I’m not one to promote Grit and Grind as the be-all and end-all of Memphis professional sporting strategy, but if there’s ever a time for it, it’s now. 901 FC’s frustrating 2-1 loss to the Charlotte Independence, marred by some egregious officiating and the proverbial red mist, means that chances of qualifying for the playoffs are slim at best. Is it a long shot? Absolutely. But is it still possible? Absolutely. Soccer arguably possesses the greatest capacity for upsets in professional sports, so it’s pedal to the metal during the last week of the regular season.
- Memphis 901 FC
- Captain Marc Burch and the Memphis defense couldn't keep Charlotte off the scoresheet at AutoZone Park.
Considering how damaging last weekend’s game was, the less said, the better. Everything unraveled in a short span between minutes 74 and 77. The first half had seen some overall sloppy play (lack of communication, missed passes) that culminated in a wide open Jorge Herrera poking a rebound beyond goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell to give Charlotte the lead. But as I’ve said before, this is a much-changed Memphis from earlier this year, so the second half saw a fire-and-brimstone approach to getting all three points.
And it was a few recurring names from the past few weeks that had the team agonizingly close to a comeback. Cam Lindley kickstarted the move after playing a penetrating ball to Marcus Epps in the Charlotte penalty area. The forward then bamboozled his marker with a deft Maradona spin to draw a penalty, which Brandon Allen duly converted for his ninth goal of the campaign for Memphis. That, however, was the last positive moment of the game. In his exuberance to lead the comeback, Allen got into a tussle with Charlotte goalkeeper Brandon Miller when trying to take the ball to the halfway line. Despite this being quite a common occurrence in any soccer league around the world, referee John Griggs deemed Allen’s conduct to be too much, and brandished a red card in the 75th minute.
Two minutes later, Charlotte scored what would be the winning goal on a set piece after Caldwell misjudged the flight of the ball. With Memphis now needing two goals while down a man, Griggs permanently turned himself into persona non grata in Bluff City when he inexplicably failed to call a penalty after Miller blatantly brought down Wes Charpie in the box. The miserable night was compounded when Pierre da Silva received a red card for shoving an opponent at the throat.
So, where does all that leave Memphis? There are some razor-thin margins over the final two games, with zero margin for error. The team needs to procure the maximum six points (without Allen and da Silva next game, who will be serving one-match suspensions) against Charleston Battery away tomorrow and at home against Louisville City on Saturday. In addition, both direct qualification rivals Charleston and Birmingham Legion would each need to lose their two remaining fixtures. That scenario would see all teams holding 40 points, with Memphis emerging on top due to tiebreakers (total wins and goal differential). It’s not an ideal scenario, but it’s not over until the final whistle blows. Regardless, AutoZone Park better be packed this weekend.