The 2023 RBNY Preview, Pt. 1

We at The Crown Cast were lucky enough to be present for Coach Lattanzio’s post-game speech to the players. Live video:

We needed that win. I’m honestly not too concerned about the manner in which we got it. Would I have preferred a 4-0 defeat where we held 70% possession? Sure. But the most important thing was to get points. I would’ve taken a draw; a win was icing.

Ashley Westwood’s injury does dampen the feeling a bit. I know he has underwhelmed a few people, but I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that with him on the pitch, the 1st half was quite enjoyable (at least from an offensive perspective). Without him…that 2nd half was not good. Now, perhaps even with Westy, Orlando comes out and pushes the way they did in the 2nd half. Even with him in the 1st half, our defensive deficiencies were showing. My gut just tells me that his absence played a big role.

The other elephant in the room is Bill Tuiloma. The defender had another error that led directly to a goal. I will be the first to admit that I did not see him much when he was with the Timbers. Perhaps this is part of his game; perhaps it’s just two really unfortunate, out-of-character moments to begin his Charlotte career. What I will say is that I’m not out yet.

I was never a fan of Yordy Reyna because he was a moments player. There were times in games he would do something spectacular. A curling shot. An impressive piece of skill on the ball. A wonderful, pinpoint cross. But most of the time, he was invisible for the team. His moments were wonderful; his process was terrible.

Tuiloma is the inverse of Reyna. His moments have been awful, but the process has been great. On both the goal over the weekend and his OG, he’s in the correct place and doing what you want from a defender. In the most important moment, though, he is not executing properly. Listen, I get it, a defender needs to come up big in big moments. But so does a striker, a midfielder, or a goalie. They all do. MLS is an imperfect league with imperfect players. What I’ve seen from Tuiloma shows a player who knows where to be and knows how to defend situations.

I’ve also seen a player who has not executed well in those big situations. This obviously has to change, but I’m inclined to give him more time. I’m especially inclined to do this since our team has been sliced apart so easily in the last few weeks. That whole backline is seeing way more dangerous situations than a good team should be allowing. Part of the blame is on them, but a large part is also on CL, the midfield, and the attack. I’m a process-over-results person. Results can often be flukey. Good processes will lead to good results consistently. I’ll trust Tuiloma’s process for now.

TeamPossessionPoints (Standings)WhoScored Team Rating (SofaScore Team Rating)
Charlotte FC53.5%3 (14th in the East)6.51 (6.76)
RB New York47.8%5 (10th in the East)6.55 (6.75)
TeamShots per gameShots on target per gameGoals for (xG)Goals against (xGA)
Charlotte FC10.253.503 (3.7)8 (5.8)
RB New York13.003.753 (4.5)3 (3.1)

Oof. Charlotte’s GD is abysmal. RBNY’s possession is up 5% from where it was last year. Obviously too early to read anything into that, but they’re more middle-of-the-road in terms of possession than they were last year.

Lineup

RBNY vs. Nashville, 3/4
RBNY at Minnesota, 3/11
RBNY vs. Columbus, 3/18

Like Charlotte, RBNY actually picked up its first win last week against Columbus. Unlike Charlotte, they had already drawn two games. They lost their first game of the season against Orlando, so by the transitive property I don’t know why we’re even playing this game (CLT beat Orlando who beat RBNY, therefore CLT beat RBNY).

RBNY has run out a 4-4-2 in their first two games, a 4-2-3-1 in their third, and a 3-4-2-1 in their fourth. What they will play this week, I don’t know!

With that said, when looking over these lineups there are some constants when it comes to personnel. Sean Nealis (CB), John Tolkien (FB/WB), Frankie Amaya (MF), Cristian Cásseres Jr. (MF/FW), Carlos Coronel (GK), Luquinhas (MF/FW), and Andrés Reyes (CB) have all started each of their first 4 games. Cameron Harper (FB/WB) and Lewis Morgan (MF/FW) have started 3 games each. Elias Manoel (FW/MF), Cory Burke (ST), Tom Barlow (ST), and Omir Fernandez (MF/FW) have each appeared in all 4 games with varying levels of starts.

Injury Report

Last week’s MLS Availability Report had 3 players on it for RBNY: Dru Yearwood (OUT, hamstring), Serge Ngoma (OUT, hamstring), and Lewis Morgan (Questionable, hip). Morgan did not even make the bench, which might explain their switch to a back 3. He’s a good player for them, so if he misses our game, it would be good news from a Charlotte perspective. As of Tuesday, Yearwood is back in training but Morgan isn’t.

As of Thursday, RBNY’s manager, Struber, reiterated that Morgan is still questionable. Additionally, he (fairly) questioned whether Charlotte’s turf would be a good time to bring him back. Further news is that Dante Vanzeir (much more on him later) is questionable with an illness.

Editor’s note: the Attack portion of this preview was written before Josh realized that Burke and Cásseres will be on international duty. Good news for Charlotte. The information has been kept in for each. View it as what RBNY will be missing. Sserwadda may be on international duty, but he’s a bit player for them currently.

Attack

Up top, Burke is someone that I really wanted Charlotte to take a look at. The 31-year-old is a MLS veteran who spent the past 5 seasons with Philadelphia (along with a short loan spell at St. Pölten in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2019-20). With Philadelphia, he only started 38 games, but made 93 appearances, scoring 25 goals and getting 7 assists. His short stint with St. Pölten was also productive, as he had 4 goals and an assist in 11 appearances.

His best season from a goalscoring perspective was back in 2018 when he had 10 goals (and an assist) in 15 starts (29 appearances) for Philadelphia. Last year he did match that goal-contribution tally, as he had 7 goals and 4 assists in 8 starts (33 appearances). Those 11 goals and assists last year came on just 13.3 90s. Yes, playing for one of the best teams in the league will certainly help those numbers, but still impressive.

Burke is an odd one to analyze because even though he has a good goalscoring record (career 0.54 goals/90 for Philly!), he’s never been able to nail down a place with them. Maybe part of that was just how good Philly was/is, so they always had better options. I’m not sure. What I do know is his floor is really high (high-impact sub), while his ceiling for a couple of years could be that of a great goalscorer.

Tom Barlow is their other out-and-out striker. He’s spent his entire career in the RBNY setup, making 40 appearances (21 starts) for RBNY II over 3 seasons and 93 appearances (32 starts) for RBNY over 5 seasons. He has 19 goals and 3 assists for RBNY II and 11 goals for RBNY. He was at 0.79 goals/90 for RBNY II but has never translated that kind of production to the MLS (0.30 goals/90 for RBNY).

Last year was Barlow’s best goalscoring season for RBNY as he got 4 in 8 starts (33 appearances, 12.2 90s). I can’t be the only one who finds it odd that Burke and Barlow had the same number of starts and appearances last year. For years RBNY was basically rocking with “we have Cory Burke at home” with Barlow, before finally getting Burke.

Manoel is the other player who has started at striker for New York, but only when they’ve been with 2 at the top. Charlotte fans might remember that name because the young Brazilian got his first–and so far only–MLS goals against us on the last weekend of 2022. At 21, he’s now in his first full season for RBNY, having joined midyear from Grêmio in the Brazilian Série A. For Grêmio, he made 23 appearances (8 starts) over 2 seasons, scoring twice.

Manoel is a different type of forward than Burke or Barlow. The latter are big: 6’2″, 172 lbs for Barlow; 6’3.5″, 185 lbs for Burke. Manoel meanwhile is 5’9″ and 163 lbs. So he’s well built, but on the shorter side.

With only 10 appearances (7 starts), there’s not much data on him. I was impressed with him against us last year, but Charlotte players also looked like they would have rather been anywhere but playing that game. I’m not sure how much we can take from his performance in that game.

RBNY’s two DPs can also be found in the attack: Luquinhas and Dante Vanzeir.

Luquinhas is in his second year with RBNY, having scored 6 total goals (5 last year) and getting 3 assists (all last year). Over this time, he’s made 34 appearances (25 starts) for New York. He’s had an up-and-down time with New York.

He started well for the club. Through the first 4 months of last year (March through June), he scored 5 times and got 2 assists. After their June 18th match against Toronto, in which he scored, he would not score again and only had one more assist (8/2/22 against Colorado). He did score last week to help give New York the win, so good times for him may be coming?

These maps look a bit different. Last year there is a noticeable right-side bias for Luquinhas, whereas this year, things seem pretty even so far, if not more left-side focused. There’s some versatility in his game, as he’s been started as a left-sided CAM behind a lone striker, as a left-sided wide player in their 4-2-3-1, and as a right-sided wide player in their 4-4-2.

Vanzeir is the player I’m most interested in seeing. He scored the game-winner for New York last week in the 85th minute. More importantly, for a developmental club like RBNY, the money they paid is notable.

It’s easy to see why they paid out too. Vanzeir joins after 3 incredibly productive seasons for Belgian side Union SG. Over 73 appearances (71 starts), Vanzeir had 42 goals and 17 assists. This includes years of 19 goals (4 PKs) in 2020-21, 13 goals (1 PK) in 2021-22, and 10 goals in 2022-23. His assist numbers are equally impressive: 6 in 2020-21, 9 in 2021-22, and 2 in 2022-23. These numbers also don’t include his 12-goal, 2-assists season in 2018-19 for Beerschot (when he was 20!).

I’m not quite sure what to call Vanzeir positionally. Even FBref puts his game log positions as simply “FW.” Clearly, he likes the right side, but he does pop up all over the pitch. He hasn’t started for RBNY yet but has come on in 3 games from the bench onto the right side. I’d probably call him a winger, but I do find his lack of trackback interesting. A wide player who scores as much as him, though, is fantastic. Lord knows Charlotte could use one…

Elsewhere in attack, you’ll find Morgan, Fernandez, Harper, and Cásseres Jr.

Morgan is the “elder” statesman of this group at only 26. He was great for New York last year, scoring 14 times and getting 3 assists in 32 appearances (31 starts). There are some caveats to this production though.

First, 6 of his goals were PKs. An 8-goal return for a wide player is nothing to ignore, but that kind of PK production can’t be relied upon year in and year out. Second, he’s only replicated that kind of goal production a couple of times in his career, and that was mostly early.

In 2016-17 as a 19-year-old, Morgan had 6 goals and 6 assists for St. Mirren in the Scottish Championship. He followed that season up with a 14-goal, 5-assist season. This got him a move to Celtic in the Scottish Premiership, though he did spend time on loan with Sunderland in English League 1. His time with Sunderland wasn’t bad (1 goal and 5 assists in 17 appearances), but he was never able to break into the Celtic first team. In all, he only made 14 appearances for Celtic with 3 starts and never scored or assisted.

In 2020 he moved to Inter Miami, where he spent 2 years. His first year in Miami was good, as he netted 5 goals (1 PK) and 5 assists. In 2021, though, he reverted back to his old non-goal-scoring ways (2 goals, 1 assist in 34 starts).

So what to make of him? Morgan has serious talent and at only 26, he’s nowhere near washed. His ceiling–if you exclude PKs–seems to be about 4-8 goals with around the same number of assists. That’s hugely valuable for a wide player! If you do that every year, you’re at 8-12 goal contributions consistently. Again, we Charlotte fans can only dream of that kind of production from the wings. I for one hope he needs another week to fully recover.

Cásseres joined New York as an 18-year-old. He made 3 appearances that year for the MLS club, but primarily played at RBNY II. Since 2019, though, he’s been a major piece for them. From 2019 to 2022, he made 96 appearances with 83 starts. For his career with RBNY, he has 13 goals and 2 assists. His 2021 season has been his best so far, as he got 6 goals and 3 assists, but last year was still decent (2 goals, 4 assists). Like Luquinhas, he has some positional flexibility and has been started as a CAM, wide right player, and a midfielder in a 4-4-2.

Harper is only 21 and seems to be breaking into the first team this year. He’s started 3 of the 4 games after appearing in 17 games (6 starts) last year. He had 2 goals and 2 assists last year. Last year he seems to have been played as a wingback or right winger mostly, while this year FBref has him as a RB, WB, and RM. It makes categorizing him difficult. New York’s official roster lists him as a forward, so we’ll go with that and put him in this section. It’s readily apparent, though, that’ll they’ll look to get him into the lineup however they can on that right side.

Fernandez is 24 and has spent his entire career with the RBNY organization. He only ever made 5 appearances for RBNY II, but has 86 appearances and 37 starts for RBNY. Last year was his best year as he got into 27 games (21 starts), scored 2 goals, and had 3 assists. Those aren’t amazing numbers, but he’s still a relatively young player. With that said, I’m not sure what his path to the Starting XI is when everyone is healthy. He played a lot as an attacking midfielder last year, but can also seemingly play out wide. With Luquinhas, Morgan, Cásseres, Harper, and now Vanzeir, the competition is fierce.

Midfield

New York is young in the midfield: Yearwood (23), Amaya (22), Daniel Edelman (19), Peter Stroud (20), and Steven Sserwadda (20).

As previously mentioned, Yearwood hasn’t appeared in a game this season due to injury. He’s been an important player for them over the past two years though, making 54 appearances and 36 starts. He has 3 goals and 2 assists over that same time. Again, he’s back in training, but I wouldn’t expect him to start. Perhaps he makes it off the bench.

Sserwadda and Stroud haven’t really played. Sserwadda got into 2 games last year for a total of 29 minutes, while Stroud has 1 appearance for 12 minutes this year. Stroud interestingly did have an appearance for West Ham’s junior team back in 2018-19.

