Jacks aim to extend playoff streak with potent attacking unit | Image Credit: Charlotte Independence
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In their first season in League One, the Charlotte Independence extended their playoff streak to three consecutive seasons – the only men’s professional side in North Carolina to make a postseason appearance since 2019 – after sneaking into the 2022 USL League One Playoffs over Northern Colorado on total wins.
The Jacks raced out to a 4-2-2 start to the season before hitting a wall in the form of four consecutive lopsided losses in which the first-year League One side was outscored 15 to 1. While Charlotte’s four-match skid was topped off with a 7-1 loss to Chattanooga – the largest loss in the club’s eight-year history – the Jacks turned things around in a big way by downing Madison 6-2 in the following match to record its second-largest victory. The Independence went on to maintain a midtable position for the remainder of the season, solidifying their postseason berth by winning four of their last six matches. The sixth-seeded Jacks were narrowly knocked out of postseason play by eventual champions South Georgia via a 2-1 result in Statesboro.
The Independence are set to retain 79% of their goalscoring production from a season ago, largely in the form of the returning tandem of Tresor Mbuyu and Khori Bennett who headline what looks to be one of the most potent attacking units in the league in 2023. Charlotte will also welcome back a pair of former Jacks from the club’s USL Championship days in Liberia international defender Joel Johnson and the Championship’s all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly. Goalkeeping and defending may be a concern for the Jacks in 2023 following the departures of Charlotte FC loanees Adrían Zendejas and Koa Santos, but a solid core of returning midfielders – 2022 All-League selections Omar Ciss and Gabriel Obertan and veteran Miguel Ibarra – should be able to assist a relatively young backline.
Khori Bennett | Image Credit: Charlotte Independence
A productive collegiate player at Northeastern and Radford, Jamaican attacker Khori Bennett spent the first few years of his career with amateur American sides Reading United AC and the Philadelphia Fury before a short stint with sixth-tier Spanish outfit CA Cabezo de Torres. After impressing as a preseason trialist, Charlotte signed the 25-year-old forward to his first professional contract ahead of the 2022 campaign. Just one of a handful of breakout stars for Charlotte, Bennett totaled 11 goals and four assists, and earned Player of the Week Honors after tallying his first professional hat trick against Fuego FC on July 29.
Tresor Mbuyu | Image Credit: Charlotte Independence
Referring to Tresor Mbuyu’s stellar 2022 campaign simply as a ‘breakout season’ hardly does it any justice. In the 26-year-old Congolese attacker’s fourth professional season and third in Charlotte, Mbuyu exploded for 11 goals and eight assists in 27 league appearances. In an exceptional turnaround season, Mbuyu averaged a goal or assist every 116 minutes for Charlotte in 2022, compared to averaging just one score or helper every 436 minutes during the first three seasons of his career. The April 2022 Player of the Month and two-time Player of the Week served as a difference maker all season long, recording the best goals-added mark from shooting (0.73) and second-best goals added mark (3.01) in the league according to American Soccer Analysis.