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2024 USL Kickoff Season Preview: Charlotte Independence

By ETHAN TRIEBSCH -, 02/14/24, 12:30PM EST


Jacks' group of veteran returnees hope to ride into postseason for fifth consecutive season

The Jacks are fresh off their best finish to a season in club history, riding into the postseason for a fourth consecutive season and falling just short of winning the 2023 USL League One Final. Now set to compete in its 10th season, Charlotte are set to retain the bulk of its roster from a season ago, and veteran coach Mike Jeffries is back for his 10th season with the club as well, having coached the Jacks in all but 15 of the club's 290 matches across all competitions. Following the same formula used in recent years, expect an experienced Charlotte side to compete at a high level once again.

The Independence started hot in 2023, racing out to a 3-0-4 record and first-place position through the first six weeks of the season - their best start to a season in club history. Through the end of June, Jeffries' Jacks had compiled an impressive 7-4-5 record across all competitions. Despite ending the season with a few more losses than they started with, the Independence did not drop below fourth place in the standings throughout the duration of the 2023 League One campaign.

During the 2023 USL League One Playoffs - Charlotte's fourth consecutive postseason appearance - the fourth-seeded Independence downed perennial power Greenville Triumph SC in the Quarterfinals before posting a Semifinal shutout against Players' Shield winners Union Omaha and advancing to their first-ever final on penalties. While Charlotte did fall just short of claiming its first trophy in the 2023 USL League One Final, the club did cement itself in league history, becoming just the third team to reach the postseason in each of its first two seasons in the league (GVL, OMA) and the fourth team to reach the League One Final within its first two seasons in the league (GVL, NTX, OMA).

The Jacks will retain at least 66% of their goalscoring production from a season ago, a year after retaining 79% of that production from 2022 to 2023 - a key reason for the team's 2023 success. One of the oldest - yet experienced - rosters in the league, Charlotte will welcome back a collection of veterans including former Manchester United FC and Newcastle United FC midfielder Gabriel Obertan, former United States international Miguel Ibarra, and Valencia CF academy product and all-time Charlotte appearances leader Joel Johnson. Additionally, Charlotte will retain 2023 USL League One Goalkeeper of the Year Austin Pack, potent goalscorer Tresor Mbuyu, All-League Second Team midfielder Omar Ciss and quality defender Nick Spielman. 

Players to Watch

Austin Pack | Image Credit: North Carolina FC

GK - Austin Pack

Pack is back. The reigning USL League One Goalkeeper of the Year will return to Charlotte for his fifth season at American Legion Memorial Stadium after he shattered a league record with his 116 regular-season saves and guided the Independence to their first-ever final. The All-League First Team goalkeeper enjoyed a breakout season to lead Charlotte to its best finish in club history and added nine clean sheets, 208 recoveries and 150 successful long passes in addition to his record-breaking saves total. In 55 regular and postseason matches for the Independence across the USL Championship and USL League One, Pack's 178 saves and 16 clean sheets are second only to Brandon Miller for the most in club history.

DEF - Nick Spielman

Joining Charlotte after spending the first three years of his professional career with Chattanooga FC, Spielman played a large role in helping the Jacks to the 2023 USL League One Final. Spielman, a rather surprising omission from the All-League First and Second Team, finished second in the league with his 27 blocks and ranked highly in passes completed (1,463) passing accuracy (88.99%), recoveries (172) and touches (1,984). Further, the 29-year-old defender registered the highest goals-added value (2.65) among center backs and the highest overall value for interrupting play (1.56), according to American Soccer Analysis. 

Nick Spielman | Image Credit: North Carolina FC

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