While Edelman is only 19, he got into 16 games (10 starts) last year for RBNY. This year, he’s made two starts. There’s not a lot of data on him to make any kind of definitive declarations, but his defensive profile looks very good.

Edelman defensive percentiles vs. 2022 MLS CMs

The rest of his profile looks…a work in progress.

Amaya is a player who caught my eye last year. He’s been a starter in MLS since he was 18 when he made 19 appearances (15 starts) for Cincinnati. He made 21 starts the next year, before moving to RBNY. Over the past 3 seasons, he’s made 50 appearances and 37 starts for Red Bulls, including starting all 4 of their games this year. Last year was by far his best year for goal contributions, as he had one goal and 3 assists.

There’s a definite right-sided bias to Amaya’s mass, which is further reflected in their lineups (i.e., right-sided CM in whatever formation they’re playing).

To be honest, there’s nothing much in his percentiles that jump out. He’s decent defensively (80th percentile for tackles, 63rd percentile for interceptions) and, when he chooses to take someone on (44th percentile for take-ons attempted), he’s usually successful (94th percentile for successful take-on percentage). Although he’s below average in his passing (18th percentile for passes completed, 19th percentile for pass completion percentage), he creates a decent amount with that passing (75th percentile for progressive passes, 84th percentile for goal-creating actions).

All 3 of RBNY’s primary CMs (Amaya, Edelman, and, I assume, soon-to-be Yearwood) aren’t in the team to create. They’re all above average defensively and provide cover to break up attacks. Amaya’s passing, in particular, should be looked at as a byproduct of New York’s play style, i.e., cede possession and play a transition game. Viewed that way, it explains some of the low percentages while also explaining the danger his passes can cause. I’m not sure what he would look like on a more possession-based side, but he’s a player that simply intrigues me.

Defense

New York has 3 defenders who have yet to make an appearance for them this year: Hassan Ndam, Matt Nocita, and Jayden Reid. Nocita and Reid have never made an appearance for RBNY, though Nocita did make 7 appearances (all starts) last year for RBNY II. Ndam has made 4 appearances (2 starts) for RBNY, including 2 appearances last year. Fun fact: he had 5 appearances (4 starts) for Charlotte in the USL Championship back in 2019.

RBNY employs the two Nealis brothers, Dylan (24) and Sean (26), at center back. Dylan began his career with Inter Miami (2020), before moving to Cincinnati for a year (2021). He joined New York and his brother last year, making 28 appearances (20 starts) and getting 2 assists. Meanwhile, Sean has spent his entire career in the Red Bulls organization. He’s made 65 appearances over the past 3 years (2021-23), including 33 last year. All his appearances over this time frame have been starts. He only has 2 career goals, the most recent of which came in 2021.

Sean Nealis is a center-back, but Dylan has spent time as a fullback. According to FBref, last year, he mostly split his time as a CB (14 appearances) and fullback/wingback (18 appearances). He played on both sides of the pitch too. More interesting, he also has designations of RW, LW, and CM. This year, Dylan only has appearances as a center back, but it’s clear there is definitive positional flexibility with him.

Dylan’s defensive percentiles are pretty outrageous, regardless of if he’s compared with CBs or FBs.

Those numbers are just outstanding across the board. You might point to the low % of dribblers tackled or challenges lost as a point of issue, and perhaps it is. I tend to think it might just be a function of how often he is challenging opponents.

S. Nealis defensive percentiles vs. 2022 MLS CBs

The younger Nealis is better defensively, though the elder one isn’t bad. What I will say is neither is a good passer, or at least they’re not asked to be one. Dylan is in the 2nd percentile for passes completed, while Sean is in the 1st percentile.

Andrés Reyes is a similar player to the Nealis brother. The U22 Initiative player is good defensively and poor with his passing.

Reyes is young at only 23. A foot injury kept him out of 23 games last year (2/21/22 through 7/7/22) and he was only able to make 12 appearances (8 starts) after having made 19 appearances (17 starts) in 2021. This year he’s started all 4 games.

Kyle Duncan is a RB who hasn’t featured much for RBNY over the past 2 years. He made his first appearances (4 starts) for RBNY when he was 18 back in 2018. He made 13 starts the following year (2019), 21 starts (23 appearances) in 2020, and 32 appearances (27 starts) in 2021. During this time he scored 5 goals and got 8 assists. He had a short loan with Oostende in the Belgian league, making 7 starts. Last year, he only appeared in 9 games for RBNY (6 starts). So far this year, he’s only appeared in 2 games, though he did start one.

It’s unclear to me why he’s not playing as much as he used to. He had a cruciate ligament rupture in 2018, missed a couple of games with a knee issue in 21/22 with Oostende, and has missed 1 game this year with a groin strain. His percentile numbers look really good in 2020 and, though they fall off a bit (especially the shooting numbers), still look decent in 2021. I’m not quite sure why he’s fallen out of favor, but he seems a talented MLS fullback. I don’t follow RBNY closely enough to give a good answer to this.

Finally, John Tolkin has been the primary LB for New York over the past 3 years. He’s started all 4 games this year after starting 31 in 2022 and 22 (28 appearances) in 2021. He was 18 in 2021 and is still only 20 right now. Last year he had a goal and 3 assists. He already has 2 assists this year. Now those 2 assists have come off of just a 0.4 xGA, so there might be some luck. Regardless, he’s a talented young player.

Like most of New York’s backline, his defensive numbers are good. While the overall passing numbers don’t look great on the surface, he attempts a lot of long balls (76th percentile), which leads to a good number of key passes (82nd percentile). His GCA and SCA numbers are also quite good (86th percentile for shot-creating actions; 63rd percentile for goal-creating actions).

His heatmaps back up his numbers and are probably due to the way New York sets up. Again, they don’t desire the ball and high possession numbers. They want to win the ball and get it into the opponent’s territory quickly. It thus makes sense that his primary positions would be in his own half and the areas just past the halfway line.

Goalkeepers

New York has 3 goalkeepers on its roster: Carlos Coronel, Ryan Meara, and Anthony Marcucci. Marcucci has never featured for RBNY, though he has played a good amount over the past couple of years for RBNY II.

Meara is the backup. He’s spent much of his career with RBNY, though he did play in one game for NYCFC in 2015. He’s never been a starter for RBNY. He made a career-high (for MLS) number of starts in 2020 with 13, allowing 16 goals and having a PSxG+/- of +0.8. He made 0 appearances in 2021 and just one last year.

The reason for this is simple: Carlos Coronel. He joined New York in 2021 from RB Salzburg (must be nice to be able to just pass players between clubs in different countries/leagues). He made 34 starts in 2021 and 33 starts last year. Coronel was outstanding in his first year. He allowed only 33 goals, which was good for a 0.97 GA90. His PSxG+/- was an outstanding +7.7. Last year was not as good. He allowed 39 goals (1.18 GA90) and his PSxG+/- was significantly worse at -0.6. For reference, Kahlina made 31 starts last year, allowed 48 goals (1.55 GA90), and had a -3.6 PSxG+/-, so while it was a down year for Coronel compared with his first season, it was still better than Kahlina’s. So far this year he’s at a -0.5 PSxG+/-but has only allowed 3 goals.

So what to make of this dropoff for Coronel?

First, I looked at his save percentage. It went from 75% in 2021 t0 66.1% in 2022. This wasn’t the result of him facing more shots, as that number actually dropped (3.53 shots/90 in 2021 to 3.39 shots/90 in 2022). Looking at his Post-Shot Expected Goals, he was actually better last year (83rd percentile) than he was in 2021 (66th percentile). The shots he did face were more difficult (91st percentile for PSxG/SoT) and his PSxG/SoT was 0.35 per 90, which ranked 2nd in the league. However, he had a PSxG/SoT of 0.31 per 90 in 2021, which was in the 82nd percentile. So in both years, he was facing difficult chances.

Next, I looked at the one thing that did jump out to me in his percentiles: Corner Kick Goals Against. In 2021 he was in the 82nd percentile for Corner Kick Goals Against, allowing only 0.03 goals per 90. Last year dropped to the 39th percentile, allowing 0.18 goals per 90. This is one of those things where numbers just can’t tell the whole story. My gut says this poor performance on corners has led to the downward in his PSxG+/-, but I don’t know for sure. Further, I don’t know why this performance decreased so much in this area.

At the end of the day, this feels like a big year for Coronel. From a traditional stats perspective, last year was still good. Again, 1.18 goals/90 is nothing to laugh at. The underlying numbers point to potential issues, but goalkeeper numbers are usually dependent to some degree on the defense in front of them. As such, it’s best to use them as a barometer of a player, rather than a definitive statement about them. Coronel appears to be a decent keeper. At the very least he’s league-average, but my gut says he’s probably above average.

Conclusion

RBNY are such a young team that I think there’s always going to be variance in their performances. When your “senior” players are 26 and many of your automatic starters are 22-25, there’s a lot of room for youthful excellence and mistakes.

Listen, you don’t wish for injury, but if Morgan and Vanzeir can’t go, along with Cásseres and Burke being unavailable due to international duty, it’s a big boon for Charlotte. That’s a lot of attacking talent that would be unavailable for them.

Speaking of unavailable, Westwood is going to miss the game this weekend. I’m very disappointed with this. I thought he looked good the first 30 minutes against Orlando and I don’t think our poor performance in the 2nd half was unrelated to his withdrawal. On the bright side, one has to think this means Nuno gets the start. Right? The other option would seem to be Shinyashiki in Westwood/Karol’s place (CL is going to make a lot of people mad if/when he does put Andre in over Nuno).

The other area of concern is with Bill Tuiloma, who is questionable. If he can’t go, I would think Sobociński would get the nod, but DJ did get time at CB during the preseason. If DJ is Malanda’s CB partner, then it opens up the midfield to both Andre and Nuno. I’m not sure that happens and I’m not sure it should. Many may have written Sobo off, or at the very least forgotten about him, but he’s only 24. Injuries hurt him last year, but he’s very young for a CB.

Up top, Vargas has to start. You would think it would be on the left, as he looked good there. If so, I imagine it’s Gaines back on the right wing. I wouldn’t be opposed to Vargas on the right and Jóźwiak on the left, but the Orlando game makes me wonder if CL will do that. Another option would be Vargas on the left and Shinyashiki on the right. Again, don’t think CL will do this. I don’t want to see Jóźwiak start on the right. I just don’t believe in him there.

In goal, I think Marks has definitely earned another start. I’d also like to see Jaylin get another start. I thought his passing was tremendous against Orlando. On the other side, I can’t believe it, but, yes, Afful also earned another start. He was very good.

With all this said, I would’ve never predicted Jaylin or Marks to start last week, along with both Jóźwiak and Karol being benched. Who knows what CL will do this week to surprise us?

I’m feeling weirdly positive about this game and think that we’re not only going to keep the good times going, but we’re also going to do it in style, shutting New York out.

Prediction: Charlotte 2 – RBNY 0

Data Notes: All heatmaps come fromSofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come fromFBref.com. All formation graphics are fromMLSsoccer.com. Other websites used for data include transfermarkt.us,Wyscout.com, andMLSsoccer.com

The 2023 Orlando Preview, Pt. 1

Huh, guess these fanbases have something in common. I’d give Orlando fans first dibs on these feelings due to their seniority. Saturday was as noncompetitive as I’ve seen Charlotte in its short history. That’s about all I have to say about things that have happened over the past week.

Lineups

Orlando has started the season much better than Charlotte with a home victory over RBNY (1-0), a home draw against Cincinnati (0-0), and an away draw against DC United (1-1). Defensively, you feel okay about that, but 2 goals in 3 games isn’t great (says the fan of the 1 goal team…).

In addition to theses league games, Orlando is also in the CCL. On 3/7, they produced a great result of 0-0 at UANL. I say this statement in all sincerity, as it set them up very well for the home leg on 3/15. Well, in addition to Fox cutting the feed before the game was over, Orlando came up just short with a 1-1 draw, sending Tigres through on away goals (stupid rule). Tigres is one of the better clubs on this continent, so I don’t think Orlando should be too down on itself. Certainly disappointed, but not disheartened.

More importantly from a Charlotte perspective, Orlando has played 180 more minutes of football than us, including what will be 3 games this week. Wednesday night’s affair was all high-stakes, so hopefully it was energy sapping.

Now, there is a positive way to look at this. We are still very much in “early season” form. Part of the reason MLS teams struggle so much in CCL is because the MLS season has just started, while Liga MX (and other leagues) sides have been going for multiple games already. UANL has already played 11 league games. The chemistry of that team is far above Orlando’s, or any MLS side. There might be more wear on Orlando legs; they might have better understanding, though.

Orlando vs. RBNY, 2/25
Orlando vs. Cincinnati, 3/4
Orlando at DC, 3/11

Orlando’s lineups are all over the place. It looks like a 4-2-3-1 might be their preferred, but then you have that 3-4-2-1 and 5-3-2 hanging out there. Now, the differences between a back 5 and a back 3 can be blurry, so that 3-4-2-1 could easily be a 5-2-3 (or something of the sort). The point is, this is a team that has some lineup variation, so it should be interesting to see what they do on Saturday with it.

My guess–based on the way they started the season and the lineup they’ve put out against Tigres–is that the 4-2-3-1 with those personnel choices is the (mostly) preferred lineup.

Injury

According to the MLS Availability Report, Orlando have a pretty clean bill of health. Only forward Favian Loyola is listed as Questionable with a left thigh injury. He’s 17 and doesn’t have a first team appearances, so, all-in-all, Orlando will be coming in with a full-strength squad.

