Charlotte FC made history on Saturday night, booking their first-ever playoff spot in front of 66,101 fans at Bank of America Stadium. Kerwin Vargas’s 13th minute goal stood up as the winner after Kristijan Kahlina’s late heroics.
Now, attention turns to the Wild Card match. The New York Red Bulls will host tonight at Red Bull Arena, a stadium that CLTFC has seen a fair amount of success in.
A place in the Round One Best-of-3 series against FC Cincinnati awaits. Here is everything you need to know ahead of the playoff match.
Match: Charlotte FC vs New York Red Bulls in Eastern Conference Wild Card Match
When: Wednesday, October 25
Where: Red Bull Arena
Kickoff: 7:30pm ET
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Official Watch Party: Camp North End
Charlotte FC 1 – 0 Inter Miami CF (Major League Soccer | October 21)
New York Red Bulls 1 – 0 Nashville SC (Major League Soccer | October 21)
Wild Card Match
Charlotte FC booked their place in the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs on the final day of the season. It was a wild, magical night at Bank of America Stadium, one worth reliving.
Now, they face a quick turnaround to the first match: a Wild Card matchup against the New York Red Bulls.
This single-elimination match on Wednesday night is played between the 8 and 9 seeds in both conferences, hosted by the higher seed. Over in the West, it’s the San Jose Earthquakes traveling to take on Sporting Kansas City. Here in the East, Charlotte FC faces off against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.
There is no extra time in the Wild Card match; if it’s tied after 90 minutes, the game will go straight to a penalty kick shootout to determine the winner. CLTFC fans will be familiar with this rhythm after winning two penalty shootouts right after regulation during their Leagues Cup run.
The winner books their place in the Round One Best-of-3 series against the 1 seed (St. Louis in the West and Cincinnati in the East). So, that takes us to…
Charlotte FC’s Playoff Path
The Crown face a tough road through the playoff bracket. After the Wild Card match comes the Round One Best-of-3 series, in which Game 2 would be hosted at Bank of America Stadium.
After that, Charlotte FC would face three straight single-elimination road games: the Conference Semifinal, Conference Final, and MLS Cup. They are at the bottom of the hosting priority, so have no chance to host further games.
Neither of the first two rounds (Wild Card and Round One Best-of-3) would have extra time periods. Instead, matches go straight to penalty kicks if tied at the end of 90 minutes. From the Conference Semifinals and on, though, matches will have a more traditional 30 minutes of extra time followed by penalty kicks.
Charlotte FC have tied the New York Red Bulls in their two matches this season: 1-1 at Bank of America Stadium early in the season on March 25th and 2-2 at Red Bull Arena later on June 21st.
In that 2-2 draw, Ben Bender scored an early brace as the Crown dominated the entire first half. However, the second half was a different story, and the team faced a deluge of chances from a reinvigorated Red Bulls side. They scored two quickfire goals before Charlotte managed to stabilize things and hang on to the result.
New York has made the playoffs in 14 straight seasons, extending the longest streak in MLS history and the longest active streak in North American professional sports. The Red Bulls have been eliminated in their first match in the last four postseasons, however, losing all four matches by one-goal margins.
The statistics point to a low-scoring game. The Red Bulls faced 244 shots this season (7.2 per match), 57 fewer than any other team has faced in a 34-match MLS season (Kansas City – 301 in 2013). New York held opponents to fewer than 10 shots in 28 of its 34 matches this season. No other team did so more than 15 times this year.
On the flipside, the Red Bulls have also scored the least amount of goals out of any playoff team and their leading goal scorer (Omir Fernandez) only has six. Charlotte FC, meanwhile, have kept clean sheets in three of their last four matches.
All of this, plus the heightened tensions of the playoffs, point towards a very tight match. Writer Caleb Adams also took a stab at analyzing the keys to victory for Charlotte FC.
The Regular Season Wrap-Up
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 carried that tournament momentum over to the last third of the MLS regular season, starting with a key 2-1 home win over defending champions LAFC. However, they were generally unable to turn draws into key victories for a large stretch.
The team entered the final four matches of the season likely needing to capture 10 to 12 of the remaining 12 points available. A crucial, dominant home victory over Toronto FC got that needed winning streak underway and a clutch win on the road against Chicago continued it. A draw on the road at Miami kept them in it, before a tense 1-0 home win on the final day of the season over that same Miami side – this time featuring Lionel Messi for 90 minutes – clinched the Club’s first-ever playoff spot.