Buy, Sell, Hold: The Midfield

The midfield might be the weakest area of Charlotte currently. Even amongst the guys, there was a fair bit of divisiveness about who is the future of this club. Part of this is due to a fair bit of youth among this part of the pitch (think Bender, McNeill, Hegardt). Part of it is due to the large amount of turnover that has happened since this club’s inception (think the departure of Ortiz and Franco).

Editor’s note: Josh’s love for McKinzie Gaines is, in part, due to the departure of Franco, who he also irrationally loved.

Pray for the man.

As a reminder from the first part of this series-Buy, Sell, Hold: The Attack-here is the premise of this series:

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!

Brandt Bronico


NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Brandt Bronico272,812 (31.2)1 (1.7)1 (0.6)

Arguably the face of the club, Bronico was the easiest choice amongst this group. It’s a strong buy across the board.

Euan: I’ve spoken about how highly I think of Bronico before, so it should come as no surprise that I have him as a “buy” here. Last season he was able to showcase that he is one of the best lone 6’s in MLS, as well as his versatility in other systems (think of his time at the end of the season in more advanced areas on the field). His near ever-presence under Lattanzio would indicate that he will continue to be a major part of Charlotte’s team in the coming season

Justin: I think Brandt is a solid bench guy for us 2 years from now. I love his passion, and I love that he can play 2 of 3 positions across the midfield…but I think he should be first off the bench and rotation if we are challenging for the League.

Josh: Agreed with Justin on this. Bronico is the player I was most wrong about last season and far exceeded any reasonable expectations. Lattanzio needs to learn how to rest him a bit more because he was definitely leggy at the end of the season. His engine is by far his greatest strength, so him being overplayed can’t continue to happen. With that said, if you truly want to compete for the MLS cup, you may need better starting options. Bronico being your first choice back-up CM who can play as a 6 or 8 is not the worst thing though. That’s an incredibly useful piece to either add a dimension to a game or close it out.

Derrick Jones


NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Derrick Jones25944 (10.5)1 (1.4)0 (0.1)

Derrick Jones is a soccer player in a linebacker body with the mentality of a hockey enforcer. The boys were across the board with this one.

Justin: Derrick is better than Brandt at the 6, but worse everywhere else. He’s a situational guy, but good at that situation.

Euan: Jones arrived with a very impressive statistical composite as well as a play-style that is very easy on the eye. Stylish on the ball and an ability to cover space well, he is an inticing player with decent MLS experience for a 25 year old. Could easily see a scenario where he is in the player of the year conversation in 2023.

Josh: The Debbie downer of the bunch and the only one to “sell,” I am a fan of Jones. However, his greatest attributes-defensive positioning and physicality-does not make up for his most glaring weakness: passing. Jones is a bit too slow on the ball and lacks range, which limits his upside. He’s an oddly good dribbler for a player his size and did seem to get better overall as the year went on. If-and it’s a big if-he can improve his passing, there’s a definite starter. He’s a “sell” for me but as an important bench piece. I believe he could be a very valuable 5th or 6th midfielder (on a team that plays a midfield 3) on a squad. The premise is can he be a starter or important rotational piece on a championship level squad-that I don’t see.

Jordy Alcívar (YDP)


NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Jordy Alcívar231,019 (11.3)1 (0.8)1 (1.7)

One of the most divisive players on the squad, Jordy has given us the highest of highs (the Olympico) and the lowest of lows (just vanishing mid-game). No one was ready to buy fully into Alcívar, but Logan and Justin are ready to sell.

Josh: I bank on youth and talent, and Jordy has both. A just turned 23-year-old who has an international cap to his name (albeit 15 minutes in a friendly…), the talent is real. My preference is for Alcívar to play deeper in the midfield, as I think his passing range, vision, and ability to find space between lines is very good. As he gets closer to the opponent’s box his decision making becomes poorer. The big question with Jordy is does he want to be here and play the type of ball Lattanzio wants. He was a fixture for MAR, but fell out of the side under CL. When he did see the pitch, he was largely unproductive. If Lattanzio can motivate Alcívar, there’s huge potential. He’s a Young DP for a reason and you don’t give up on that type of talent too easily.

Justin: I know he is young, but he just seems surpassed at every midfield position both in skill and in managerial preference by other players.

Euan: Alcívar’s first season in 2022 was a real mixed bag. One of the most impressive players under MAR in a system much more suited to his skillset, he saw his minutes take a huge dip once Lattanzio came in and looked towards other players to play in his re-structured midfield. I am fan of what he is able to bring to a football team, but given his system dependency, this has to be a “hold.” It would not be a shock if he was not on the team come next season.

Chris Hegardt


NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Chris Hegardt201,030 (11.4) - USL
19 (0.2) - MLS
3 (n/a) - USL
0 (0.0) - MLS
4 (n/a) - USL
0 (0.4) - MLS

The little seen loanee, Hegardt’s stats are broken up between his USL time and (very brief) MLS time.

Justin: Personally I am incredibly high on Hegardt. I think he has a chance to be a creative, passing maestro in the midfield. But that may very well be crazy confidence in a great story, rather than based on actual fact. I did think he was best on the pitch in that Montreal game he was forced into due to COVID absences.

Josh: Similarly to Alcívar, I like to bet on age and talent. As Justin mentioned, he had an impressive cameo in the Montreal game, though, as an unknown quantity forced into action due to exceptional circumstances, I’m sure Montreal were barely prepared for him. Unfortunately, I have not seen him play for the Independence, but 3 goals and 4 assists for a 19-20 year old is nothing to scoff at, even at a lower level. Need to see him force his way into more MLS time this year to be fully sold on his future here.