Note: Antonio Carlos has injury concerns but isn’t listed in the Availability Report. More on this later.

Attack

Like Atlanta, Orlando has a young South American DP player who should be the focal point of opposition teams: the Uruguayan, Facundo Torres. There were rumors of Torres being linked to Arsenal in January, though obviously nothing came of that.

Torres is listed as a midfielder and forward, which is unsurprising when you see the formations above. The 22-year-old had a strong debut season in MLS last year, scoring 9 goals (1 PK) and getting 8 assists. Now, he did that off the back of a 4.7 xG (4.0 npxG) so there is some question about the sustainability of that goal-scoring production. Good goal-scorers usually over-perform their xG; they don’t usually double it. He also over-performed his xAG, which was 5.4. He has 1 of Orlando’s 2 goals on the season.

Torres had 10 goals over 50 appearances for Peñarol (his previous club) in his age 19 and 20 seasons. The history of goalscoring is there. The questions are: does his goal tally come down? Does the xG improve? Is he a unicorn who consistently over performs his xG to this level? He’ll be 23 this season, so there’s plenty of time for this to become clear. What is clear now is that Charlotte will have to be aware of him.

In addition to his obvious goal-contributions, Torres is a dangerous passer. He’s not elite here yet, but he is good. He’s in the 83rd percentile for assists, the 81st percentile for progressive passes, and in the 70th percentile ranges for passes into the final third (76th), passes into the penalty area (74th), and crosses into the penalty area (71st).

He’s a good carrier of the ball (82nd percentile for carries, 72nd percentile for progressive carrying distance, and 76th percentile for carries into the final third) and receiver of the ball (80th percentile for passes received, 74th percentile for progressive passes received).

Torres MLS heatmap 2023
Torres MLS heatmap 2022

He’s recreating his map from last year. There is a bias toward the right side of the pitch, but it’s clear that he’s going to drift all over the final third. He’s been started as a CAM, RM/RW, or part of a strike partnership. His versatility makes him dangerous. Considering how many issues Almada and ATL gave use with attacking our left side (before finishing attacks on our right side), we should be concerned.

Elsewhere in attack, you’ll find DP striker Ercan Kara, Jack Lynne, Moises Tablante, the injured Loyola, Gaston González, Ramiro Enrique, Duncan McGuire, Dagur Dan Þórhallsson, and Martín Ojeda. Neither Lynne nor Tablante has made a senior appearance this year and Lynne only had 3 appearances (for 4 minutes) last year. Lynn is currently out on loan.

Kara is a 27-year-old Austrian striker. He’s big at 6’3.5″ and 192 lbs. He’s in his 2nd season for Orlando having come over from Rapid Wien in the Austrian Bundesliga. He had 11 goals (1 PK) and 3 assists last year on 9.4 xG and 1.6 xAG. For as big as he is, he doesn’t have the number of headed goals you might expect. Of his 10 non-PK goals, only 3 were headers. Most were with the right foot, while one was with his left. The way to defend him, then, seems pretty simple (/s): force him off that right foot.

Kara started the first two games but did not start in Orlando’s game against DC or in their CCL games. I haven’t been able to find anything about these absences being related to injury, so it might be a form issue.

In Kara’s place, Enrique and McGuire have come in. Enrique is 21 and in his first season in MLS, having arrived from Banfield. He had 8 goals and 2 assists in 51 appearances for Banfield. McGuire is 22 and was selected in the most recent SuperDraft (#6 overall) from Creighton. From Orlando’s announcement about his signing:

McGuire is coming off a breakout year that earned him the 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy, an annual award given to college soccer’s best player. He set the Creighton single-season record for goals (23), picked up Second Team All-America honors, and helped propel his team to the College Cup.

I will say again: it’s exceedingly rare for a SuperDraft pick to get serious minutes. McGuire might be the exception. He has Orlando’s other league goal on the season. Enrique, meanwhile, has started both CCL games for them.

González (21), Þórhallsson (22), and Ojeda (24) are all first year MLS players. Orlando has really turned this roster over. González joins from CA Unión in the Argentina Primera. In 2021, González had 5 goals and 6 assists as a 19-year-old. On the year he has 2 appearances (1 start) with 0 goals or assists. In his 1 start, he appears to have played as a left wing-back.

Þórhallsson joins Orlando from the Norwegian side Mjøndalen. He has 3 appearances (2 starts) with 0 goals and an assist on the year. He’s been started in an attacking midfielder role behind a striker (or 2 strikers).

Finally, Ojeda joins Orlando from Godoy Cruz in Argentina. He made 50 appearances for Godoy, scoring 18 goals (2 PKs) and 12 assists over that time. This includes a 12-goal, 3-assist season in 2021. Ojeda has made 3 league appearances (1 start) so far. He was played as a CAM in this start. He played the same role in his other start against UANL in the first leg.

Ojeda was a $4.01M signing, so the expectations are high for him.

Ojeda Godoy Cruz heatmap from 2022

With Godoy Cruz, he shows a strong bias towards the right. I can’t speak on how exactly he was deployed with them.

Ojeda MLS heatmap from 2023

With Orlando, this bias has not shown up. It probably reflects his more central role for Orlando, though as his Godoy Cruz map shows, he will drift all over the pitch. If he starts, the interplay between him and Torres will be fascinating to watch.

Midfield

In the midfield, Orlando will deploy their last DP, Mauricio Pereyra, Felipe Martins, Wilfredo Rivera, César Araújo, Erick Gunera-Calix,
Iván Angulo, Wilder Cartagena, and Shakur Mohammed. Mohammed was Orlando’s other high SuperDraft pick (#2 overall) but has yet to feature for the club. Rivera and Gunera-Calix also have yet to make a senior team appearance.

Felipe Martins joined on a free from Austin. He made 28 appearances for Austin, but only started 5 games. He scored once and had 2 assists. At 32, he’s probably done with being a consistent starter. In fact, you have to go back to 2019, when he was with Vancouver, for him to have made above 10 starts in a season. He has been in MLS since 2012, though, so he definitely knows the league.

Pereyra is the big name of this group. The 33-year-old Uruguayan is now in his 5th season with Orlando, having made 86 appearances (79 starts), including 32 appearances (31 starts) last year. Before Orlando, he was in the Russian Premier League with Krasnodar and was initially a goalscorer. In 2013-14, he scored 6 goals with 4 assists and followed that season up with a 9-goal, 1 assist season in 2014-15. Since then, though, he’s become more of a playmaker. With Orlando, he’s only scored 4 total goals, including just 1 last year. To be honest, he’s been a bit unlucky with his goal-scoring. He had a 2.6 xG in 2021 and a 2.9 xG last year. In each year he only scored once. This isn’t a crazy disparity, so I don’t think it points to a likely upshot of goals; it’s simply noteworthy. He had 7 assists in 2021 and 8 assists last year. He’s yet to get an assist this year, but history says those will come.

So far this year, Pereyra seems to be playing a bit further back than he was in 2022. That’s unsurprising considering the attacking midfield talent (Ojeda, Þórhallsson) they’ve brought in. Regardless of whether you consider him a CAM or CM, his penetrative passing numbers are excellent. He’s among the league leaders in progressive passing, passes into the penalty area, passes into the final third, and key passes. Additionally, he’s excellent when it comes to shot-creating actions. The percentiles below show that regardless of how you consider him (CAM or CM), his passing is elite.

Cartagena is in his 2nd season with Orlando, having joined last year. He only made 8 appearances (4 starts) but joined on loan from Ittihad Kalba in August. The loan is set to expire at the end of this year. Unlike most of Orlando’s other new arrivals, Cartagena is a veteran at 28 years old.

Cartagena has appeared in all 3 league matches for Orlando, starting 2. His role is to be a defensive balance to Orlando’s attacking talent. He does the job very well, as he’s a good tackler and interceptor of the ball.

Araújo and Angulo are both in their 2nd seasons with Orlando. Araújo made 31 appearances (28 starts) for Orlando last year. He’s never had a goal or an assist in his career. He’s appeared in all 3 league games so far but has only started 1. Meanwhile, Angulo joined in the summer of last year and made 9 appearances (5 starts), recording 2 assists. Angulo has appeared in all 3 league games but has made only 2 starts. Both started in the matchups with UANL. Angulo has started as the left wide player when Orlando is in a 4-2-3-1 and as a wingback when they are in a back 5.

Araújo’s job is to be cover, but I’m not sure he’s great at it (he’s not bad). His passing is good and safe (high-ish percentiles for pass completion overall and in the short/medium ranges). He’s not progressing the ball much, but that doesn’t need to be his job when you have someone like Pereyra.

Defensively, he’s a good tackler (83rd percentile), great against dribblers (97th percentile of dribblers tackled), and reads the game well (76th percentile for tackles plus interceptions). With that said, I think there’s a reason they brought in Cartagena. He does all of these things, but better. Araújo is only 21, so Cartagena has 7 years on him. It’s not a surprise that Cartagena would be more solid defensively at this point in their respective careers. Araújo isn’t a great CDM yet, but has the talent to be. It’s also important to note he’s started their two biggest games of the season against Tigres, which does show what the club thinks of him.

Angulo doesn’t have a history of goal contribution. His best season (goal-contribution-wise) was as an 18-year-old in the Colombian league, where he had 2 goals and 3 assists. This got him a move to Palmeiras in Brazil, but he never made an appearance. He got into 3 games with Botafogo before moving to Portimonense in the Portuguese league. He made 32 appearances (27 starts) for Portimonense, but only recorded 1 goal and 1 assist. Last year’s tally of 2 assists in MLS wasn’t bad, especially considering his limited playing time, however, you have to imagine teams are looking for more production from the wing than what he’s historically provided (is he their Jóźwiak?).

It’s a small sample size, but nothing jumps out in Angulo’s percentiles with the exception of his carry numbers. He was in the 91st percentile for carries into the final third and the 85th percentile for carries into the penalty area. He’s only in the 40th percentile for progressive carries, though, so it’s still an area of growth. It must be said that 6.1 90s is hardly enough time to accurately measure his ability.

Defense

Orlando lists 3 young defenders on their roster who have yet to make an appearance this year: Alexander Freeman, Thomas Williams, and Brandon Hackenberg. Of the 3, only Williams has ever had a senior appearance (4 apps, 2 starts last year).

There is a 4th defender, Antonio Carlos, who has yet to make an appearance for Orlando this year. Unlike the others, Carlos has been a key contributor for Orlando at center back over the past few years. He joined Orlando in 2020, having spent 3 years with Palmeiras in the Brazilian Série A. He made 36 appearances for Palmeiras. Since joining Orlando, Carlos has made 70 appearances, including 64 starts. He’s been out with an injury (yay MLS Availability Report not showing that!) picked up in the preseason. Orlando’s own fans note his absence’s effect on their ability to defend in the air:

Carlos’ most effective aerial season was in 2021, when he tied forward Daryl Dike for the team lead with 2.2 aerials won per game. Last year, with Dike in England, Carlos led the team for the second consecutive season with 1.9 aerials won per game, despite missing time with a hamstring injury.

This aerial ability is real too; it’s not just fan bias. Carlos is in the 74th percentile for aerials won, 89th percentile for aerials lost, and 99th percentile for percentage of aerials won. The other two primary CBs on this roster–Robin Jansson and Rodrigo Schlegel–are horrible. Jansson is in the 6th percentile for aerials won and the 9th percentile for percentage of aerials won. Schlegel is equally inept, as he’s in the 11th percentile of aerials won and 5th percentile of percentage of aerials won.

If there was ever a time when “cross and pray” might work, this is the game. It should be noted that Carlos has been back in training and has made the bench against both DC United and UANL, so there is a chance he plays Saturday. Let’s hope he needs a bit more time.

Carlos’ primary CB partner has been Jansson. Jansson is in his 5th season with Orlando and starts most of their games. Over this time, he’s appeared in 103 matches, starting 99 of them. He provides a little threat in front of goal, getting 4 goals over the past 2 seasons (2021 and 2022). 3 of those goals did come in 2021, so I’m not sure he’s someone that we need to be seriously concerned about, but it’s something to watch out for.

Jansson is a decent passer of the ball, especially when it comes to long passes. He’s in the 86th percentile for long pass completion percentage. This percentage comes on the back of him routinely trying these types of passes (63rd percentile for long passes attempted). He also likes to carry the ball out of the back, as he’s in the 89th percentile for take-ons attempted, the 92nd percentile for successful take-ons, and the 82nd percentile for progressive carries.

Schlegel has been the primary beneficiary of Carlos’ absence. He’s started all 3 games so far, though he did start quite frequently for Orlando over the past 2 years anyway (52 appearances, 39 starts over the 2021-2022 seasons). Schlegel is a good tackler (93rd percentile), especially against dribblers (96th percentile).

Abdi Salim was the 17th overall selection in the most recent SuperDraft. He’s played as a CB in 2 games for Orlando (both times when they were in a back 3 or 5 configuration). This being his first professional season, there’s not much data to look at.

Kyle Smith is a fullback turned center-back*, at least currently. He’s appeared in all 3 league games but has only started as part of a back 3 or 5. He did get into 29 games (14 starts) last year for Orlando, scoring 2 goals. He’s in his 5th season with Orlando, having made 98 appearances (63 starts), scoring 3 goals, and assisting once.

