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April Matchups Bring May Point-ups?

It's a bad pun of a title, I know.


So full disclosure: this has/will be a busy week for me. I really wanted to dive into Derrick Jones and Joseph Mora this week, for opposite reasons. Namely, that I have been impressed with Jones so far in his limited action and very much underwhelmed by Mora. Unfortunately, time this week just would not allow this. I plan on looking next week.


Instead, I thought I'd look at the first month for Charlotte, where they stand versus other recent expansion clubs' first year, and what they have next.

Team Name

First 5 games

First 10 games

First 15 games

Finishing Place

Charlotte FC (2022)

​2-0-3 (6 points)

n/a

n/a

n/a

Austin FC (2021)

2-0-3 (6 points)

2-3-5 (9 points)

3-4-8 (13 points)

12 in the West, 31 points

Inter Miami CF (2020)

0-0-5 (0 points)

2-2-6 (8 points)

3-2-10 (11 points)

10th in the East, 24 points

Nashville SC (2020)

1-1-3 (4 points)

3-3-4 (12 points)

4-6-5 (18 points)

7th in the East, 32 points

FC Cincinnati (2019)

2-1-2 (7 points)

2-2-6 (8 points)

3-2-10 (11 points)

12th in the East, 24 points

Los Angeles FC (2018)

3-0-2 (9 points)

6-2-2 (20 points)

8-3-4 (27 points)

3rd in the West, 57 points

Atlanta United FC (2017)

2-2-1 (8 points)

3-3-4 (12 points)

6-3-6 (21 points)

4th in the East, 55 points

Minnesota United FC (2017)

1-1-3 (4 points)

3-2-5 (11 points)

4-2-9 (14 points)

9th in the West, 36 points

A few things that jump out:

  • LAFC is a huge outlier.

  • Based on points after the first 15 games, I would almost break these clubs down into tiers: LAFC and ATL are Tier 1; Nashville is alone in Tier 2; everyone else is Tier 3.

  • Importantly, only LAFC has fewer losses than wins by the end of the first 15 games. ATL is tied with their wins and losses, but everyone else has lost more than they won. Further, most have lost more than they've won and tied, with LAFC, ATL, and Nashville being the only exceptions.

  • Strong starts (i.e., first 5 games) aren't uncommon. Aside from Miami, everyone gets off to a pretty decent start of at least 4 points in the first 5 games.

  • The next 5 games muddy the waters. You have 4 teams that explode in points (i.e., more than 1 point/game over the next 5). This includes: LAFC, Minnesota, Nashville, and Miami. You have Austin and ATL who tread water a bit (0.6 and 0.8 points/game, respectively). Then you have Cincinnati (only total 1 point) who really struggles.

  • Over the final 5 games of this sample, you have LAFC who continue to rack up points, but joining them in that "more-than-a-point-per-game" category are ATL and Nashville. Austin continues in the "tread water" category, joined by Minnesota, Cincy, and Miami.

  • By the end of the season, you only have two teams--ATL and LAFC--who have had an unmitigated success of a first season. Nashville's is a decent first season, I think. Everyone else...they were hoping for better results next year (note: 2020 is obviously HUGELY impacted by COVID-19, so the final place and who qualified for the playoffs is not quite as good a barometer as it normally would be. I'm not really worried about whether a team qualified for the playoffs, so much as what was their end of year point total. That's why I think Nashville's season is a decent one while Miami's isn't, even though both technically made the playoffs that year).

While I don't think there are any hard and fast conclusions we can make about this information, I do think it is interesting to note that the two best teams, points-wise, after the first 15 games ended the season as one of the top teams in their conference. Meanwhile, the third best team points-wise, Nashville, finished 7th, which is a playoff spot (with the COVID-19 caveat) that year (and would be this year).


I was hoping that games 6-10 might give an indication about how well teams end up doing, but I don't think it really does, with maybe one exception. I don't think earning a lot of points during games 6-10 really means that a team will be good (look at Miami or Minnesota), but not earning points might. Cincy earned 1 point during this stretch of its inaugural season; Austin earned 3. Both teams finished bottom of their conferences. With that said, Atlanta only earned 4 and did much better, so it's definitely not a certainty.


Finally, all of these teams basically doubled their points totals from the first 15 games to the end of the season (more or less). It might be obvious to say, but by the midway point, we'll probably know if this team has a realistic shot at the playoffs or not. (note: I know this seems obvious to say--that halfway through a season you know if a team will be good or not--but I'm not sure that is always the case. I think about baseball or (American) football and I feel like there are numerous examples of teams that, about halfway through the season, are ok or even bad record-wise and then turn it around. At least in terms of MLS expansion teams' first years, this doesn't seem to be the case.)

 

Charlotte's next 5 games are as follows:

  • Away to Philadelphia

  • Home to Atlanta

  • Away to New England

  • Away to Colorado

  • Away to Orlando City

Yikes.


Those first 3 games are really rough, and the final 2 aren't easy. Philadelphia is good. Atlanta, as we saw, is beatable but can really score. And they're getting healthy. New England will probably be a different team in terms of both their physical and mental health than the one we saw a couple weeks ago (we did catch them without BOTH of their starting CBs). Colorado is off to a really strong start. Orlando has also been playing well. In fact, all of these teams have more points currently than Charlotte. With 4 of them being away games, this will be a real test of the team's ability and character.


If I'm being honest, I'm not sure how many points we should realistically expect. I think a really good return over this period would be 3 or 4. That doesn't seem like a lot and I hope this team proves me wrong by getting more.


If Charlotte is able to get about 3-4 points over the next 5 games, we then have 3 home games against teams currently at the bottom of the standings (Inter Miami, Montreal, and Vancouver). I'd like to see 7-9 points from those games based on the way those teams are playing right now. If that were to happen, all of a sudden you have 10-13 points over the next 8 games and things feel better. With that said, the performances of Miami, Montreal, and Vancouver could look differently come May; we'll have to see.. Matches away to Seattle and at home to NYRB follow.


Some might call this pessimistic thinking, but if Charlotte can find themselves with 11 points over the next 10 games, we as fans should be really happy and feel like we're in good shape. That would give Charlotte 17 points about halfway through the season. There would definitely be more work to do, but we'd be in a solid position.


The good news is no one believes this roster is set yet. We still have room for 1 more DP (and could make it 2). By the end of these first 15 games, we would be into June. The European transfer window would be open by then, so it's not inconceivable that we could really strengthen this squad. Further, we have yet to see Jóźwiak. The fan in me thinks that he will have the same type of impact Świderski has had (think about the DC game vs. all the subsequent ones); the more grounded--some would probably say pessimistic--part of me has my doubts.


Regardless of potential roster moves, this team has a daunting April ahead of it. Charlotte will need its veterans (e.g., Ortiz, Reyna, Ríos) to step up, its stars so far (Bender, Świderski, Kahlina) to keep it up, and players like Jóźwiak to hit the ground running. Here's to hoping that happens!

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