Buy, Sell, Hold: The Attack

As Charlotte head into the offseason, the obvious questions on the minds of fans are going to be: who will be here next year? Who will leave? More importantly, though, who should leave? I think it’s important to say that we can’t keep the same squad that just missed the playoffs. Some of our favorite players will leave or be supplanted.

A couple things we here at the Crown Cast want to quickly say about this exercise: we support all Charlotte players no matter what. As long as a player is on the squad, we will actively hope and root for them to do well! Our goal in talking about “selling” a player is not to denigrate the person, but rather the product we see on the pitch.

Now, onto the premise of this exercise. The goal of this is to imagine that in 2 to 3 years, Charlotte FC are competing for playoff success. This means they are making the playoffs, winning games in the playoffs, and hopefully competing for the Cup. And if they are doing that, do you “buy, sell, or hold” the statement that a current player will be a valuable member of the squad. If you think they will, they are a “buy.” If you think they won’t, they are are “sell.” If you think we just don’t have enough data, they are a “hold.”

Some further “rules” about this:

  • A “buy” player would be someone who is a good starter not only for the club but also MLS as a whole OR an important bench piece.
  • Important bench pieces would be players who are consistently coming off of the bench (20-30 minutes a game on a regular basis) or regularly spelling starters in Cup games or during the season.
    • Examples of important bench pieces include 3rd CBs, 4th midfielders, and 3rd (maybe even 4th) choice wingers/wide players for our current way of playing. These distinctions depend on the tactics and formations you play. For example, a 3rd CB is a requirement for a team playing a back 3, so a 4th–probably 5th–CB would then be an important bench piece in those teams.
  • The goal of this exercise is not to say whether we like a player, think they are worth the salary, or hold more value to the club if they were sold. The question is simply: if he’s on the team in 2-3 years, is he a starter and is he a good starter for a playoff caliber team? Sell-on value will not be considered.
  • There won’t be a ton of stats in these pieces. We definitely plan on having some deep analytical dives into many of these players in the future, so stay tuned!

Without further ado, time to get people angry! All members of the site–Logan, Justin, Josh, and Euan–will be giving feedback.

Vinicius Mello

NameAgeTotal Season Mins (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Vinicius Mello20n/an/an/a

Mello is the easiest and most obvious decision of this group and there was no divergent opinion.

Euan summed it up the best: Charlotte probably anticipated that Mello would play no major role in the 2022 season as part of his development plan. However, having paid a not-insignificant amount of money for him, you’d expect his chances of playing in 2023 would be much higher as he tries to make his way through a busy position group in the squad.

Kerwin Vargas

NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Kerwin Vargas20633 (7.0)0 (0.9)0 (1.1)

Again, holds across the board from the guys. Vargas is youthful and full of potential, but is also extremely raw.

Josh: Vargas’ delivery out wide from dead balls is extremely dangerous and exciting, however, when it comes to live-ball actions there is still a lot of growth to be seen. He often looks unsure about what he should do once he gets into dangerous positions and often “hits and hopes” with the ball.

Justin: My major issue with Vargas is he’s better on the left side of the pitch currently than the right, but not as good as Jóźwiak overall-at least at this point in his development. The question then becomes will he have the opportunity to develop properly?

Euan: There just haven’t been enough minutes for him this season to come to a strong conclusion about him. The 2023 season should be telling and he should be one of the most interesting players to watch.

Logan: His ability to create space for teammates is really good, especially for a young player. With that said, the space isn’t getting utilized and he isn’t providing end product. It’s something that will have to improve quickly.

Andre Shinyashiki

NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Andre Shinyashiki27844 (9.4)6 (3.6)0 (0.3)

Our first point of contention. While none of the guys view Andre as a “sell,” Euan hasn’t bought in quite yet.

Euan: One of the most polarizing players in Charlotte’s squad, which by its nature means it’s hard to have anything but a “hold” for him going into next season. A very impressive goal output left people confused as to why he was not able to feature more regularly for the team. The nature of his fit in Lattanzio’s system meant that it did make sense for his role to be predominantly coming off the bench in particular game states. A bench role is best for him and it is hard to “sell” someone who had such a strong goalscoring record. Additionally, he is one of the few players on the team to have ever regularly featured on a strong MLS team (2021 Colorado Rapids).

Justin: He’s too good at scoring goals. He deserves more time, but he bangs in goals at an incredible rate when he does get minutes.

Josh: What position is he? Lattanzio doesn’t seem to see him as a striker or a wide player or a CAM. At least not as a starter. The goalscoring is too hard to ignore and a super-sub bench player is a valuable thing to have. Having recently signed a new deal, you would think he would be promised more playing time than he got and a better role than super-sub. It would be nice to see him get a run of starts to see if he can be a starter for this club.

Yordy Reyna

NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Yordy Reyna29845 (9.4)3 (2.2)3 (1.9)

The first sell might be one of the more divisive decisions from the panel. Going by the thoughts that are seen on social media and heard in the supporters’ section, the guys might be in the minority here.

Justin: He’s a showboater, and here for himself. You can’t knock his shooting technique, but he doesn’t do all the little things that Jóźwiak does, especially when it comes to tracking back and supporting the defense.

Josh: He’s a “moments” player who can do some incredible things on the pitch, but rarely does so for an entire game. People have overestimated his goalscoring ability (it’s only 3 goals, and 2 came in one game). They also overestimate his dribbling ability (1st percentile for successful dribble %) and he’s a bad passer. He’ll get you a wonder goal once in a while, but you can find better, more consistent players easily. We’ll always have Miami!

