where the club’s season ended for a second consecutive season in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Independence produced some smooth passing to open space for Lewis Hilton to hit a powerful low shot out of the reach of Bethlehem Steel FC’s goalkeeper, capping a wonderful passage, and opening the scoring in a 4-0 road victory.
A shot from distance by Orlando City B’s Danny Deakin couldn’t catch out the Charlotte netminder as Cody Mizell moved quickly to stretch out and parry the powerful shot wide to keep Charlotte in the match trailing by a goal, a vital save as the Independence went on to earn a 3-1 victory.