*Note: The regular caveats about formation apply here. I’m basing position designations on the lineups released by MLS. There’s every chance that they show a back 5 with Smith as a CB, but in reality, it was a back 4 with him at his usual fullback position.

To return to the aerial issue Orlando is having and Smith’s role in it. Smith is decent in the air for a fullback (87th percentile for aerials won, 40th percentile for percentage of aerials won). As a center back, though, his percentile for aerials won falls to 22nd. That’s not a surprise, but simply reinforces the idea that this is an area of weakness for them.

Luca Petrasso was with Toronto last year and deployed primarily as a left-back, though he has some designations of wing back and winger as well. He made 23 appearances (21 starts) for Toronto, getting 2 assists. He’s made 2 league appearances and 1 start this year for Orlando, though he did also start both legs in CCL.

Michael Halliday is a young (20) fullback for Orlando. He’s come up through their organization and is actually in his 4th season with the club. He’s made 15 appearances (6 starts) over the past 3 years. Although he made just 6 (0 starts) appearances for 50 minutes last year, that’s not really surprising. Last year–and in the previous 3 prior years–Orlando had Ruan as their starting RB. With Ruan now in DC, it seems Orlando is giving Halliday a legitimate shot.

He’s appeared in all 3 of Orlando’s league games, making 2 starts, and started in both legs of their UANL tie. Being such a young player, there’s not much data to go on, but the fact that Orlando felt comfortable moving on from Ruan probably says it all.

The final defender that has appeared for Orlando is Rafael Santos. He’s in his first season with Orlando having joined from Coritiba in the Brazilian league. Over the past 3 years he’s bounced around a bit: Ponte Preta in 2021; Cruzeiro and Coritiba in 2022; Orlando currently. He’s made 55 appearances (47 starts) over this time. He has 3 career goals and 4 assists to his name, all back in 2021 with Ponte Preta.

Goalkeeping

Orlando has 4 keepers on their roster: Javier Otero, Mason Stajduhar, Adam Grinwis, and Pedro Gallese. Otera has never made a senior appearance and Grinwis has only done so in 2 years: 2021 (2 starts) and 2018 (5 starts). Stajduhar appears to be the backup. He made 2 starts last year and 5 starts in 2021.

The #1 is Gallese. The 33-year-old is off to a strong start in his 4th season with Orlando. He’s made 76 starts for the club, including 32 last year. In terms of raw numbers, last year was not a good year for Gallese. He allowed 47 goals (1.47 goals per 90), only had a 65.9% save percentage, and had a -2.2 PSxG+/-.

Until this year, the goals per 90 have actually increased for Gallese each year since he joined Orlando: 1.05 GA90 in 2020 (19 starts), 1.36 GA90 in 2021 (22 starts), and 1.47 GA90 last year. So far this year, he’s bounced back in a big way with a 0.33 GA90 in th league. He almost single-handedly kept Orlando in their games with Tigres by making a ton of really good saves. Gallese’s save percentage in 73.2% in 2020 and 70.8% in 2021. It’s a ridiculous 92.3% this year.

His PSxG+/- was okay in both 2020 (+2.4) and 2021 (+3.0). This year it’s already at +1.5. Now there is still plenty of time for this number to come down (Kahlina began last year with a strong PSxG+/- but finished in the negatives). Gallese is currently 4th in the league in PSxG+/-.

Gallese Goalkeeping percentiles vs. 2022 MLS GKs
Gallese Advanced Goalkeeping percentiles vs. 2022 MLS GKs

There’s not much that jumps out in his percentiles. He’s clearly not a bad keeper, but I tend to trust history over a 3-5 game stretch. Maybe this is a career year for Gallese, or maybe it’s a good run. If I had to bet, I’d say he comes down to earth a bit as the year goes on. Let’s hope that starts Saturday.

Conclusion

Desperate times indeed for Charlotte. Many will be calling this a “must-win” for the club and, while I see the logic behind that, I don’t know that I fully agree. Road games are tough in any league. Charlotte is historically very bad on the road. You offer me a draw right now and I’m biting your hand off for it.

The main source of hope for Charlotte probably comes in Orlando’s midweek CCL fixture. How much–if any–has that game fatigued them, both physically and mentally. With the crazy, and ultimately disappointing end, you have to hope a lot.

The second place to pin some hope is that Carlos is at least one more game away from being able to start. Otherwise, their biggest weakness gets patched. One player will not solve their aerial issues, but he will certainly provide a big boost.

From a Charlotte perspective, let’s not beat around the bush. Świderski on the right has not, is not, and will not work. If he’s going to start, Karol needs to be returned to the center of the pitch; it’s a game and a half late for this.

Wing production continues to be an issue for this team. The national media has latched onto Jóźwiak’s lack of production. While I think some of the criticism is unfair (I think he’s been one of our better players on the season), it’s not completely unfair. Charlotte has a goal differential of -6, has scored 1 goal, and was noncompetitive against Atlanta. Jóźwiak has not scored a goal in 92 league games. I’m a fan, but the reality is we need end production from him.

Instead of Świderski on the right, it’s time for Vargas to get the start. I’m a staunch Gaines supporter, but Vargas has earned a start. Each time he’s seen the pitch, he looks bright.

In midfield, while I’m dying to see Nuno Santos get a start, I don’t think it happens. I think we’ll see Świderski, Westwood, and Jones in the midfield.

Editor’s note: for information about how many of us feel about Jones at this current moment, check out our Wednesday pod. I’ll simply speak for myself here and say he was exceedingly bad, in my opinion.

The Bronico experiment at LB is not going well. I understand what CL wants from Bronico in that position, but Atlanta’s attacks all seemed to target that side. Wiley’s two goals were moves that ended on the right of our defense, but the thrusts of those attacks came on the left. The easiest answer to our backline issues is to buy a left back. If that is not going to happen (and I’m pessimistic it will), it feels like it’s either growing pains with Brandt or an uninspiring play from Mora/Afful.

On the other flank, Byrne has not been good. I refuse to believe that his skills have atrophied over a single off-season to the point he’s unplayable. I don’t know what has happened, but I believe the answer lies in how CL has been deploying his fullbacks. I don’t see a world in which Lindsey starts.

At center back, there is really no reason to change. I don’t think either of Tuiloma or Malanda were great against Atlanta, but that could be said of the entire team. Neither had obvious errors like they did against St. Louis, but both were culpable, to varying degrees, in the goals that were scored. Malanda was especially bad on the first goal.

Sisniega had a rough go of it, too. I’m not sure any of the goals can be fully placed on him, but I would like my goalie to save one of them. Sometimes you just need an unlikely save to keep you in the game and Pablo wasn’t able to do that for us. Is this fair? Probably not, but it’s how I feel. The Araújo goal is the one I really want him to save. I tend to be unfairly critical of goalies, especially when they get beat near-post.

This has not been the start of the season any of us wanted. It’s still too early to declare this season dead, but results need to start happening. Orlando is a good team, but they’re not elite (yet; the talent is real). They’ve had a ton of roster turnover in the past couple of years and started a number of young players who are new to the league. I think there’s a lot of talent in that squad, but I don’t know that they outclass us to the point that it’s impossible to get a positive result. Containing Torres and preventing Pereyra from dictating the game will be key.

Prediction: Orlando 1 – Charlotte 1

Data Notes: All heatmaps come fromSofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come fromFBref.com. All formation graphics are from MLSsoccer.com. Other websites used for data include transfermarkt.us,Wyscout.com, and MLSsoccer.com

The 2023 Atlanta Preview, Pt. 1

I’ve seen a lot of panic amongst the Charlotte faithful this week. Starting with 2 losses–one against a new expansion club–will do that. However, I want to provide some hope.

First, last year, Charlotte started with 3 straight losses, getting outscored 6-1 and 4-0 in the first 2 games. We’ve only been outscored 4-1 so far this year! Progress!

In all seriousness, though, even with the poor start last year, Charlotte still managed 42 points and barely missed out on the playoffs. Now, some among you may then blame this poor start for us missing out. There is an argument for that. However, I would point to the run of games in late August-early September as what did us in.

We lost 2-1 to Orlando at home on 8/21, followed that up with a 2-0 loss at home to Toronto on 8/27, and then lost on the road to Cincinnati 2-0 on 9/3. Cincinnati and Orlando both finished above us, with the latter getting the 7th seed with 48 points. Toronto finished 13th in the East last year on 34 points.

The point is, a run of bad games can happen. You can’t dig too deep a hole, but I’m simply not panicked yet. I’m not alone in that amongst my colleagues here at The Crown Cast. Unlike Joseph Lowery, who has us as an 8/10 on the panic meter, Logan and I are only at a 4. Justin is a bit higher at a 5, while Euan is lower at a 3. A blowout loss might change things but as of now, I’m feeling ok.


Is good Atlanta back?

Atlanta is currently 4th in the East on 4 points, having won (2-1 at home against San Jose) and drawn (1-1 against Toronto at home) in each of their first two games.

It’s too early to say if this Atlanta team will be back to its normal standard, but I think the indications are good. They’ve turned over the roster, kept talent from last year, and added some exciting talent this year.

Lineups

Atlanta vs. San Jose, 2/25
Atlanta vs. Toronto, 3/4

The first thing to notice is that the only change made was up top at striker where Jackson Conway was replaced by Miguel Berry. What’s really worrying about this is two of Atlanta’s big offseason signings–Derrick Etienne, Jr. (I wanted him badly for Charlotte) and Giorgos Giakoumakis (new DP striker)–have yet to start. Giakoumakis came off the bench against Toronto for 31 minutes, while Etienne has come off the bench in both games.

Caleb Wiley, who is listed as a defender on both Atlanta’s site and FBref, has started both games. Last year he saw a good amount of action (26 appearances, 18 starts) as a 17-year-old. According to FBref, he was all over the place, including LB, LW, CM, DM, and WB. Etienne played really well last year for Columbus on the left. I expect him to take that position over at some point soon.

What I think is most impressive about this team, at least on paper, is the depth. We’ll get into their players in a bit, but they have a lot of young talent, veteran leadership, and experience across almost every position.

Injury Report

Last week’s MLS Availability Report had 4 players out for Atlanta: midfielder Ozzie Alonso (ACL recovery) and forwards Tyler Wolff (shoulder), Machop Chol (hamstring), and Giakoumakis (visa). Obviously, Giakoumakis’ visa issue was settled by the game last weekend as he featured.

I wouldn’t expect to see Alonso in this game. He’s a good player and was a big loss for them last season but he is also 37 years old now. That recovery will take time.

As far as Chol and Wolff go, I don’t know their status. Chol only saw 80 minutes of game time over 6 appearances last year, so his inclusion or absence is probably not noteworthy.

Wolff got into 5 games last year (4 starts) but failed to score or record an assist. He also had a short loan spell to SK Beveren in the Belgian Second Division. He was recalled in January having only made 5 appearances (0 starts) for only 41 minutes. He didn’t appear in a game for Atlanta after an April 2nd match against DC. I’m not sure why. Wolff is a talented player, but Atlanta has reinforced their squad. He’ll have a battle for time.

Editor’s note: More on this further down, but looks unlikely that Matheus Rossetto will be playing for them.

Attack

Josef Martínez is no more in Atlanta. Having parted ways (in a somewhat ugly fashion), Atlanta loses a great of their young club. I imagine he will remain a great for that club, though. In his stead, Atlanta turns to Thiago Almada to run the attack.

The 21-year-old Argentinian is a monster talent. He only played in one game for Argentina at the World Cup, and only got in for 7 minutes. But the fact that a 21-year-old MLS player even made it on that squad speaks volumes about his talent (and the growth of this league). It’s not bold to say that he will not be long in this league. Europe will come calling.

Last year Almada made an immediate impact for Atlanta, getting into 29 games (25 starts) and recording 6 goals (6.0 xG) and 7 assists (7.6 xGA). The goals and assists are pretty much bang on those expected numbers, which is pretty impressive. He’s already at 2 goals (0.5 xG) and 1 assist (0.2 xGA) for the season, including single-handedly winning the game for Atlanta against SJ in STOPPAGE TIME:

The man can and will take over games. These goals are ridiculous and help explain his poor xG for this year, but if he can score these types of goals, he will score more common ones too. The xG from last year doesn’t show luck with his goal-scoring or contributing.

Almada heatmap, 2022 MLS season
Almada heatmap, 2023 MLS season

These heatmaps could be used as an exemplar for a CAM. He’s all over the opponent’s half of the pitch and will venture into the box as well. There is a bit of a left-sided bias, so Malanda, Byrne, and whoever is playing as the 6 and right-sided 8 will need to be aware.

Almada wants to dominate the ball, as he should. He was at 73.5 touches/90 last year and is at a ridiculous 97.0 this year. You’re not going to keep him off the ball. The trick is to contain him when he has it.

I mean, you just kind of have to laugh at the ridiculousness of these percentiles. This is Almada vs. 2022 MLS CAMs/wingers. Can you say elite? Sure, there are odd issues. The low touches in the attacking penalty are surprising, but he also doesn’t carry into the penalty area much. That then seems to be a feature of his play, not a deficiency. Honestly, the fact that he’s going to score 6-8 goals, if not more, but also pass this well is terrifying.

Atlanta bought Almada for $15.34M; they are going to sell him for a lot more. I would be surprised if, by the end of the summer window, he’s still in Atlanta.

Elsewhere in the attack, you’ll find the aforementioned Etienne, Giakoumakis Conway, and Berry, as well as Luis Araújo.