Euan: Like with previous seasons in his career, Reyna has managed impressive output despite inconsistency in his playing time. This may lead many to think that he has an important role to play for the club going forward. However, it is hard to envision a team having much success whilst regularly playing someone like Reyna, despite all the obvious talent he brings to the table. Happy to have him around next season but wouldn’t expect him to be here after his contract expires in 2023.

McKinze Gaines

NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
McKinze Gaines241,073 (11.9)1 (1.8)4 (3.9)

Editor’s note: Josh can not be objective when it comes to Gaines and has the only valid opinion about this.

A bit of mixed bag with Gaines with 2 holds and 2 buys, though not all buys are the same.

Euan: Succesful teams at any level will more often than not have a McKinze Gaines type in their squad. A pacey winger with defensive workrate who prefers to play outverted and threaten the by-line. It’s a dream for any coach that is looking to attack large spaces and play with off-ball intensity. His output and general play is too frustrating for him to be an outright “buy” but I’m still willing to bet that he can be a very useful player at MLS level going forward. (Editor’s note: Euan is a fool and shouldn’t be trusted).

Justin: He’s still young and, like Jóźwiak, I like his upward trend at the end of the season. He’s always been able to get in behind defenses, but his last ball has improved. (Editor’s note: Justin is amazingly brilliant and speaks the truth.)

Logan: He’s not young enough to be a project and we can’t spend 3 years developing him. Moving forward, Gaines should have more than 1 option in the box; he won’t have excuses for not getting better numbers. If he can truly add end product to his passing, he’ll be a nailed on starter for us. If he can’t, he’ll have to go. (Editor’s note: Logan is a quack and hasn’t a clue what he is talking about.)

Josh: Gaines is by far our best right-sided winger and should have been playing over Vargas at the end of the year. His pace is undeniable and his ability to marry that pace with well-timed runs is unmatched on this team. His crossing ability has been much maligned this year, but for the vast majority of the season, he had 1 option in the box (as Logan rightly pointed out). As the season neared its end and with the inclusion of players like Nuno Santos, Świderski’s switch to the 10, and Bronico being pushed up the pitch, he started to have more options in the box and the results followed. He was tied for 2nd on the team in assists (though, admittedly, that might say more about the issues of the team than the play of Gaines) and those came at the end of the year. If you expect a winger to be able to consistently pick out 1 teammate surrounded by multiple defenders, you’re being unrealistic. Finally, while he’s not young in years, he is in game time. Let him play on the right for a full year with players like Santos, Byrne, and Malanda and watch him flourish. (Editor’s note: By far the most knowledgeable member of staff.)

Kamil Jóźwiak

NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Kamil Jóźwiak241,151 (12.8)0 (1.7)3 (2.6)

Jóźwiak is probably one of the most divisive players on the squad, though not amongst the guys. Only Euan sees him as a hold, while the others have become believers based on his end of year performance.

Justin: He’s trending in the right direction, and he brings an aggressiveness and physicality that I love. He does all the little things-getting back on defense, pressing high, making the unheralded run-that won’t be seen in a stat box but is necessary for a modern wide player.

Josh: Jóźwiak on the right is an immediate sell. Jóźwiak on the left is what we thought he was. Tides go in, tides go out; you can’t explain that. In all seriousness, he’s a player adjusting to a new country and league after having spent his first years outside of his home country in England during a global pandemic for a club that was in absolute disarray. The talent and tools are there, along with the effort. Keep him on the left and I think we see the guy from the last 2 months of the season for the entire year.

Euan: It’s a hold for Jozwiak based mainly off of his pedigree and the 10 or so games I was able to watch of him in preparation for his arrival in Charlotte. His performance last season was underwhelming for a DP but understandable given his rough fit in the team’s system. A fairly strong finish to the season will hopefully be a sign of things to come for Charlotte, but I think his future success at the club is just as reliant on Lattanzio’s adaptability as it is on the player himself. (Editor’s note: the point about Jóźwiak being a DP is a touch point for a lot of Jóźwiak detractors. It’s not a non-issue but there are two important points: 1) he can, and probably will be, bought down from that and 2) don’t blame the player for that, blame the front office evaluation.)

Daniel Ríos

NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Daniel Ríos271,417 (15.7)7 (6.4)1 (1.6)

Three sells and Logan on an island.

Josh: Sell him today. Sell him tomorrow. Sell him, sell him, sell him. I have a reputation to keep and I will! Ríos’ end to the season was unreal, amazing, wonderful and completely unsustainable. At 27, we know what Daniel Ríos is: a good professional who should be your 3rd choice striker at best. His best attributes are probably his positioning for tap ins and hold up play. Both are legitimately useful, but other players are better at it, especially when it comes to hold up play. It’s not that Ríos can’t be a useful piece, but rather than you need to have a better version if you want to be truly competitive.

Logan: I fully understand that this hold is based on his recent performances this year, but there are important factors in it. Most importantly, Lattanzio has backed him enough that he needs time to be proven right or wrong. When he says Ríos is a “natural goalscorer” and then he ends the season like he did, he deserves a further chance.

Euan: After a strong finish to the season, many will look at Ríos as a no brainer to be an important piece going forward. For me, I think he provides value as a focal point in some systems and is a good depth player for a competing side. Whether he can be the main number 9 for a side with title ambitions remains to be seen and I’m doubtful he can be that. I believe we’ll likely have our answer around the mid-point of the 2023 season (should he stay healthy and be playing regularly).

Justin: Don’t trust the recent goal output. He’s the most replaceable part of the front line.

