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Charlotte Independence eyes ‘unfinished business’ - making USL playoffs

Charlotte Independence goalkeeper Kyle Renfro dives to make a stop during the team’s practice at the Ramblewood Soccer Complex stadium on Wednesday. The Independence, who missed out on making the United Soccer League (USL) playoffs last season, open their 2016 season on Saturday at home against Louisville City FC.
Charlotte Independence goalkeeper Kyle Renfro dives to make a stop during the team’s practice at the Ramblewood Soccer Complex stadium on Wednesday. The Independence, who missed out on making the United Soccer League (USL) playoffs last season, open their 2016 season on Saturday at home against Louisville City FC.

Enzo Martinez is more than ready to get the Charlotte Independence’s 2016 season underway.

But Martinez also doesn’t want to forget last year, when a rough start and strong finish kept the Independence from making the United Soccer League playoffs.

Charlotte opens its second season in the USL on Saturday, hosting Louisville City FC at the Ramblewood Soccer Complex stadium. Game time is 7 p.m.

The Independence went 10-8-10 (40 points) last season, good for seventh in the USL’s 12-team Eastern Conference. The team finished one point behind Pittsburgh and Richmond, and two points back of New York.

Yet it was really two seasons in one – Charlotte went 4-6-4 over the first half of the 2015 USL season, then closed out the second half at 6-2-6.

“That’s been the biggest thing – when people ask me how we did last year, it’s so hard to explain where we could’ve finished and where we did finish,” Martinez said after practice Wednesday.

“Just one game, that’s all it was. Just one point away (from making the playoffs), two points away from finishing third. That speaks huge to how we started, and how we finished.”

Martinez, a midfielder, is one of eight Charlotte players returning from last year’s team. The others are forward Caleb Calvert, midfielders Jorge Herrera, Alex Martinez and Jack Metcalf; and defenders Bilal Duckett, Patrick Slogic and Henry Kalungi.

“There is a little bit of the ‘unfinished business’ part with us,” Independence coach Mike Jeffries said. “But we come into this as a new year and a fresh group.

“But it does help having a group of guys coming in with the confidence of knowing how we want to play and what we’re capable of. That gives us a decent starting point as we go into this season.”

Enzo Martinez – who had four goals and seven assists for Charlotte last season – said he can already see a difference in this year’s team.

“We have a lot of depth this year, that’s the biggest thing,” Martinez said. “Any guy can come off the bench and contribute. Every practice, you’ve got to show up because it’s very competitive.

“From where we were at this time last year, this year we’re miles ahead. But we know that with a new team, we’ve got to start strong or the same thing’s going to happen this year.”

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