Charlotte FC's miracle playoff bid falls short: "We just ran out of time"

Charlotte FC thank fans

With a few extra minutes, perhaps Charlotte FC’s once-improbable Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs dream would have lived on.

That’s at least the hope midfielder Brandt Bronico latched onto, speaking after a 2-2 draw Wednesday night vs. the Columbus Crew that formally ended the expansion club’s late-season charge up the table.

“I saw a quote somewhere, it was like, in this case: 'We didn't tie the game, we just ran out of time,’” Bronico said post-game. “So that's the way it goes sometimes, but I'm excited to see what we grow and build off and go into next season like."

Charlotte needed a win to enter their Decision Day fixture Sunday at the New York Red Bulls (2:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) with a chance to climb into the Eastern Conference’s top seven places. Instead, they’ll be playing for pride and possibly ending their inaugural campaign five games unbeaten, now carrying a 3W-0L-1D streak that kept the fairytale alive and had the Carolinas thinking a miracle was within reach.

Once the emotions settle, center back Anton Walkes thinks The Crown can look back with pride on what this late-season foundation means for 2023, when they’ll reportedly be led by now-interim coach Christian Lattanzio on a full-time basis.

“I think there's still more to come, I can see it,” Walkes said. “And obviously with our coach, he's put so much effort and time into the team. I honestly believe we can do more for him. The last four games we have, but obviously we needed to do it a bit more consistently to start off with. I just honestly believe with a good preseason we can really start the season strong and show what we're about.”

Wednesday’s make-up game began at 0-0 in the 16th minute, resuming then per league rules (with the same lineups and substitutes) after a weather-forced postponement from July 30. Columbus grabbed a 2-0 lead through Lucas Zelarayan’s incredible 56.1-yard free kick and Luis Diaz’s back-post finish, creating an uphill climb for the hosts.

But Charlotte’s second-half subs paid off, with Daniel Rios’ red-hot form bringing them back within one and then Andre Shinyashiki equalizing in the 94th minute. Karol Swiderski had a late go-ahead chance on Kamil Jozwiak's free kick, yet the Poland international’s header went over the bar. Quickly, reality sunk in that they’re no longer in postseason contention.

“I'm so sad because we tried really, really good in the last couple of games and before this game we still believed,” Swiderski said. “ … Next season we can be much, much better. If we give [Lattanzio] also time to be better and with preseason, next season will be much better for us.”

Charlotte have experienced plenty of highs and lows as an expansion club, parting ways with manager Miguel Angel Ramirez 14 games in and setting an MLS standalone single-game attendance record with 74,479 from their inaugural home match. Those are two high-profile examples, and an overreaching emotion remains for Lattanzio.

“I'm very, very proud,” Lattanzio said. “I watch our team playing and I enjoy. This is for me very important. I know we are in the professional game, so the result is what people look [at], the scoreboard. But for me, it's important how we play. Because the better you play, the more chances you have to win games.”

Despite being out of the postseason field, Charlotte hope to cap their 34-game season on a high note at Red Bull Arena. They'll finish 2022 anywhere from ninth to 11th place in the East.

“The last game for us is important because we want to finish well and also because morally we need to honor the league and for the clubs that are still in contention,” Lattanzio said. “So we need to try to do our best because this is the moral thing to do, but also for us because we wanted to have this mini-season in mind, the last five games. So far we have three wins and a draw, and we want to carry on our momentum.”