Karol Świderski

NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Karol Świderski252,458 (27.3)10 (9.2)4 (2.8)

Ending with the most divisive. While most of these guys have been holds, holds/sells, or holds/buys, Świderski has no middle ground.

Euan: Undoubtedly Charlotte’s best player. Simultaneously the club’s best striker and playmaker. Whether Lattanzio plans to keep him in the #10 role going forward or not will be one of the biggest questions of the off season, but this is an easy “buy.”

Justin: I want to be clear, he’s a sell as a striker. He might be an effective 10 going forward, but he’s not a striker for us. He’s poor up top by himself, and we don’t play a top 2.

Logan: What is he? If he stays as a cornerstone for this club, he’s a sell. He doesn’t have a superpower that you need from a player in his position. If he is your 2nd striker or backup striker, he’s useful. If he’s a “talisman,” it has to be a sell because he won’t take us to where we want to go.

Josh: In a team that struggled to score all year, he had 10 goals. None were penalty kicks. I’m still not convinced he can be a #10, but that position allows him to fulfill his desire to drop back in a way that makes more sense for the team. His passing ability is underrated by many and, while I agree that his finishing can be frustrating, the talent is very real. There is a big question of whether he needs to play with another striker, but I think the lack of talent around him for much of the year is just as likely a reason for his struggles with us as a lone striker as anything else.

Editor’s note: Świderski is the prime example of why we took valuation out of this conversation. There is some question about how much he will play at the World Cup, but it seems likely he will get some minutes (maybe even a good amount). If he were to have a good WC and an offer of $15m came in (that was a rumored price), you have to take the money. Still feels unlikely that kind of money would come in for him.


It’s a work in progress up top. It’s safe to say that there’s no sure-fire, can’t miss player on this team. But the vast majority of our frontmen are young and talented.

Next up will be the midfield, where reinforcements are desperately needed.

The Columbus Preview, Part II Redux

Editor’s Note: Most of this information is taken from my first Part II preview, however, I have updated the numbers and other information to match the current state of Columbus. If it looks familiar to what you saw before the first attempt at this game, this is why.

Well here we are. With some help elsewhere (GO ORLANDO!), two wins and we’re in.

There’s not much to say about the lead up to this game other than we have no wiggle room. It’s a win or we’re out. We’ll be shorthanded, but we’ll have just over 74 minutes to make this happen. Let’s get it.

All stats from
TeamPossessionPoints (standings)WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)
Charlotte FC53.1%41 (9th in the East)6.53 (6.79)
Columbus Crew52.5%45 (8th in the East)6.68 (6.90)
All stats from
TeamShots per gameShots on target per gameGoals for (xG)Goals against (xGA)
Charlotte FC11.254.0340 (38.1)48 (42.1)
Columbus Crew13.284.0943 (39.3)32 (38.2)

The biggest thing that jumps out is the amount of shots that Columbus take. They are actually 6th in the league in this respect, although it hasn’t necessarily translated to a huge goal return. As we will see below, though, they have some seriously good attackers.

The rating systems of SofaScore and WhoScored both “like” Columbus better, but to my eyes these are two very evenly matched teams, IF both were able to play their best lineups. Columbus will be able to do that; Charlotte will not.

Lucas Zelarayán

TL;DR: Zelarayán is really, really, REALLY good. You knew that though.

My Armenian compatriot has been a menace to the league since he joined Columbus from UANL of Liga MX in 2020. In that COVID-shortened season, Zelarayán had 6 goals and 2 assists in just 16 appearances. He followed that up with a 12-goal, 4 assist campaign last year in 32 appearances. He currently has 9 goals and 6 assists in 27 appearances.

Zelarayán heatmap, 2021, via SofaScore

His goals last year were an aberration for him, historically, but I’m not sure they’re an aberration for him for MLS. I will say he is someone who consistently seems to over perform his xG (2020: 6 Gs, 0 PKs, 2.8 xG, 2.0 npxG; 2021: 12 Gs, 1 PK, 6.5 xG, 5.7 npxG; 2022: 9 Gs, 1 PK, 4.9 xG, 4.2 npxG). Some players just do this.

Zelarayán began his career at Club Atlético Belgrano in the Argentinian Primera División. Through 2 seasons at Belgrano, he had 46 appearances (45 starts) and scored 9 goals and 7 assists; he was 21 and 22 years old in those seasons.

He moved to UANL in 2015. He only made 13 appearances for Tigres in 2015-16, only scoring once and assisting once. This is by far his worst season as a professional. He followed that season up with a 32-appearances, 24-start campaign, in which he had 6 goals and 6 assists. He made back-to-back 18-appearance seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, but only had 4 starts in 2017-18 and 14 starts in 2018-19. He had 3 goals and 1 assist in 2017-18 and 5 goals and 5 assists in 2018-19. He made 15 appearances (8 starts) for UANL in 2019-20, scoring 4 goals and getting 1 assist. He joined Columbus in December 2019.

Zelarayán heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Zelarayán heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Based on his performances in MLS, this is a consistent double-digit scorer. If 2020 hadn’t been shortened due to COVID, I think Zelarayán probably hits double-digit goals. He needs just one more this year to do that and he did miss a few games. Basically, Zelarayán’s new normal seems to be about 10 goals per year with 4+ assists. He is already 30, so it’ll be interesting to see how long he keeps this peak up, but I would imagine he has a good 3 years left in him, at least.

When looking at his heatmaps, he’s everywhere. I also think they show why he’s been more productive in MLS than he was in Liga MX. Specifically, UANL was using him in more wide positions. For example, look at the 2018/19 Liga MX Apertura heatmap below.