Etienne had 9 goals and 6 assists in 33 appearances (25 starts) last year for Columbus. As a wing player, that is excellent. Whereas Almada will stay out of the box, Etienne loves to be in there. He was in the 94th percentile for touches in the attacking penalty area/90 vs. 2022 MLS CAMs/wingers.

Giakoumakis is their new DP striker who they acquired for $4.22M from Celtic. Giakoumakis absolutely lit up the Eredivisie for a year with VVV-Venlo. During the 2020-21 season, he made 30 appearances (30 starts) for VVV-Venlo, scoring 26 goals and getting 1 assist. A whopping 8 of those goals were penalties, however, 18 non-PK goals are nothing to sneeze at. This performance got him his move to Celtic where he had a promising first year. In 2021-22, he made 21 appearances (11 starts), scoring 13 goals (12 non-PK goals) and getting 1 assist. His playing time bottomed out this year, though. He made 19 appearances but only had 4 starts (698 total minutes). He did get 6 goals and an assist during this time.

His heatmaps above (left: 2022/23 with Celtic, right: 2021/22 with Celtic) show a guy who likes to be in the penalty box around the goal. There are goals in his boots; I don’t doubt he’ll get quite a few with Atlanta this year.

While Conway and Berry both got the starts to begin the year, both are bit players. In the case of Conway, he’s still very young (21) while Berry is a bit of a journeyman already (although he’s only 25). Conway has yet to score a goal in MLS, but was prolific last year for Atlanta 2 (11 goals and an assist in 25 appearances). Berry, meanwhile, scored 8 goals for Columbus in 2021 in 18 appearances (9 starts). Since then, he’s made 16 appearances (13 starts) for Columbus (2022), 14 appearances (8 starts) for DC (2022), and 2 appearances (1 start) for Atlanta. He has scored 2 goals (both for Columbus) in all of those appearances.

Finally, there is Araújo. He joined Atlanta in 2021 for $11.50M from Lille in Ligue 1. He was 24 when he joined. Believe it or not, the year previous (2020-21), it was Lille who won Ligue 1 (not PSG).

Araújo spent 4 years at Lille, making 108 appearances and 54 starts. He scored 14 goals and had 8 assists, including 4 goals and 2 assists in his final season with them (when he made 27 appearances and 17 starts for the league winners). Yes, Atlanta signed a guy, entering his prime, from a title-winning team in one of Europe’s Big 5.

In his first year with Atlanta, Araújo made 15 appearances (13 starts), scoring 4 goals and getting 3 assists. Last year, he made 28 appearances (26 starts), scoring 4 goals and getting 5 assists. So far this year, he has played the full 90 of both games but is yet to get on the scoresheet.

Araújo is an interesting case because there is some belief he hasn’t quite lived up to the billing. In some ways, I get that argument, but, also, he’s never scored more than 5 goals in a season in his career (and that was in 2017-18). He is constantly between 2-4 goals and 2-3 assists per year. Whether that kind of return should be viewed as a disappointment for a wing DP is up to the reader. Based on his track record, though, I think that’s about what should have been expected of him.

To be honest, I’m not sure why he came here. I’m not a serious follower of the French league. It would seem he would have had options to remain in Europe if Lille were looking to offload him. Perhaps there weren’t? Or perhaps Atlanta offered the best deal? If anyone knows, I’d love to hear it. Regardless, Araújo will play on the right of Atlanta’s attack. Once Etienne and Gaikoumakis find their way into the starting lineup, Atlanta will boast one of the best front 4s in MLS (at least on paper).

Midfield

Atlanta’s FBref page lists 5 midfielders: Franco Ibarra, Matheus Rossetto, Amar Sejdic, Ajani Fortune, and the aforementioned Almada. For reasons that are hopefully obvious, I have included Almada in the “Attack” section. The official MLS site lists a further 6 midfielders: Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno, Santiago Sosa, Erik Centeno, the injured Alonso, and Etienne, who has also been included in the “Attack.”

Barco, Moreno, and Centeno are all out on loan. Sosa has yet to make an appearance this year, though he made 21 last year. He hasn’t made an appearance for the club since 10/1 against NE. During the game, he used a homophobic slur against the Revolution earning him a fine and a 3-match suspension. He’s currently listed as “unavailable” on Atlanta’s site, so I’m assuming it’s still fallout from his use of the slur. He didn’t make the bench for either of the first two matches. Fortune is a 20-year-old who has yet to make an appearance for the club.

The two starters in both games have been Ibarra and Rossetto, with Sejdic coming off the bench in both games (for a total of 12 minutes). Sejdic did play a lot for Atlanta last year (23 appearances, 18 starts), but some of that was due to injury. He’s a good depth to have and will probably push for a starter’s position. Ibarra made 20 appearances (11 starts) last year, getting one assist. Rossetto started 19 games (24 total appearances) and also had one assist. Rossetto does have a goal on the year, but neither is in the team to score.

Rossetto has been with Atlanta since 2020 and has made 62 appearances (46 starts). He’s an excellent buildup passer, as his percentiles show:

Rossetto passing percentiles vs. 2022 MLS CMs

Yeah, that’s basically everything you want from a deep-lying playmaker. Additionally, he likes to dominate the ball (80.90 touches/90) and is able to carry it well (96th percentile for progressive carrying distance). Defensively, he’s nothing to write home about but does like to regain the ball up the pitch (77th percentile for tackles in the attacking 3rd). He’s not bad defensively, but I’d label him as below-average overall.

Ibarra is the yin to Rossetto’s yang. The 21-year-old Argentinian arrived in Atlanta in 2021 as a 19-year-old. He immediately started playing in the first team, making 16 appearances and 9 starts. Last year he made 20 appearances and had 11 starts. At only 5’8.5″ and 152 lbs, Ibarra doesn’t fit the mold of a defensive destroyer, but he is.

Ibarra defensive percentiles vs. 2022 MLS CMs

It’s clear that Ibarra is in this team to clean up any attacks. These numbers, especially for a (then) 20-year-old, are superb. Unlike Rossetto, he’s not a good passer (56th percentile for passes completed, 49th percentile for progressive passing distance, 47th percentile for total passing distance) nor is he great on the ball (33rd percentile for take-ons attempted, 42nd percentile for carries, 3rd percentile for progressive carries). He doesn’t have to be, though. Soccer is about balance and Atlanta has it in this midfield pairing.

With attackers like Almada and Araújo and passers like Rossetto, you don’t need another offensive-minded player. You need someone who will retain possession, regain possession, and snuff out the danger. Ibarra most certainly does that.

Sejdic, who has come off the bench so far this year, is a good balance of Rossetto and Ibarra. He’s a better passer than Ibarra, but only an above-average one. He’s a really good defender, but not quite as good as Ibarra. As a player to see a game out, he’s perfect. As a player to fill in for either starter, he’s a great option. If Rossetto has to sit, you’d lose some passing ability in the midfield but the defensive nous would be incredibly high. If he had to replay Ibarra, the defensive drop would be minimal but you would add some passing range. I’m a bit jealous of this trio.

Editor’s note: It appears that Rossetto is likely to miss the match. While I believe that this will be a big miss for Atlanta, their fans very much disagree. In the words of many of their fans, he’s “mid.”

Unfortunately, none of them in this thread could give me a good reason for this belief. I was just told either 1) he passes sideways (which the above numbers show is not true; 82nd in progressive passes is the antithesis of “just passing sideways”) and 2) “trust me, bro.” That kind of argument is the one that makes me most upset. I’m willing to admit that I have missed something with Rossetto and that I am perhaps overrating him. I need a better reason than an “eye test” without actual analysis.

Defense

There was a time last year when Atlanta and Charlotte were both fielding an Alan Franco. Alas, our Franco has long departed (the club, not the Earth) and Atlanta has also moved theirs on. To replace Franco’s 31 starts at center back, Atlanta has signed Luis Abrams from Granada, though he only has one appearance off the bench for 11 minutes. Abrams spent the past 2 seasons on loan at Cruz Azul in Liga MX, making 25 appearances (18 starts).

In reality, Abram isn’t the one who will be replacing Franco; Juan José Sánchez and Miles Robinson will. Sánchez is in his 2nd year with Atlanta, having joined from UANL in Liga MX. He made 17 appearances (16 starts) last year and scored an amazing 6 goals. Considering those are the only goals of his 6 season career, I don’t know that I would expect a repeat of them. Robinson is in his 7th season with the club, having made 98 appearances (87 starts). He only got into 9 games (8 starts) last season after having 26 appearances in 2021 due to an Achilles tendon injury. Thankfully, he appears to have fully recovered from that injury.

Robinson is a good passer from the back (82nd percentile for passes completed, 95th percentile for progressive passes, and 73rd percentile for key passes). He’s not a great long-range passer (45th percentile for long passes completed), but he also doesn’t attempt that many of them (46th percentile for long passes attempted). Defensively, he’s tough to get around (93rd percentile for challenges lost) and has good positioning (99th percentile for blocks, 82nd percentile for shots blocked, 98th percentile for passes blocked). Sánchez is just an average passer but shows a similar ability to read the game (88th percentile for blocks, 63rd percentile for shots blocked, 92nd percentile for passes blocked). Neither is overly threatening in the air (Robinson: 68th percentile of aerials won; Sánchez: 77th percentile in aerials won), but both are serviceable.

Abram looks like a stereotypical depth (probably 4th choice) center-back. Nothing jumps out in his percentiles (in his case being compared to 2022/23 Liga MX CBs) except that he’s terrible in the air (1st percentile for aerials won).

The other defender in this center-back equation is George Campbell. The 21-year-old American has yet to appear in a game this year, but got into 35 over the past 2 seasons, including 20 appearances last year. While he’s mainly been deployed as a CB, he has had a couple of games in the midfield (in a pinch). To me, he would appear to be their 3rd choice with Abram as depth.

Atlanta has some really good and interesting pieces at fullback. The two starters are Andrew Gutman and Brooks Lennon, while Aiden McFadden (0 appearances this year, 11 last year) and Ronald Hernández (0 appearances this year, 13 last year) provide depth.

Gutman and Lennon are the kinds of fullbacks Charlotte fans are clamoring for, but not the types that I think Lattanzio is looking for. Just look at these maps:

Gutman heatmap 2022
Lennon heatmap 2022

My god, is Lennon even a fullback or just another winger? The answer is winger, as Araújo very much likes to come inside. These types of bombarding fullbacks are what I think most fans expect to see, but as I talked about on Twitter, that’s not what CL is looking for (these are decently long threads there, so check out the full things if you have interest).

Last year was Gutman’s first in Atlanta. He made 25 appearances (22 starts), scoring 4 times and getting 1 assist. Fun fact: Gutman began his professional career with Charlotte in the USL Championship back in 2019.

Lennon is in his 4th season with Atlanta, making 82 appearances (73 starts) during this time. He has 4 goals and 14 assists for Atlanta, including a 2-goal, 6-assist season last year.

These guys both like to get down the sidelines. Coupled with Rossetto and Almada’s passing ability, it makes for dangerous situations. Atlanta is currently leading the league in possession at 63.5%. With the way they push these fullbacks up, that’s no surprise. If they don’t have the ball, they’re at serious risk of the counter. Charlotte is going to need to be smart, decisive, and quick with the ball when in transition.

Goalkeeping

Old–and I use that term literally–friend Brad Guzan continues to man the sticks for Atlanta. Behind him is his geriatric companion Quentin Westberg (36), who was acquired for free from Toronto. Clément Diop, 29, was also acquired on a free from New England. Diop never appeared for NE last year and made just 3 appearances for Miami. Westberg, meanwhile, made 10 appearances for Toronto in each of the past 2 seasons. He did play a few games in the French Ligue 2 (13 starts for Auxerre in 2018-19 being the most), so, as a backup, he’s not a terrible option.

Guzan is obviously meant to be the starter. Like Robinson above, Guzan ruptured his Achilles last year, missing most of the year (he only had 7 starts last year). Now in his 7th season with Atlanta United, the former Aston Villa keeper is…okay.

The raw numbers still look decent: 1.32 goals allowed/90 (GA90) in 2022; 1.00 GA90 in 2021; 1.30 GA90 in 2020; 1.26 GA90 in 2019. The advanced metrics aren’t so kind. Over these 5 years, he’s had 2 seasons in the positive: 2019 when his PSxG+/- was +0.4, and 2021 when it was legitimately good at +4.9. Otherwise, he’s been in the negative including years of -1.9 (2020), -1.1 (2022), and -0.5 so far this year. Now, he’s not terrible by any stretch but he’s a 38-year-old goalkeeper. A decline is normal and to be expected. On a good team, he’s still a fine option.

Where he does still excel is in his reading of the game. Fair warning that due to his injury, last year’s percentile ranks do constitute a small sample size. With that said, he was in the 62nd percentile of crosses faced, but the 96th percentile for crosses stopped and the 99th percentile for crosses stopped percentage. This shouldn’t worry us Charlotte fans at all since our crossing is so terrible that we weren’t going to score that route anyway.

Conclusion

Saturday is not a game that has me confident. Almada is so much better than I thought. On paper, Ibarra and Rossetto form a perfectly complimentary midfield pivot. Araújo is good on the right wing. Both their fullbacks are really good going forward. They dominate possession. They haven’t even started Etienne or Giakoumakis yet. In some ways getting them right now might be a slightly good thing, as Giakoumakis might still not be ready to start for them. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much it’s going to matter.

Against San Jose, Atlanta had 20 shots with 5 shots on goal. Against Toronto, they had 16 shots with 6 shots on goal. That’s 36 shots and 11 shots on goal in two games. Charlotte is at 21 shots and 8 shots on goal for their 2 games. Atlanta dominated possession in each of these games (60.4% against SJ, 66.7% against TOR). Against Toronto, they made 619 passes with a 90% passing accuracy. I’m going to say that again: 90% passing accuracy on 619 passes.

Let’s also not forget that they’ve only allowed 2 goals on the season. San Jose scored 52 goals last year (10th in the league), while Toronto scored 48 (13th in the league). These are not slouches on offense. Yes, Toronto was missing Insigne, which can’t be ignored, but the game plan of Atlanta seems clear. Dominate possession, pass the ball around, and let the attackers eventually win.

I was much more pessimistic about this game when Rossetto was going to play (though I can’t say I’m optimistic…). First, I do believe he’s a good player, especially for the system they are playing, regardless of what Atlanta fans have told me. Second, it seems that they will not just be plugging Sejdić into the system in his place. In Jones’ tweet, he mentions that ATL’s coach Pineda said they are not “set up for two 6s” without Rossetto. This would indicate to me that Rossetto’s absence might also necessitate a change in formation/tactics. If so, it’s always a good thing to me when a team is forced off of their first choice gameplan.

On the Charlotte side of things, Lattanzio has come out and said that the Bronico experiment at LB will continue.

This is good news to me. I’m hoping we see some tactical complexity come into the squad as he learns the role. For this week, it’ll be a tough challenge for him. Atlanta is a good attacking team.

I don’t expect many changes to the team we saw against St. Louis, though I am hoping for 2.

First, I need Świderski to be back in the middle of the pitch. RW did not work for him. On that wing, I do think I would give Vargas the start. He’s looked so bright to start this season; it feels deserved. While I do want Nuno to start, I’m not sure CL is there yet. A midfield of Świderski-Westwood-DJ is the next best option.

I expect Malanda and Tuiloma to bounce back from their mistakes against STL. That bad pass is the only time I can remember Malanda putting a foot wrong. Tuiloma was unlucky, as he did everything but the timing of his jump correctly. The big piece in the backline is Byrne at RB. He was so good last year in his first appearances for the club. This team needs him to get back to that level. We can’t be trying to figure out both fullback positions at the same time.

Prediction: Charlotte 1 – Atlanta 2

Data Notes: All heatmaps come from Sofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come from FBref.com. All formation graphics are from MLSsoccer.com. Other websites used for data include transfermarkt.us, Wyscout.com, and MLSsoccer.com.

The 2023 St. Louis Preview

On Saturday, Charlotte travels to the new kids on the block: St. Louis City SC. The coverage around STL has frustrated a lot of Charlotte fans; there seems to have been a much more positive narrative around them than us. You can even look at Fox Soccer’s (now deleted) Tweet that simply ignores the existence of Charlotte.

Personally, I don’t care that much. St. Louis can be the darlings of the media (even if I’m not quite sure that is completely true). What does intrigue me is the fact that STLCSC (too many letters) just beat last year’s Western Conference Semi-Finalists on the road.

Now, their win did include this bizarre goal:

The scorer of this goal–Jared Stroud–was on Austin FC last year. Kipp Keller, the Austin defender in the clip, passes it back to him, out of what appears to be sheer muscle memory. This takes absolutely nothing away from their win–a goal is a goal. But man is this a bizarre thing to see.

In fact, the winner is a really good (mostly) individual goal.

The clip makes it kind of hard to see, but the penultimate pass was really good, while the timing of the run and the individual skill that followed were excellent. The goalscorer for the winner was Klauss, STL’s Brazilian DP (full name: João Klauss de Melo).

There’s obviously not much game tape or stats to be had on STL yet, so we’ll be looking at some of their big names, big signings, and the Austin game.

Austin Game

STLCSC Starting XI at. Austin FC, 2/25/23

According to the official MLS site, STL was in a 4-2-3-1 for the entire game. Based on this sole game, I shall make the bold claim that’s the formation they play.

In many ways, St. Louis was outplayed. Here’s a brief look at the stats from the game.

Game stats STLCSC at ATX, 2/25/23

Austin dominated possession, they had 150 more passes, and they had a 10% higher pass accuracy. What they didn’t do, though, was turn that possession into meaningful attacks (seems familiar, eh, Charlotte fans?). St. Louis outshot Austin, both in terms of total shots and shots on goal. While Austin was clinical in their finishing (2 goals from 2 shots on goal), they didn’t do much else.

xG Chart: STLCSC at ATX, 2/25/23

The xG for this game is eerily similar. Now, technically, St. Louis outproduced Austin by 0.5 xG, but remember that back pass to an opponent that led to a goal? Yeah, that had an xG of 0.49. Without that mistake, St. Louis probably doesn’t win this game.

Now, of all their (many) shots, and aside from the actual goals, STL isn’t taking good shots. The xG on their goals is as follows:

  • Parker: 0.14 xG
  • Stroud: 0.49 xG
  • Klauss: 0.22 xG

Aside from those 3 shots, only two other shots–a shot from Rasmus Alm with an xG of 0.30 in the 44th minute and a shot from John Vincent Nelson with an xG of 0.18 in the 74th minute–had an xG higher than 0.09. Most of these shots were actually incredibly low (0.01-0.05 xG). St. Louis got off a lot of shots, and that seems to be a philosophical strategy, but they weren’t very good ones.

Shot Map: STLCSC at ATX, 2/25/23

Charlotte was a bit vulnerable last year with shots in central areas just outside the box, so the fact STL isn’t scared to do that might be a problem. With that said, if a team’s primary method of scoring is to get goals from outside the box, they won’t be successful in the long term (not saying this is STL’s actual plan, by the way).

Passing Network: STLCSC at ATX, 2/25/23

The fact that #19, midfielder Indiana Vassilev, is basically disconnected from the entire team is fascinating. St. Louis doesn’t do much in the midfield. Off this one game, they seem to build through wide areas. For reference, here was Charlotte’s passing network from our opener.

Passing Network: CLT vs. NE, 2/25/23

In general, Charlotte’s passing network is something I plan to keep an eye on this year (also note how there is zero connection between Tuiloma and Mora), but it’s very different from St. Louis. Charlotte looked to maintain possession and build through their midfield (#8: Westwood, #13: Bronico).

The left side was targeted by STL against Austin. It remains to be seen if that was due to perceived deficiencies in Austin or if that’s the side St. Louis will look to build through. Looking at the players they have brought in (more on them later), I tend to think it’s the latter. Byrne and Malanda should take notice.

Looking at this game, Austin made a really costly mistake, didn’t take advantage of their possession, and St. Louis capitalized. I’m not sure Austin deserved to lose, but I don’t think this is a case where St. Louis didn’t deserve a win either. There is some luck involved, but overall, if you can go on the road to a good team and win while scoring 3, you deserve the 3 points.

Roman Bürki

St. Louis’ goalkeeper, Roman Bürki, is probably the biggest name on St. Louis’ roster. The former Borussia Dortmund keeper had a lot of success with Dortmund, but isn’t an otherworldly shot-stopper (as some in the media would have you believe). Bürki ended his Dortmund career with a 69.8% save percentage and 1.24 goals allowed/90.

PSxG+/- only goes back to the 2017-18 season. That year he had a +2.5 PSxG+/-, which is the only year it’s been positive. In 2018-19 he was at -1.0, in 2019-20 he was at -2.5, in 2020-21 he was at -1.6, and in 2021-22 he was at 0.0 (he had only 1 game this season).

In his last meaningful season with Dortmund (2020-21), he made 19 appearances (18 starts). The scouting report…isn’t great…

What is most troubling to me is that he’s not actually facing a ton of shots, but he’s allowing a decent number of goals. As someone who doesn’t follow Dortmund or the German Bundesliga closely, I can’t tell you if this was a result of poor play on his part or on Dortmund’s. Dortmund did finish 3rd that season, so it’s not like they were bad. Moreover, his 1.62 goals allowed per 90 was by far the highest of his career with the German club.

  • 2015-16: 1.03 GA90 (33 games)
  • 2016-17: 1.07 GA90 (27 games)
  • 2017-18: 1.30 GA90 (33 games)
  • 2018-19: 1.25 GA90 (32 games)
  • 2019-20: 1.30 GA90 (31 games)
  • 2020-21: 1.62 GA90 (19 games)

The trend is obviously not very good (i.e., the overall increase in GA90 then an explosion in 2020-21). However, goalkeeping and goals allowed are dependent on more factors than just a goalkeeper’s ability. Regardless, there does seem to be a decline.

For context, Dortmund’s new keeper, Gregor Kobel, had a 1.37 GA90 in 2021-22 (his first season as the starter). He currently has a 1.06 GA90 in 18 games this year.

Editor’s note: big thank you to @_Pancake_Papi for his fan perspective on Bürki. His thoughts mainly backed up the data that Bürki was good but, by the end of his time with Dortmund, fans felt it was time to move on. I imagine most of you already follow him on Twitter, but if you don’t, you absolutely should!

Klauss

Klauss is a 26-year-old DP for St. Louis. He began his career in the Brazilian youth ranks (Internacional, Juventude, Grêmio) before moving to 1899 Hoffenheim in 2017.

In 2018, he was sent on loan to HJK in the Finnish first division. He made 33 appearances (28 starts), scoring 21 goals and getting 1 assist. 3 of those goals were PKs, but 18 goals as a 20-year-old is still noteworthy.

Klauss’ next loan stop was LASK in the Austrian Bundesliga. He would spend two seasons (2018-19, 2019-20) with LASK, making 42 appearances (27 starts). He had 3 goals and 0 assists his first season (in 14 appearances), before rebounding for 12 goals (1 PK) and 4 assists in his 2nd season (28 appearances).

In the 2020-21 season, he finally made an appearance for Hoffenheim’s first team, but it would be the first of very few. In total, he made 4 appearances (51 total minutes) for Hoffenheim and failed to record a goal or assist. He spent the rest of the 2020-21 season on loan at Standard Liège in the Belgian First Division, making 13 appearances (10 starts) and getting 8 goal contributions (5 goals, 3 assists). He remained with Standard Liège for the 2021-22 season, making 19 appearances (15 starts) but scoring only once.

At some point during the 2021-22 season, his loan with Standard ended and he was loaned out to Sint-Truiden in the Belgian First Division. He would make 8 appearances (3 starts) for Sint-Truiden, scoring twice.

Klauss heatmap in the Belgian First Division
Klauss heatmap from MLS

As we can see from his heatmaps, Klauss is a pure center forward. There is a bit of a left-sided bias, but it’s not much. He’s a player who wants to stay central. At 6’2.5″ and 181 lbs, he makes for a physical player.

He’s an odd player to me. I’m not sure the scoring consistency is exactly what you would expect from a DP #9. For reference, his best two goalscoring seasons beat or tie Karol Świderski’s best season (12 goals in 2018-19), but Karol is consistently in the 10-goal-a-season range. Klauss’ production is…erratic.

Playing time can usually be looked at in cases like these, but he’s consistently gotten playing time at every stop–it just hasn’t always worked out. The difference in his two seasons at Standard Liège highlights this.

With that said, he’s hit the ground running with St. Louis. I’m curious to see which striker St. Louis ends up with. Will it be the “HJK-2nd-season-LASK-1st-season-Standard-Liège-Klauss?” If so, it’s a really good move.

Eduard Löwen

Löwen is St. Louis’ second DP that they’ve brought over from a German club. Like Klauss, Löwen is 26. Unlike Klauss, Löwen has a decent amount of experience playing in a top league.

Löwen began his career with Nürnberg in the German 2. Bundesliga. He made 65 appearances (52 starts) for Nürnberg over 3 seasons (2016-2019). In his final season with Nürnberg, they were in the Bundesliga (though they would finish 18th and be relegated). He scored 8 goals and had 7 assists during his time with the club, including a 5-goal, 4-assist season in 2017-2018.

He was loaned out to Augsburg during the 2019-20 season, before moving to Hertha Berlin that same season. In the 2019-20 season, he would make 23 appearances (9 starts) for Augsburg and Hertha. He had 2 goals and 1 assist for Augsburg, but failed to score or assist for Hertha. In 2020-21, he would only make 7 appearances (1 start) for Hertha and, again, failed to score or assist.

In 2021-22, he joined Bochum on loan, making 26 appearances (15 starts). He scored 2 goals (1 PK) and had 2 assists.

Like Klauss, this seems a player that showed potential before fizzling out a bit. Brought in by St. Louis to be a playmaker–like Klauss–he has gotten off to a good start, as he already has an assist.

Let’s take a look at some heatmaps (they go in reverse chronological order):

Löwen heatmap for 2023 MLS
Löwen heatmap for 2021-22 with Bochum
Löwen heatmap from 2019-20 with Ausburg and Hertha Berlin
Löwen heatmap for 2018-19 with Nürnberg
Löwen heatmap for 2017-18 with Nürnberg

Two things interest me about these heatmaps.

First, there isn’t a ton of consistency with them. The one consistent aspect of them is that there is a left-sided bias, except for the 2018-19 season when that bias is shifted towards the right (although he is all over the pitch). In 2019-20, it looks like he was mostly playing as a left-sided central midfielder.

Second, his most productive season, at least from a goal-contribution perspective, was 2017-18 when he was playing his deepest. Now, that is the year that Nürnberg earned promotion to the Bundesliga, finishing 2nd in the 2. Bundesliga. Perhaps that explains the production (i.e., he played for one of the best teams in that particular league). The second-best year for goal contribution was the next year, though, when Nürnberg was newly promoted. He’s not as deep as the 2017-18 season, but he’s further back than he will be in the subsequent years.

It appears that St. Louis is reverting him back somewhat to his positioning from those days. Although he was given the #10 shirt, he started and played as part of the double pivot in their 4-2-3-1.

It didn’t necessarily work out for him in the Bundesliga, but he seems a talented player. Importantly, he has experience playing against top competition in that league, which should prove useful. He won’t be facing a Bayern Munich in MLS.

Further, while St. Louis isn’t expected to be great this year, he’s mostly played at lower-level clubs in a top division. Due to the nature of American soccer and the structure of MLS, there’s greater upward mobility for clubs. The chances of a Bochum or Nürnberg seriously competing in the Bundesliga are infinitesimal. The chances of St. Louis–or any other MLS team–being able to go from a bottom feeder to a contender in a few years is absolutely possible (if not always likely).

Overall, it seems a smart move to me and someone who provides great experience for a new club, while also being relatively young.

Conclusion

There aren’t many solid conclusions that can be made from the first game of a new club. They have had a better start than Charlotte did, that’s for sure, but I’m curious to see how they hold up.

There are a few other players of note who do interest me on them. Njabulo Boom is a 23-year-old South African who was brought over from Kaizer Chiefs in the South African Premier Division. He made 69 appearances (53 starts) for them over 5 seasons, with most of those coming in the last 3. He had 4 assists for them in 2021-22. He came off the bench in the first game, replacing Vassilev.

Speaking of Vassilev, there’s talent there. This is a guy who had time with Aston Villa (mostly their junior team) and a couple of other English clubs in the lower divisions of England. He’s had two stints with Inter Miami, making 45 appearances (20 starts) and scoring 5 goals. At only 22, there’s still a lot of time for him. I am a bit confused about St. Louis’ decision to start him as a DM when it appears he’s mostly been a wide or attacking midfielder, with a bit of central midfield thrown in. Based on that passing chart, I’m not sure this experiment worked. It is just one game though.

Lastly, Isak Jensen is their YDP. He didn’t make an appearance during the first game and only has 19 career appearances (5 starts) for SønderjyskE in the Danish Superliga. I’m not sure what the plan with him is, but as a YDP, you have to imagine the 20-year-old will feature at some point.

From a Charlotte perspective, I don’t think we have to be overly concerned. I’m not convinced Bürki is very good anymore. He’ll probably be better in MLS than he was his last few years with Dortmund, but I’m not sure I see him being a wall. An average MLS goalkeeper seems likely to me.

The fact that St. Louis was able to score so many goals in their debut game worries me since Charlotte still can’t score. With that said, we have a number of new pieces, especially in attack.

There were moments in the New England game where you could tell that the connection between different players just wasn’t there yet. Early in the first half, there was a sequence where Westwood attempted a pass to Enzo Copetti. Copetti clearly expected Westwood to play him into space behind the line, while Westwood expected Enzo to want the ball at his feet. In the end, a Revs’ defender intercepted the ball. As these players get more game time together, I expect these types of miscommunications to decrease.

In the opener, I walked away thinking that Mora had a good game. I’ve heard from a number of places online that I might have that wrong. The supporter’s section offers a lot, but it doesn’t always allow for great analytical viewing. I do maintain that even if he was caught out a bit defensively, two things are still true. One, CL likes his FBs to play a bit inverted and that may have contributed to his perceived (or real) lack of good defensive positioning. Two, he had some of the better crosses for this game. On a team that struggled as a whole to produce dangerous crosses, this shouldn’t be overlooked. He might not have been quite as good as I thought when viewing him live, but I think he might have had an above-average Joseph Mora performance.

Our friends over at the Charlotte Soccer Show brought up the idea of Jóźwiak at LB. It’s not something I’m necessarily against, especially as it looks like we’re not bringing in a new LB (fingers crossed reverse psychology works!). With that said, I’m not convinced.

Our formation was listed as a 4-3-3, which confused me a bit. I’m still not sure Świderski can handle the #10 (though I have hope); I’m even less convinced he can be an #8.

I didn’t think he had a bad game overall, though his touch let him down a bit. The pass that led to the goal was absolutely atrocious and can’t be happening from one of our supposed leaders. I put 95% of that goal on Karol, though our tracking back did nothing to help matters. If you’re a masochist, go look back at that goal. At one point, there are 4 Charlotte players between 2 New England players and the goal. One of those NE players is Kessler, a CENTER BACK. Its…not good.

It was also interesting that when Shinyashiki came on, Andre didn’t go to the wings. Rather, Świderski did and, honestly, I thought Andre provided more through the middle of that game.

Aside from LB, the positions with the most questions over starters are the wings. The pitchforks are already out for Jóźwiak and Gaines. While I agree neither had a good game on Saturday, I think both deserve a few more games. This is especially true of Jóźwiak. I will also acknowledge that Vargas looked much better than either and he might be this year. I still want to see that kind of performance from him more consistently before I fully commit to it, but if that appearance was a new normal, then, yes, he should be starting.

In that same thread about Jóźwiak as a potential LB, I delve into Vargas’ numbers from last year. There isn’t much difference between the two and, in a number of categories, Jóźwiak outpaces him. Again, if the form he showed against NE is the new norm, then he must play.

To be honest, aside from maybe trying Afful out at LB (*shudder*), I wouldn’t change the lineup for St. Louis. I’d still have Jóźwiak and Gaines on the wings, with Vargas as the first off the bench for either if they’re struggling.

I would really like to see Nuno Santos get some time this weekend, though not on the wing. I’ve heard he played there over the preseason and maybe it can work. I just have my doubts. More importantly, I just get the feeling he’d be better in the middle of the park. No, I don’t know where he’d play in the midfield with our current players and formations.

I’m sure the atmosphere in St. Louis will be electric on Saturday, but I’m hopeful about this game. Let’s go spoil a party.

Prediction: St. Louis 1 – Charlotte 2

Data Notes: All heatmaps come from Sofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come from FBref.com. All formation graphics are from MLSsoccer.com. Other websites used for data include transfermarkt.us, Wyscout.com, and MLSsoccer.com.

The 2023 New England Preview, Pt. 1

We are back!!!!!

After a few months away, Charlotte FC will finally be playing meaningful games back at the Bank. As Year Two rolls in, expectations amongst the fanbase are high. Nationally, the outlook is more mixed.

Many fans might be surprised by the relative lack of belief in this team. On average, we’re looking at these experts predicting a 10th-place finish for Charlotte (9.9167 repeating, to be exact). I personally think they could be a playoff team. My money is on them getting around 48 points, which would (historically) be good for about 7th or 8th place. Obviously, Andrew Wiebe is our new favorite media (sorry Bogert!).

Kljestan, Lowery, Ortiz, Slaton, and Bradley Wright-Philips’ 13th-place finish predictions all seem overly negative, at least to me, but it must be admitted that this is a team with some serious issues and question marks.

The acquisition of Bill Tuiloma does assuage some concerns I have regarding center-back, but left-back has not been touched. It remains a terrifying proposition to have Harrison Afful or Joseph Mora as our starter there for the entire season. Additionally, we will be starting the season without our #1 keeper in Kahlina, though there is an argument to be made that outside of his first 7-10 games, he wasn’t overly impressive. I’m not sure how many are ready to hear that, though.

Finally, Jóźwiak, Świderski, and Copetti represent 3 DPs with huge question marks. I’m a firm believer in Kamil and Karol, but I’m not sure either lived up to the billing of a DP. Well, we can actually be honest and say that Jóźwiak definitely didn’t. While the 10 goals and 4 assists were nice, you probably want a bit more from a DP #9 (or #10), in Karol’s case.

Enzo has me excited but this is a player with a limited (albeit good) track record, coming to a new league and country, returning from serious injury, and learning a new language. To say that he might need an adjustment period is an understatement. The unfortunate reality, though, is that he and Charlotte can’t afford an adjustment period. This team desperately needs goals and if it takes him a while to get off the mark, it probably won’t be a good thing for this club.


My previews usually consist of a look at the previous games for clubs, as well as their overall stats. With this being the first game of the season, those are not available. While I could look at last year’s formations and such (and I will to a degree), I think it might be more useful to look at who NE has added to this roster for the 2023 season.

Last year was a down one for New England. The 2021 record-setters found themselves finishing 10th in the East with 42 points (a 31-point decrease from 2021!), a -3 goal differential, and a -9.0 xG differential.

To me, their issues seem twofold. One, they had an aging roster. Two–and probably more important for last year’s team–they lost Adam Buksa midway through the year. The 25-year-old Polish striker had 7 goals and 2 assists in 10 games (9 starts) for them. Their leading goalscorer last year, Gustavo Bou, only had 8 goals and 2 assists in 19 games, while the 2nd top goal-getter, Carles Gil, had only 7 goals (but 9 assists!) in 33 games. No one else had more than 4. New England, like Charlotte, could not score.

Since last summer, NE has effectively secured 5 new players: CF Giacomo Vrioni (24), old Charlotte friend (?) Christain Makoun (22), CAM Latif Blessing (26), CF Bobby Wood (30), and CB Dave Romney (29). They made a few more moves during the summer of last season, but a number of those players (former Charlotte draftee Ismael Tajouri-Shradi among them!) are no longer with the club. These acquisitions haven’t necessarily done much to drastically reduce the age of this squad, but they have targeted a number of younger players. Three players in particular interest me: Vrioni, Blessing, and Romney. We’re all intimately familiar with the Makoun experience and Wood, now 30, has made enough appearances with USMNT to be familiar to most. Also, Wood has scored 6 total goals in the past 5 seasons, so I’m not sure how much we should care about him in general. This appears a pure depth move by NE.

(Fun Fact: Wood had 17 goals and 4 assists in 2015-16 for Union Berlin. For the rest of his career, which spans 12 seasons, he has 22 goals, along with 4 seasons of 0 goals. This man has started for the USMNT. Sigh…)

Giacomo Vrioni

Vrioni is DP who joined from Juventus last summer for $3.89M. Like Charlotte’s DPs, he’s mostly still an unknown.

He began his career with Sampdoria, though he never made an appearance. He would go on to play for Venezia in Serie B (2018-19), where he made 24 appearances but only had 1 goal and 1 assist. In 2019-20, he had appearances for Cittadella in Serie B (4 apps, 1 assist, 0 goals) and Juventus (1 appearance, 0 goals, 0 assists). He was on loan last year with WSG Tirol in the Austrian Bundesliga, where he made 25 appearances (20 starts) and had 20 goal contributions (17 goals and 3 assists), according to FBref. Wyscout does have him at 19 goals and 4 assists for these appearances. Transfermarkt has him at 17 goals but 4 assists, while SofaScore has him at 17 goals and 3 assists. I’m not quite sure why there is this discrepancy, but it appears that Wyscout is giving him 2 more goals than he should have. Of his goals this season, 3 were PKs. His move to NE produced 7 appearances (2 starts) but only 1 goal (a PK).

When scoring, he is predominately a left-footer. Note: I’m using Wyscout’s 19 goal total for this because they have a handy breakdown of how he scored (left foot, right foot, head). Keep in mind the goal discrepancy they have (i.e., 2 more than other sources).

  • Left foot: 10
  • Right foot: 3
  • Head: 5

It should also be remembered that he had 3 penalties and, as he’s a left-footer, those inflate his total a bit for that side. Still, he’s a tall man who scores how you would expect: with his primary foot or head.

Listed at 6’2″ and 172 lbs, Vrioni is in the mold of Buksa (who is 6’3″ and 172 lbs). NE obviously sees Vrioni as Buksa’s long-term replacement, but the question remains can he be? While his year in Austria was hugely successful, so far it has been a fluke of a season. For NE to be successful, his Austrian-league form needs to be his new norm.

Vrioni heatmap 2021/22

This heatmap shows a prototypical center-forward. There isn’t much happening on the wings, but anything down the center includes his involvement. His movement will test Malanda, and whoever is paired with him.

Latif Blessing

Blessing is a really interesting player. He was briefly linked to Charlotte during the summer transfer window and, honestly, he’s a player that would probably do well on this team.

Blessing is diminutive, listed at only 5’4.5″ and 141 lbs. He started his career with Sporting KC, where he made 25 appearances in 2017, scoring 3 goals and getting 1 assist. He was drafted by LAFC in 2018 and exploded with them over the next two seasons. In 2018, he got 5 goals and 6 assists in 30 appearances (18 starts). He followed that up with a 6-goal, 3-assist season in 34 appearances (29 starts).

Then the past 3 seasons have happened.

  • 2020: 21 appearances, 18 starts, 1 goal, 2 assists
  • 2021: 30 appearances, 25 starts, 2 goals, 2 assists
  • 2022: 30 appearances, 16 starts, 0 goals, 1 assist

So what has happened to Blessing? It appears to be positioning.

Positioning can make a huge difference for players. This is not groundbreaking but it can be overlooked. Positional changes can help account for the emergence of players such as Hany Muktar, Luciano Acosta, and Cucho. My first thought was this was the case with Blessing.

Here’s a bunch of heatmaps!

Blessing heatmap, 2017, with KC
Blessing heatmap, 2018, with LAFC
Blessing heatmap, 2019, with LAFC
Blessing heatmap, 2020, with LAFC
Blessing heatmap, 2021, with LAFC.
Blessing heatmap, 2022, with LAFC

These are no help, at least initially.

In his first two seasons with LAFC, which, remember, are his most productive from a goal-contribution standpoint, it appears they played him in a more attacking role, both based on his heatmaps and positional designations.

  • 2018: it appears that he’s playing as a winger. This is backed up by his positional designations on FBref (mostly LW/LM and RW/RM).
  • 2019: he’s all over the park with his heatmap. FBref has him listed as anything from a LM to a RW to CM to RB, so this makes sense. In multiple games, FBref has him playing as a LM/LW and RB in the same game.

For both of these years, his positional designations and heatmaps correspond with his goal and assist output. Then things change.

  • 2020: his heatmap has him as a right-sided player, which is backed up by designations on FBref of mostly RM and RB (with some CM thrown in).
  • 2021: his heatmap finds him similarly deployed, but he’s back on the left a bit more too. Again, he’s listed a lot as a RM or RB, but now there’s a lot more CM thrown in, which explains the encroachment into the left side of the park without him actually being formally deployed there too often.
  • 2022: last year’s heatmap has him all over the pitch again, but the designations remain mostly RM and CM.

So where does that leave us with Blessing? To me, first and foremost he has proved to be an incredibly flexible player. I love players who can do jobs all over the pitch and blessing appears to do that. Again, he’s a player that Charlotte could use. With that said, oftentimes a player who has positional flexibility has it because he can’t nail down one position. In general, I don’t think Blessings’ decrease in goal contributions is related to a decrease in skill. Rather, I think it has to do with LAFC progressively moving him farther back on the pitch.

This then leads us to the question of how will NE use him? One indication is if we look at how they designate him. If you look on FBref, you will find Blessing listed as a “FW-MF (CM-WM).” Transfermarkt has him listed as a “midfield-Attacking Midfield.” SofaScore has him as a “M” (for midfielder). The Revs, though, are listing him as a forward. This would indicate to me that they plan on having him revert to a role more similar to his first two years–and especially his first year–in LA.

When looking at the composition of their team, this would make sense. Below is the heatmap for their great CAM, Carles Gil.

Gil heatmap, 2022. Via SofaScore.com

Blessing isn’t going to be a CAM for NE and I wouldn’t think they’d pair these two in the midfield either. Gil is only listed at 5’6.5″ and 150 lbs. That would be an incredibly tiny midfield. Pushing Blessing to the wing would make more sense. Additionally, NE employs a really good RB in Brandon Bye (2 goals, 7 assists last year). Finally, against Chicago for the last game of the year, NE had Nacho Gil as their starting RW. Nacho Gil is no longer on NE (in fact, he’s currently without a club). Blessing could see time on the left wing, too. It appears Bou started there in the 2022 finale, though. All signs point to Blessing being their new right-sided forward.

Editor’s Note: Apparently NE did resign Nacho Gil. Transfermarkt’s transfer page for NE had him listed as “Without Club,” which threw Josh off. He was resigned by them in January. However, he is listed in the injury report so unclear if he’ll factor in the game.

For what it’s worth, MLS’s official site’s preview of NE has them in a 4-4-2 diamond, with Bou as a 2nd striker to Vrioni and Blessing as a right midfielder in the diamond. This is obviously a very possible formation, but according to FBref, NE was almost exclusively a 4-3-2-1 team last year. Whatever the formation, my gut tells me they’ll be looking to push Blessing higher up the pitch on the right side. This move has been a bit under the radar, but I think it’s a really good one. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Blessing back up to 5-7 goals and 4-6 assists this season.

Dave Romney

Romney is a veteran of MLS. He began his career with the LA Galaxy, making 84 appearances (69 starts) for them over 5 seasons. He joined Nashville in 2020 and became a mainstay. In 3 years with Nashville, he made 87 appearances with 86 starts!

Romney will chip in the odd goal (3 goals last year, 9 for his career). More impressively for a center-back, though, he will chip in assists. He has 11 career assists, including 5 over the past 3 seasons. At 29, he’s still in his prime as a defender and, having played the last few seasons for a notoriously defensive-minded side, he’s a good addition for NE. He’ll be paired with Henry Kessler, who is a bit of a forgotten man. Kessler was very good for NE in 2021, but last year he was coming back from injury. It doesn’t appear that he ever really got back to full form last year. Now a year removed from injury, this CB-pairing has the potential to be one of the best in the league.

As we can see, Romney is quite good against dribblers when pressed into it, but doesn’t appear to be a front-footed defender. It should always be noted that defensive metrics are never as telling as offensive ones and CBs are often products of their team’s scheme. Regardless, it should make for an interesting matchup between him and Vargas or Gaines (I’m assuming).

His passing is middle of the road for a CB, but the rate at which he crosses into the penalty area is interesting. Kessler’s passing ability is very good, which should help make up for Romney’s lack of range.

Finally, Romney is good at aerials. Kessler isn’t terrible (46th percentile for % of aerials won) in the air, but NE probably wanted to find someone to bolster this area. Like with most great CB pairings, it’s not about each partner doing everything well; it’s about the balance between the partners. On paper, Romney and Kessler appear to balance each other out very well.


There are a few other players that should be highlighted for New England.

First, I haven’t touched on Gil, but he really is an amazing player. I know he rubs a lot of Charlotte, and MLS, fans wrong because of his reputation for being a bit dive-y. I’ll admit, I don’t really see that in him (or at least not any more so than other players). At 5’6.5″, he’s not a big guy, so going down under challenges is probably to be expected. Regardless of how you feel about him, here are his stats since he’s joined the Revolution:

  • 2019: 34 appearances, 34 starts, 10 goals (4 PKs), 12 assists
  • 2020: 6 appearances, 4 starts, 0 goals, 1 assist (injured for most of the year)
  • 2021: 28 appearances, 24 starts, 4 goals (1 PK), 11 assists
  • 2022: 33 appearances, 32 starts, 7 goals (3 PKs), 9 assists

Yes, the PKs do inflate his goal numbers quite a bit, but he’s not a striker. As such, PK inflation doesn’t bother me as much with him as it would with a #9. These assist numbers are also from FBref, as–say it together–soccer should not have hockey assists (looking at you, MLS official stats). It’s difficult to understate how good Gil is at getting the ball to his teammates. NE scored a total of 47 goals last year, meaning that he provided the assist on almost 20% of them (19%, to be exact). With better forward play throughout the year, he probably hits double digits again. The Revolution goes as Gil does. I’d be tempted to man-mark him.

In goal, NE keeps finding talent. Having sold Matt Turner to Arsenal, one would expect their goalkeeping to become a weakness. Instead, they inserted a 22-year-old Đorđe Petrović into goal and he instantly became a top 5 MLS keeper, at least. There are even rumors of Manchester United keeping close tabs on him.

Petrović made 21 starts last year, allowing 27 goals, having an 82.7% save rate, and keeping 7 clean sheets. He had an outrageous +13.1 PSxG+/-, which was good for 1st in the league. He did have 13 fewer games than Andre Blake of Philadelphia, who for my money is easily the best keeper in MLS. Blake was 2nd in MLS in PSxG+/- at +10.0. Petrović’s PSxG+/- was double that of 3rd place Dayne St. Claire (+6.9). For further reference, Kahlina ended the season with a -3.6 PSxG+/-, good for 54th in the league! Yes, that ranking obviously includes keepers who only made 1 or 2 starts, but, again, we might have a goalkeeper issue. Topic for another day…By the way, Gaga Slonina, who Chelsea paid an estimated $15M for, had a -0.5 PSxG+/- in 32 games. Yes, Slonina is 4 years younger than Petrović, but we might all have been paying a bit too much attention to the wrong young goalkeeper.

The biggest thing that jumps out to me about Petrović is his ability against crosses. He was in the 67th percentile for crosses faced, 89th percentile for crosses stopped, and 89th percentile for crosses stopped percentage. Plan A should not be to jump lump the ball into the area.

It’ll be interesting to see if Petrović can keep this pace up. If so, two things will be true. 1) We will have a new best goalkeeper in MLS and 2) He will quickly not be in MLS (therefore reverting back to us having the same best goalkeeper).


New England is a tough team to face first. Having played them last season with Buksa, we at least face a worse striker, but they continue to employ one of the best creators in the league (Gil), one of the best goalkeepers (Petrović), have added a potentially dangerous winger (Blessing), and improved their defense (Romney).

There are a number of players I haven’t touched on either that can’t be ignored. Both of their fullbacks, Bye and DeJuan Jones, are some of the better ones for this league. Matt Polster serves as a good midfield anchor, while Andrew Farrell is probably now the best 3rd CB in the league. Veterans such as Thomas McNamara, Jozy Altidore, Wood, and Omar Gonzalez provide good depth (if not the overall quality they each individually had).

Expectations for NE from their fans are probably playoffs, but I think they’re probably a similar team to Charlotte in that both have some holes, some question marks, and definite room for overall improvement. They seem like a team that will probably be fighting with Charlotte for that 6th-9th spot. As such, it’s an important game for us. Of course, if Vrioni makes a jump and Blessing reverts back to his 2018 and 2019 form, coupled with Gil, they could finish higher.

For Charlotte, my worry comes in defense. Up top, I expect a front 4 of Jóźwiak-Copetti-Gaines-Świderski. I can actually see that being a very potent lineup. The biggest question of that group is probably whether it will be Gaines or Vargas. I’ve said it before, Vargas right now is what people think Gaines is. Vargas has a higher ceiling, to be sure, and needs plenty of playing time this year. Right now, though, Gaines is the better player and should be starting.

(Note: Justin did bring up on the preview pod this Wednesday that Vargas’ delivery has looked better in the preseason. As I said on the pod, 1) I don’t really put too much stock into the preseason and 2) wasn’t able to see any of those games. If he has truly improved his delivery, the difference between Gaines and him–which already isn’t very big–becomes even smaller and the argument for him to be starting becomes more justified.)

In the midfield, I expect to see Westwood and Bronico. I’m a big fan of Nuno Santos and I expect him to find his way into the starting lineup. There are rumors of him being deployed on the right side, which might not be the worst thing. We’ve seen so little of him that I’m not sure how he would fair out there. His small-sample size numbers indicate a player that wants to be and should be on the ball a lot. I’m not sure that happens on the outside. Plus, I do believe Lattanzio values pace from wingers. I honestly don’t know if Nuno has that kind of pace; I know Vargas and Gaines do.

In goal, I expect to see Sisniega. I know there has been a “competition” between him and Marks, but the fact that Sisniega was the one to start games last year tells me he has the leg up in this. Plus, he has the size of a real goalkeeper.

The real issues come in the backline. Barring a setback in health, our star boy Malanda should start alongside Nathan Byrne. The left side is where there are a huge amount of question marks to be found.

It seems more and more likely that Harrison Afful will start at LB. It’s not a prospect that excites me. Derrick Jones has seen a lot of time at CB during the preseason, so there’s a chance he starts there for the opener. Personally, I’d much prefer us to throw Tuiloma into the lineup. He’s 27, has been in the league for 5 years, has 57 appearances for Portland over the past 2 years, and should be able to immediately play. We gave up a decent amount for him, so the plan can’t be for him to back up a midfielder pretending to be a CB.

At left back, Sobociński has gotten some time there this preseason. I don’t expect that to happen for this first game, nor do I expect our #1 overall pick, Diop, to play, but I’d prefer either option over Afful. Amazingly, I’d even prefer…gulp…Joseph Mora over Afful.

Prediction: Charlotte 2 – New England 1

Data Notes: All heatmaps come from Sofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come from FBref.com. Other websites used for data include: transfermarkt.us, Wyscout.com, and MLSsoccer.com

Malanda: French for Good

When Charlotte made their summer signings, I was of the opinion that the least likely to provide a meaningful impact for us in 2022 was going to be Adilson Malanda. A 20-year-old CB coming from Ligue 2. Nah, he was going to ride the bench. I figured Nuno Santos would immediately play and Nathan Byrne would take over the RB spot. I was…wrong.

Unhappily, Guzman Corujo went down with injury in August. Initially, this thrust Jan Sobociński into the starting lineup, though his own injury woes would force him out. It then fell to the young Malanda to pair with Anton Walkes.

As a quick aside: Jan has been a forgotten man when it comes to this backline. Not even 24, he showed real flashes in his time on the pitch last year. Multiple injuries really derailed his season, but if he can shake the injury bug, I believe there is a real player in there.

I don’t think Walkes’ veteran presence should be overlooked when it comes to Malanda’s successful run of form. Malanda’s own ability carried him through his first games in MLS, but Walkes was a steadying presence for him.

Editor’s note: This post was written before Walkes’ death and already included this reference to Walkes and his veteran leadership. These were Josh’s thoughts before his passing and it feels even more appropriate to retain them in the post now.

It was and continues to be difficult not to be incredibly excited about Malanda’s potential. I’m very much a cautious individual when it comes to young players. While I prefer a talented young player over an aging vet (see: Jóźwiak vs. Reyna), I hesitate to believe in good performances too quickly. Young players tend to go through rough patches. The highs can be great but the lows can be as well.

Malanda will enter the 2023 MLS season as a 21-year-old CB with 6 games (in MLS) to his name. That is it. It is very likely–and even expected–that he will have a run of poor performances. Very few CBs his age start consistently at clubs and fewer still do so at a consistently high level. The ones that do are the elite of the elite. In my time watching soccer, only a few jump immediately to my mind: Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, and William Saliba (yes, