Charlotte FC enters the final week of the season with control of their own destiny in the race for the final two spots in the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs. Two matches remain: away at Inter Miami CF on Wednesday, October 18th and home against the same Miami side for Decision Day on Saturday, October 21st.
Wednesday’s match against Miami is on a rescheduled date after the original match was postponed due to both clubs advancing in the knockout rounds of Leagues Cup. This is the only MLS match scheduled for the midweek and is CLTFC’s long-awaited game in hand, meaning they can make up significant ground on the teams above them with a win and three points.
If you're looking for a quick summary on the playoff scenarios, here’s the (somewhat) simple explanation.
Win both matches and Charlotte FC clinch playoffs as the #8 seed, earning the right to host the Wild Card match. This is, quite obviously, the clearest and preferred path, giving the fans a deserved home playoff game.
One win paired with one loss/draw could also do the trick, but CLTFC would need some help from other results. Thus, a loss or draw on Wednesday at Miami does NOT eliminate CLTFC from playoff contention, but they would then need to win on Saturday and see at least two other games fall their way. Two draws, two losses, or a loss plus a draw would eliminate The Crown.
Not satisfied with the simple explanation? If you'd like to be the smart one in your friend group come Wednesday night, read on and come crunch some numbers with me. Here's playoff scenarios facing the Club in the final week of the season.
Eastern Conference Standings:
First, let's get an overall picture of how the playoff standings stack up as of publishing. If you want the full, live Eastern Conference table, please click here.
8. CF Montreal – 41 points, 33 Games Played
9. D.C. United – 40 points, 34 Games Played (eliminated)
---------- Playoff Line ----------
10. New York Red Bulls – 40 points, 33 Games Played
11. Chicago Fire FC – 40 points, 33 Games Played
12. Charlotte FC – 39 points, 32 Games Played
13. NYCFC – 38 points, 33 Games Played
14. Inter Miami – 33 points, 32 Games Played (eliminated)
15. Toronto FC – 22 points, 33 GP (eliminated)
As a point of clarification, D.C. United is eliminated from playoff contention despite currently sitting in the final playoff spot. Because the league has an odd number of teams, D.C. United has already played all 34 games and does not play on Decision Day. Since Chicago and NYCFC play against each other, one of those teams is guaranteed to pass D.C. regardless of the result.
Charlotte FC Scenarios:
Scenario 1 – Win Both Matches
This is the easiest and most straightforward scenario for CLTFC. Win both matches over Inter Miami this week, pick up six points total, and The Crown will finish the season on 45 points in 8th place. This would guarantee hosting privileges for the single-elimination Wild Card match between the #8 and #9 seeds.
Because all other teams only have one remaining game and thus only three points max available to them, Charlotte FC could not be caught by any other team. Results in other matches on Decision Day would only affect who CLTFC hosts in the Wild Card playoff match.
Keeping up? That was the easy part.
Scenario 2 – Win One, Lose One
If Charlotte FC wins one match and loses the other (regardless of order), they would finish the season on 42 points. This scenario would leave the Club reliant on two of the three teams above them – Montreal, Red Bulls, and Chicago – dropping points in their respective matches on Decision Day.
All three of those teams are away from home. Montreal plays Columbus Crew, who are fighting for fourth place and home field advantage. Red Bulls match up with a Nashville SC team who could move up from seventh to fifth. Chicago visits NYCFC, who are still clinging on to playoff hope but need Charlotte FC to lose or draw on Wednesday to remain alive on Decision Day.
CLTFC would clinch a playoff spot if two of those three teams lose or draw.
Red Bulls and Chicago could only get to 41 points if they were to draw, while Montreal would get to 42 with a draw and hold the tiebreaker over Charlotte. This means for CLTFC to host the Wild Card as the 8th seed, they would need a Montreal loss coupled with a Red Bulls or Chicago loss/draw.
Phew. One more complex scenario to go... let's really get into the weeds now!
Scenario 3 – Win One, Draw One
If Charlotte FC wins one match and draws the other, they would finish the season with 43 points. This scenario is identical to the one above, except for one difference: getting to 43 points means that CLTFC would be better protected against Montreal in a few scenarios.
First, they would have a slightly better chance to host the Wild Card match. If Red Bulls and Chicago both lose or draw, Charlotte clinches a playoff berth. However, if on 43 points, the team would remain in 8th place in the scenario that Montreal draws or loses against Columbus. Importantly, the Crown would stay clear of Montreal if the Canadian side draw (rather than tied with them on 42 and losing out on tiebreakers, as in a potential scenario above).
Second, they would also better their chances of making playoffs, period. If either Red Bulls or Chicago pull out a win, they would pass CLTFC on tiebreakers. This means that CLTFC would squeeze in at 9th place with a Montreal loss OR draw (rather than ONLY a loss as in the “Win One, Lose One” scenario).
To put it simply, though, the Crown still needs at least two of the three teams above them – Montreal, Red Bulls, and Chicago – to lose or draw on Decision Day to qualify for playoffs in this scenario. A draw in one of the two remaining matches, rather than a loss, would just give CLTFC a few more trump cards when all is said and done. The margins, needless to say, are razor thin.
Scenario 4 – Lose Both // Draw Both // Lose One, Draw One
Charlotte FC is eliminated from playoff contention in either of these scenarios. They would not be able to pass any of the teams in front of them to reach the playoff places.
The final easy one, but not the one that's hoped for.
It all starts with Miami away on Wednesday night before Charlotte FC wraps up the regular season with a bang in front of a packed Bank of America Stadium. See you there for the playoff chase.