Zelarayán heatmap, 2018/19 Liga MX Apertura, via SofaScore
Zelarayán heatmap, 2018/2019, via SofaScore

That is not the same role at all. Zelarayán may just be better suited to MLS than Liga MX or he may be being used correctly now; it’s probably a mixture of both. Regardless, his move to CAM with Columbus has been the right one.

The heatmaps also show an increase in his possession of the ball. This is born out in the numbers too, as he’s gone from 54.2 touches/90 in 2020 and 61.5 touches/90 last year to 70.03 touches/90 this year. His live-ball touches are up to 61.60 touches/90 this year compared with 52.2 last year. Additionally, he’s carrying the ball more (53.26 carries/90 this year compared with 46.1 last year; 8.05 progressive carries/90 this year compared with 6.19 last year), being targeted more (59.75 targets/90 this year compared with 53.6 last year), and receiving the ball more (52.46 receptions/90 this year compared with 42.5 last year; 9.31 progressive passes received/90 this year compared with 8.66 last year). In short, Columbus has realized he’s f*****g good and is getting him the ball as much as possible.

Zelarayán passing percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days via

Somewhat surprisingly, Zelarayán isn’t necessarily elite at passing. Over the past 365 days, here are his passing percentiles against other MLS CAMs and wingers. Look, these aren’t bad numbers by any stretch, but the poor completion percentages are notable.

Now, I do believe these percentages are a result of his ambition in passing, rather than a lack of talent. When you compare his completion percentages to other areas (key passes, attempts for any distance, passes into the penalty or final 3rd, progressive passes), what you see is a player who isn’t afraid to try the difficult pass. He simply doesn’t play it safe and, as a result, he contributes to the attack in very meaningful ways. Sure his short passing percentage (20th percentile), medium passing percentage (59th percentile), and long passing percentage (38th percentile) all look bad, but his xA is in the 96th percentile, his SCA is in the 97th percentile, and his GCA is in the 95th percentile. This shows a player who is going to try for the killer pass, not the safe option. It’s exactly what you want from a 10.

Elsewhere, Zelarayán’s numbers are elite. He’s in the 87th percentile for goals, although only 51st percentile for xG.

Zelarayán takes his shots from a long way out: 23.40 yards, which is good for the 3rd percentile. Zelarayán is taking a lot of shots from distance and a lot of shots in general (95th percentile, 3.29 shots per 90). This frequent shooting and shooting from long distances will naturally drive down his shots on target percentage (55th percentile, 34.6% per 90). I don’t think you necessarily want him to stop taking these shots, as it’s clearly working for him. Additionally, some players just outperform what the numbers say they should be doing. He may very well be one of them.

In addition to his passing ability, assist making, and goal-scoring, Zelarayán is also a phenomenal dribbler. He’s in the 99th percentile for dribbles completed (3.41 per 90), the 98th percentile for dribbles attempted (5.77 per 90), the 80th percentile for successful dribble percentage, the 99th percentile for players dribbled past and the 93rd percentile for nutmegs. Unsurprisingly with these dribbling stats, he draws a lot of fouls (97th percentile).

Defensively, Zelarayán is–who cares. Legitimately, his numbers aren’t good, but I don’t care, Columbus probably doesn’t care, and you shouldn’t either. Zelarayán is an MLS version of prime Mesut Özil. You don’t ask or care if that player defends. He’s in the squad to score and assist. Zelarayán obviously does that exceedingly well.

In short, as an attacking midfielder, Zelarayán is about as good as you’ll get, especially in MLS. He’s going to be a nightmare for Bronico, Walkes, and company to deal with, especially since he’s going to pop up all over the pitch.


Cucho heatmap, 2021/22 for Watford, via SofaScore
Cucho heatmap, 2021/22, via SofaScore

Columbus appears to have done some really good work getting Juan Camilo Hernández Suárez, or Cucho for short.

The 23-year-old Colombian began his career at CD América in the Colombian Primera A, where he was on loan from Spanish side Granada. He made only 13 appearances and had only 2 assists in those appearances, but was only 17 years old. He would never appear for Granada.

He was sold to Watford in 2017 and then sent out on loan. First, he moved to Huesca in the Spanish second division in 2017 and would go on to make 69 appearances (58 starts) for them over 2 years. As an 18-year-old in the Segunda División, he scored 17 goals and had 6 assists in 35 appearances. He helped Huesca move from the second division to La Liga for 2018-19, but the production was a bit different there.

Cucho heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

In La Liga for Huesca, he only managed 4 goals and 3 assists in 34 appearances. He moved to Mallorca on loan the following year, where he had 5 goals and 1 assist in 22 appearances. He then played for Getafe, where he had 2 goals and 3 assists in 23 appearances. He returned (finally) to his parent club, Watford, for the 2021-22 and made 25 appearances, but only 11 starts. He scored 5 goals and had 2 assists in those appearances.

Now with Columbus, Cucho has gotten off to a flying start. He’s made 14 appearances (12 starts) and has 9 goals and 2 assists. Like Zelarayán, Cucho is a wide player that Columbus has put more centrally. His heatmaps above show that change. For Watford (and previous clubs), he was played as a winger. FBref has him as a “forward” for his 4 games with Columbus and the heatmap and starting XIs support that. He’s still drifting wide, but he’s playing much more as a forward.

Now Cucho is only listed at 5’8″ (and a half) and 161 lbs, but he’s been good in the air. He was in the 96th percentile for aerials won for the 2021-22 Premier League season. When compared to all 5 Big European leagues, he was in the 99th percentile. It should be noted, that this is for him as a winger, which is not how he’s playing with Columbus. For Columbus, he’s in the 51st percentile of aerials won, so it’s not quite as high as his PL time, but he’s also being compared with strikers now. I still take this number as a positive.

It’s difficult to dive too much into his percentiles. Watford was not good last year and got relegated. Of course, that fact actually speaks to his talent as some of his percentiles were really impressive. When looking at just the Premier League and comparing him to CAMs/wingers, Cucho is in the 84th percentile for goals, the 86th percentile for non-penalty goals, and the 91st percentile for goals per shot on target. He’s only in the 46th percentile for xG and the 59th percentile for shots on target, but, again, Watford was bad so this probably isn’t a surprise.

While Cucho only had 5 goals last year, Watford only had 34 total on the year. He scored 15% of their goals! The point of all this is that Cucho can score. I’m not sure what exactly his level is, as he tore apart a second division but never got more than 5 at a top-flight club. At only 23, it’s not like he’s a finished product and the potential for him to score loads of goals is real. If I had to guess, I would say we see output similar to his first year at Huesca with Columbus, especially with the positional change factored in.

Cucho passing percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via FBref

The passing numbers for Cucho are good, even if the completion percentages aren’t. In a lot of ways, his numbers are similar to Zelarayán’s. At the Premier League level, Cucho often struggled with his passing. In MLS, he’s been a lot better. The step down in competition helps explain that, but doesn’t do much to assuage my fears about how dangerous he’ll be for us.

His dribbling numbers were decent in the PL: 71st percentile for dribbles completed, 74th percentile for players dribbled past, and 67th percentile for dribbles attempted. Unsurprisingly, he’s gone to another level in MLS: 96th percentile for dribbles completed, 95th percentile for dribbles attempted, and 96th percentile for players dribbled past.

Looking at all of this, I think Columbus’ decision to convert him to a central forward makes sense. His history shows he can score, but not necessarily that he can pass well. As a center forward, that deficiency is more acceptable. Pairing him with a talented playmaker like Zelarayán and an emerging wide player in Etienne will create a lot of problems for opponents in this league.

Luis Díaz

Díaz heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Díaz heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Díaz is a true wide player for Columbus. Before the first time this match was supposed to be played, Díaz had 15 appearances for Columbus, but only 5 starts. Since then, he’s up to 24 appearances and 15 starts, so he’s definitely worked his way into the lineup.

He’s in his 4th season with Columbus, only has 5 career goals and 11 career assists, and is already 23. On the surface, he doesn’t appear to be that interesting. Yet, I’m intrigued and it mostly has to do with what his heatmap shows us, especially when compared with Etienne on the other side.

What jumps out to me about Díaz’s map is how close to the touchline and far up the pitch he stays. He’s in the 77th percentile for touches in the attacking penalty box and the 64th percentile for touches in the attacking 3rd. These percentages have decreased as he’s had more starts, so they are asking him to drop back a bit more than he was. However, this is still a player who will primarily stay up the pitch.

Etienne heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Etienne heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Compare his positioning to Etienne, who is playing on the other side. Yes, Etienne likes to be by the touchline as well, but he’s far more likely to come into the center of the pitch.

When thinking about the players Columbus has as attackers, the need for Díaz’s positioning makes sense. Cucho and Zelarayán, as we have seen, will drift all over the pitch. While I haven’t shown their maps, Morris and Nagbe are also all over the pitch. The fullbacks will provide width, but Columbus needs some of their advanced players to stay wide and create space. Díaz is doing this job and, from a counting stats perspective, it’s largely an unthankful role.

Where Diaz does excel is as a dribbler. He’s 80th percentile for dribbles completed and 93rd percentile for dribbles attempted (although he’s 16th percentile for successful dribble percentage). He’s able to dribble past opponents (86th percentile) and nutmeg them (94th percentile). When he’s in the attacking 3rd, he carries the ball into the penalty area at an elite rate (99th percentile) and is always available to receive passes upfield (84th percentile for progressive passes received). Finally, because of his trickery, he’s elite at drawing fouls (98th percentile).

Díaz passing percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via FBref

Díaz is not a good passer, as his percentiles to the left show. To his credit, it doesn’t look like he’s really being asked to be a passer in the buildup. His numbers are really good for crossing and assists, so the danger is when he has the ball in the final third.

Díaz appears to find his way into the side for two reasons: 1) to hug the touchline and provide width and 2) to drive to the penalty area, be tricky, and draw fouls. In some ways, he’s there to cause chaos. As a whole, his profile doesn’t seem great, but if we view him as carrying out a very specific, narrow role, I actually think he is excelling at that. He’s the Michelle Williams to Zelarayán and Cucho’s Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland. Did that metaphor work?


Columbus are a poor man’s Philadelphia. They play good defense, have a really good goalkeeper, and have talented attackers. However, they don’t defend as well as Philly and they are no where near the offensive threat of the Union. They are certainly dangerous and players like Cucho and Zelarayán will cause our make-shift backline all sorts of problems.

This lineup is going to be a challenge for Lattanzio. We are NOT going to have anything near the lineup we just had with Philadelphia due to these rules.

Whereas Columbus is going to be able to play this game with basically the lineup they would anyway, Charlotte lined up this way on that night:

Charlotte lineup vs. Columbus, via MLS

Obviously Corujo will be unavailable and Kahlina’s availability is up in the air. McNeill, Bender, Mora, and Reyna have not really featured for Charlotte much recently. That means 6 out of our Starting XI from this game are either non-starters now or injured. Yeah…that’s going to cause issues.

This is a must win game and I would encourage Lattanzio to be brave. Specifically, we should be making subs right away. This is a difficult, and fine, line for him to walk because immediately subbing some of these players will likely not sit right with some of them. With that said, we can make the playoffs and we need the best team we can.

Let’s start here: Jones in for McNeill. This is obvious and needed, as a midfield of Bender, Bronico, and McNeill will get torn apart by Columbus’ attack. Next, give me Mora out for Lindsey. I will say, I’m not sure I see much difference between Mora on the left compared with Afful, but CL certainly does. As such, let’s get Lindsey’s attacking nous in this game.

Świderski has looked good as a 10, but unless we make 3 changes right away, I think we need to try him back as a striker. With 2 subs right away, we’d still have 3 windows to make subs (at the half and 2 more sub periods) to make 3 changes. If the first half doesn’t go well, let’s get Bender and Reyna out for Ríos and Jóźwiak, respectively.

Our center backs are going to be Walkes and Sobociński-we have no other choice. Malanda is ineligible, Makoun is on the Revolution now, and Fuchs had a red card ineligibility for that game. I’m a believer in Sobociński, but man is this a big ask for a young player who hasn’t played much this year.

With all this said, if you can beat Philadelphia 4-0, you can beat any team in this league (on your night). We can’t lose or draw against this team. We have no other choice than for this to be our night.

Prediction: Charlotte 2 – Columbus 1

The Philadelphia Preview, Part II

With the news that the city of Charlotte has called for people not to leave their house unless there’s an emergency and with CMS going virtual on Friday, I’m curious to see how Saturday will go. This is about as unbalanced a game on paper as you can imagine and, with the weather, Charlotte’s biggest advantage-the home crowd-might not be there. Just take a look at these numbers below:

All stats from
TeamPossessionPoints (standings)WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)
Charlotte FC53.1%38 (10th in the East)6.51 (6.78)
Philadelphia Union43.5%64 (1st in the East)6.89 (7.02)
All stats from
TeamShots per gameShots on target per gameGoals for (xG)Goals against (xGA)
Charlotte FC11.324.0636 (35.5)48 (41.4)
Philadelphia Union12.945.0066 (58.3)22 (36.0)

Philadelphia has the 3rd worst possession in the league, but it doesn’t matter. They’re an exemplar of how overall possession numbers are meaningless; it’s very much what you do with that possession. This team has scored the most goals in the league (3 more than the next closest teams, Austin and LAFC), has allowed the fewest goals in the league (9 fewer than the next closest team, Columbus, who have also played one less game), leads the league in xG, is the only team above 2.00 goals/90 (2.06/90), is 4th best in the league in xA, and is first in the league in assists (48). This is before we even talk about their individual talent, which we most certainly will.

Formation/Injury Report/Suspension

Philadelphia lineup at RBNY, 9/3/22, via

Philadelphia plays mostly in a 4-4-2 (according to FBref) or a 4-3-1-2 (according to MLS). Regardless of how you define it, they are playing with a pretty consistent lineup at this point and will definitely feature a front 2.

Players like Dániel Gazdag, Leon Flach, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, and Jack Elliott are automatic starters. Then you have players like Cory Burke, who isn’t starting games (just 8 starts on the year) but is featuring in almost every one of Philly’s games (31 total appearances).

Players like Julián Carranza, Alejandro Bedoya, José Andrés Martínez, Mikael Uhre, Nathan Harriel, and Olivier Mbaizo are all regular starters, as well.

Of course, the ability to play (mostly) unchanged lineups is a result of the fact they currently have NO ONE on the injury report. The rich get richer, right?

Philadelphia lineup vs. Orlando, 9/10/22, via
Philadelphia lineup at Atlanta, 9/17/22, via

Interestingly, Philadelphia did drop points to Atlanta last weekend. They were kind of dominated by Atlanta. If they had won that game, there was a small chance that we might be facing a B-string as they would have 1st place in the East locked up. Of course, they’re battling LAFC for the Supports’ Shield, so that probably wouldn’t have happened. As it stands, Montréal can still catch Philadelphia for 1st in the East, so expect to see a full-strength squad.

Andre Blake

Andre Blake is the best goalkeeper in the league and, in my opinion, it’s not particularly close. He leads the league in save percentage (84%) and, unsurprisingly, is tied for the league lead in clean sheets with 14. When looking at advanced goalkeeping stats, well, he’s still amazing. He is 2nd in the league in PSxG+/- at 9.3. The league leader is Đorđe Petrović of New England who is at +9.6, however, Petrović has only 19 games, while Blake sits at 32. Petrović is having an amazing debut for NE (by the way, how are they going from Turner to someone this good?), but I’d argue the significantly larger sample size from Blake edges him in this discussion.

Now, in any discussion of goalkeeping, it should be noted that the stats are inextricably linked with defense. As such, it’s important to say that Blake is seeing very few shots (10th percentile for shots on target against) and the shots he does see are relatively low difficulty shots (8th in PSxG/SoT at 0.25 per 90). This isn’t a knock against him, as he’s still been phenomenal at stopping whatever he’s facing, but it’s not something that can be ignored either. The defense in front of him is good and he assuredly benefits from it, but at the end of the day, chances are if Blake sees a shot, he stops it, and that in and of itself is mighty impressive.

To add context for all these goalkeeping numbers, Kahlina has allowed 46 goals, has a 68.4% save percentage, is in the 46th percentile of PSxG/SoT (at 0.30 per 90), and has a PSxG+/- of -1.9. For as good as Charlotte fans think Kahlina has been, Blake is simply at a different level. Is he the beneficiary of a good defense? Sure. But over the past 3 seasons, Blake has allowed 18 goals, 24 goals, and 22 goals and his PSxG+/- over these seasons has been +5.8, +7.5, and +9.3. He is absolutely, unequivocably elite for this league.

The one thing Blake does not do, though, is pass the ball. Please note I didn’t say he’s unable to do that, simply that he doesn’t. I honestly don’t know if he is capable or not-Philly has never really asked him to be a distributor. He has a career non-goal kick launch percentage of 49.2%, including 47.9% this year (good for the 79th percentile for the 2022 MLS season). He’s launching goal kicks 74.3% of the time (89th percentile) and attempts only 19.72 passes per 90. Perhaps in a different team, he would be able to provide distribution, or perhaps Philly has adapted their offensive style to his ability (*ahem* take note, Lattanzio, with Kahlina *ahem*). Either way, he’s not asked to do it and it isn’t negatively impacting his team.

Mikael Uhre

One of the more amazing things about Philadelphia is that they have one Designated Player–Uhre. The 27-year-old Dane is in his first year with the club and MLS. He has hit the ground running.

In 25 appearances (19 starts), Uhre has 12 goals and 3 assists on 8.0 xG. None of these goals have been PKs. This is after he had 19 goals and 6 assists for his previous club, Brøndby, in 2020-21 (32 appearances) and 11 goals and 1 assist in 2021-22 (16 appearances). His 2021-22 season was a half-season with the club as he transferred to Philadelphia during the January window.

Uhre heatmap, 2022, via

One of the things that jumps out to me about Uhre, and a number of the other players we’ll look at, is how much freedom they have on the pitch. Uhre is a striker, but he’s drifting all over the pitch. Now, some of this is due to Philadelphia’s style of play, in which they do sit deep and let their opponent have the ball. Nevertheless, his constant movement will make it hard for our backline to keep track of him, as he’s going to drift into a variety of areas on the pitch.

Dániel Gazdag

Gazdag is having a breakout year, although I think it’s been a couple of years in the making. If you look at just his first year in MLS, which was last year, you might not be too impressed. In 2021, he had 23 appearances (17 starts), with 4 goals (1 PK) and 3 assists. Not a bad return, certainly, but nothing close to his 19 goals (6 PKs!) and 5 assists this year. However, look back to his 2020-21 season with the Hungarian side Honvéd and this year’s return starts to make sense. Now, I can’t tell you anything about the difficulty level of the Hungarian first division, but he had 13 goals that year for Honvéd. For a 24-year-old attacking midfielder, that’s very good. If we look at last year as an adjustment year for him to MLS, then his goal contribution this year makes a lot more sense.

I will usually caveat large goal returns like his that are inflated by PKs. He’s tied for first in the league in PKs and, while all goals count, PKs are high percentage shots that don’t always reflect a player’s true goalscoring ability (i.e., a PK has an xG of 0.76. To better that, you usually have to have a tap in directly in front of the goal). In Gazdag’s case, the PKs certainly inflate his numbers, but I don’t think they detract from his actual ability. Even removing those 6 PKs, he is at 13 non-PK goals for the year on 11.8 npxG. Put another way, he would be Charlotte’s leading goalscoring with a 3rd of his goals removed…

Oddly-and I checked FBref, Wikipedia, and SofaScore-I don’t see any information on assists for him during the 2020-21 season with Honvéd. On FBref, it doesn’t even say 0, it just has an empty space in the assists column for that year and for the 2019-20 season. FBref has 0 assists in other seasons for him, so I’m not sure what is happening for these 2 seasons. Regardless of his assist production those years, it’s a very real aspect of his game currently. Those 5 assists have come on 4.6 xA, so there’s not a ton of luck involved in them.

Gazdag heatmap, 2022, via

Like Uhre above, Gazdag is also all over the pitch. There’s a definite right-side bias, but it’s not so bad as to make him predictable. He’s going to be another player that will be hard to track and we’ll need Jones and/or Bronico to help the backline out with him.

That’s not to say Gazdag is a perfect player. As his percentiles below show, he’s an elite attacker for a midfielder and his shooting numbers are off the charts. Note also that he’s doing this on a really low (36th percentile) number of shots.

When it comes to passing and technical ability on the ball, though, he’s rather pedestrian. He is progressive with his passing and he doesn’t miscontrol many balls, but outside of those two things, he’s not going to overly concern you with his ability on the ball. This is, of course, nitpicking a player who has been one of the best this entire season.

Gazdag shooting percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via
Gazdag passing percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via
Gazdag possession percentiles vs. MLS CAMs/wingers over the past 365 days, via

Julián Carranza

The final member of the ridiculous Philly attacking trio is also the youngest. Carranza is only 22 and is in the midst of a true breakout season. He began the year on loan from Inter Miami, where he made 41 appearances (11 starts) over two years, but only scored 3 goals. Philadelphia has made this move permanent and for good reason. He’s at 14 goals (2 PKs) and 6 assists on the year. The assist number is a bit suspect to me, as he only has 1.5 xA on the year, but good players on good teams will have the luck. His goal numbers are not a fluke, as he’s got 12 non-PK goals on 12.1 npxG.

Carranza heatmap, 2022, via

Like his attacking partners, Carranza will drift, but he shows the most pronounced bias towards a side (the right). Of course, Gazdag operates in those areas of the pitch a lot too, so the ability of Carranza, Gazdag, and Bedoya (more on him in a bit) to combine will be a huge danger for Charlotte. The fact that this will be on our left side, where our left backs and Walkes have been caught out quite a bit recently, doesn’t lend much optimism.