Euan: Chris Hegardt has a very strong career ahead of him. A standout player on the Charlotte Independance at only 20 years old, he was able to play regular football and develop his game, which is hopefully what happens again in 2023 with another loan deal arranged. The next 2-3 years may come to quick for Chris to be a top level MLS contributor, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as an important squad player somewhere in the league in the next decade.

Ben Bender


NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Ben Bender211,645 (18.3)3 (2.7)6 (3.3)

Editor’s Note: Anyone who listed to the audio version of this knows Logan’s opinion. As strongly as Josh feels about Gaines being a future contributor is how strongly Logan feels about Bender.

Euan: Another player who had a very different first half to their season compared to their second. It took only a few games for Ben Bender to cement himself as a fan favourite, but by the end of the year he had only played in 1 of Charlotte’s last 5 matches. This start was also a start that Lattanzio was forced into giving Bender due to the rules surrounding the penultimate game vs Columbus. My fascination with Ben as a player comes not only from his status as a number 1 overall draft selection but from the confusing nature of his play. The intuition of a player way beyond his years and an incredible eye for space for himself, as well as how to create it for others, makes it all the more frustrating that his technical ability has been so inconsistent. Bender is only some strong coaching away from being a major contributor for Charlotte, but, for now, given the uncertainties that surround the 21 year old’s development, it has to be a “hold.”

Logan: He’s the only player on the team who has wold class potential with an attribute (namely, his passing). He’s the strongest of buys.

Justin: He will be good, but I’m not sure where he is best on the pitch for us. He isn’t quite physical enough yet for the 8. He’s not quite decisive enough yet for the 10. And he’s definitely not defensive enough for the 6. It feels like he wants to play a wide midfield role off the left, almost like Pogba at Juventus. But the current system doesn’t really support that. I’m worried the system will drive him out.

Josh: Bender’s talent is real, especially when it comes to passing. I do think his on field contributions are a bit overblown (yes, 6 assists did lead us as a club, but that’s more an indictment of us than a compliment of him) and the fact that he was a #1 overall pick skews his real impact in the minds of American fans (in my opinion). The main issue is his physicality, or lack thereof. He’s too easily pushed off the ball when under pressure and lacks defensive intensity. With that said, there were definite improvements with the defensive side of his game as the year went on. He never became “good” at defending, but he improved with knowing where he needed to be, if never really improving in actually be effective once there. Adding 10-15 pounds of muscle would help and I need him to follow Derrick Jones around all offseason so he can learn how to use his body better. If the defensive improvement continues, he’s our 10 (or maybe the more attack minded of a dual 8). If he doesn’t, he’s a useful player, but not a star.

Quinn McNeill


NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Quinn McNeill24664 (7.4)1 (0.5)1 (0.2)

Josh: I liked his contributions when he was forced into action and he’s a bit more technical than people give him credit for. With that said, at 24 already, I don’t see it. A useful squad player for sure, but not someone who is going to be a major contributor on a title-challenging team. He’s a poor man’s Bronico. I think best case scenario for him, he becomes another team’s Bronico (i.e., late-ish bloomer who surprising after getting an extended run). I don’t see it happening here.

Justin: He had some moments this season. I think maybe there is a serviceable 8 in there somewhere? But I need to see more progress. This is the closest hold to a sell for me.

Euan: Making his debut in MLS a couple months before his 24th birthday, McNeill was able to showcase his value as a willing off-ball midfielder who would also be able to cope in a possession heavy system should it be demanded off him. Though I think regularly starting for a successful team in the league may be a step too far for the player, I can imagine many coaches being enamoured with some of his performances from the 2022 season, leaving Charlotte in a tough position to retain his services due to no guarantee of major first team minutes.

Nuno Santos


NameAgeTotal Season Minutes (# of 90s)Goals (xG)Assists (xA)
Nuno Santso23159 (1.8)1 (0.7) 0 (0.0)

Euan: Due to only seeing limited minutes from Nuno, I think a “hold” is the only way to go. I would’ve also been a “hold” had I been basing this solely off the game-film I watched from him in Portugal. I would advise anyone to watch those games themselves if they’d be interested in seeing a potential tactical blueprint for how to get the perceived ‘best’ out of the player.

Justin: I know we didn’t see him much. And Świderski at the 10 makes this more difficult (another reason I’m a “sell” on Świderski). But with what I saw-the passing range and vision, the first touch, the goal scoring touch-I am very high on him. My ideal midfield next year has Jones, Santos, and Bronico as the starters.

Josh: I was really tempted to have this as a “buy,” as I think the pure talent is at the high end for MLS. However, having seen so little of him, I have to have it as a “hold.” Whereas Justin sees him as a 10, I’m not so sure. Based on the data I saw when he first came over, I thought that would be his position too, but I’ve liked him further back. The role Bronico was playing at the end of the season is one that intrigues me for Santos, i.e., a player who links up, makes forward runs into the box, and attempts line-breaking passes. That role is not one I’m sold on for Bronico and Santos’ brief appearances make me think he could do it better. It also seems like he could play the 10, but whereas Justin wants Jones to remain in the starting lineup, I’d be tempted to try a midfield of Bronico-Santos-Świderski. There’s a lot of attacking potential in there. The question is if there’s enough defensive stability. I’m also someone who would prefer to lose 3-2 than 1-0, so take that as you will.


Regardless of who you see as the future of this midfield, I think it’s safe to say there are a myriad of questions that need to be answered. There’s definite talent amongst the members, but serious questions as well. If you’re optimistic, the positional flexibility of its members allows for tactical adjustments. If you’re pessimistic, you might view this flexibility as a lack of definitive talent (e.g., jack of all trades, master of none scenario). Time will tell.