Carranza defensive percentiles vs. MLS forwards over the past 365 days, via

Carranza is a very active defender for a forward. Yes, the primary goal of every striker should be to put the ball in the back of the net. Linking play and putting in a defensive shift are bonuses, but come secondary to actual goalscoring. If Carranza were linking play and being good defensively, but not scoring (see: Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal) I’d say he needs to focus on what they’re paying him to do. As it is, he’s one of the top scorers in the league and has no problem being an asset when his team doesn’t have the ball. For a team that plays like Philadelphia, this is invaluable.

Supporting Cast

I’d be remiss not to mention a few other players on this team. “Supporting Cast” is probably a misnomer, as any of these players would be valuable players for Charlotte, but I do think they play second fiddle to Philadelphia’s more well-known players.

Bedoya passing percentiles vs. MLS midfielders over the past 365 days, via

The first among them will be the most well-known: Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya is in his 7th season with Philly and, at 35, is having arguably his best season. With 6 goals and 6 assists on the season, Bedoya is thriving as a 4th or 5th attack option.

As his passing percentiles to the left show, he’s dangerous when he’s in and around the penalty box, but otherwise is showing his age. The 6 assists have come on 5.2 xA, so I don’t think they’re a fluke (unlike the 6 goals which are coming on 3.2 xG…), but I’m not sure Charlotte needs to be overly concerned about him having the ball in the middle of the field.

Of course, part of the reason he can be so dangerous is that he plays on the right. He’s a true winger-type (although he’s compared to midfielders on FBref) and hugs the touchline. The fact that defenses have to account for players like Carranza and Gazdag-both of whom favor the right-sided areas of the pitch-certainly helps Bedoya get into those good spaces in and around the box.

Cory Burke is Philadelphia’s 3rd striker. He’s gotten into 31 games, but only started 8 of them. Nonetheless, he has 7 goals and 4 assists on the season (on 6.0 xG and 2.9 xA). It’s his best goal return since 2018 when he had 10 in 29 appearances for Philadelphia. I’m hesitant to call it a fluke because he has a history of goalscoring. On top of that, he’s never really been a starter for Philly so his goal returns look meager, but are impressive on a goal-per-90 basis (0.47 G/90 for his career).

With that said, this is a good squad player, but there’s probably a reason he’s never forced his way into Philly’s Starting XI. Chances are he’ll come off the bench and when he does, the weary legs of Charlotte will need to be aware of him. Like Bedoya, though, being the 4th, 5th, or 6th option on a team this good has been hugely beneficial to him.

Finally, there is Kai Wagner, Philadelphia’s left back. Wagner would probably be most aggrieved to be included in the “supporting cast” category, as he’s a really good player. The 25-year-old German has 8 assists on the season (32 starts) on 7.3 xA. While he doesn’t have a goal this year, he did have 3 last year, so he’s shown he can score. With the players that he has in front of him this year, though, that’s not a necessity.

Wagner passing percentiles vs. MLS fullbacks over the past 365 days, via

Whereas a lot of players I’ve talked about in this post are average to flawed passers, Wagner is very, very good. Ignore the poor number for short distances-he’s not doing it very much and, based on what he’s doing elsewhere, I have no doubts he could improve this if he wanted.

His profile shows an aggressive, progressive passer who isn’t worried about having a high percentage. His progressive passing distance, key passes, crosses, and long passing all show a player who would rather make the killer pass than the safe pass. In a team that gives up possession, this makes sense.

Defensively, Wagner is unspectacular to below-average. He blocks and intercepts the ball well and I’m sure he benefits from the defensive system the club employs. On a more offensive-minded side, I might look to his side as a place to find some joy, and it still might be. However, based on the way Philadelphia plays, he might be a good player to attack when you can, but I wouldn’t consider him “exploitable.”


I’m not sure it can be overstated how good a team this Philadelphia side is. When Charlotte went to LA, I thought we were facing the best team in the league. After seeing what Philadelphia has done, I’m not so sure we did. At the very least, the margins between LAFC and Philadelphia are razor thin and I’d be surprised if it weren’t these two teams in the finals.

So what can Charlotte do? Well, if the weather is as bad as predicted, ugly weather can cause ugly games which can often benefit the less-talented team. Philadelphia will give Charlotte the ball, so we have to make sure that we’re 1) strong with it and 2) brave with it. This is not a team that you’re going to be able to pass around very easily. Someone is going to have to step up and try some riskier passes, but in a smart way.

I’m convinced Malanda has real range in his passing and this would be a good game to showcase it. Świderski has looked good at the 10 and we know he likes to drop back. His ability to find space between the lines and link play will be vital. Unsurprisingly, I’m also going to call for Gaines to play. His pace will test Philadelphia’s backline.

To be honest, I can’t see a real way for Charlotte to win, or even take points, in this game. That’s not to say they won’t, but I think trying to predict how they would do that is impossible. Maybe you didn’t notice as you read, but Philadelphia has 3 players–Gazdag, Carranza, and Uhre–who have more goals than our leading goalscorer (Świderski with 10). Our second leading scorer, Shinyashiki is at 5 goals; he would be Philly’s 6th leading goalscorer. I would love nothing more than for Charlotte to pull the upset, but this feels like a monumental ask. I feel optimistic enough in the fact that I’m predicting a goal.

Prediction: Charlotte 1 – Philadelphia 4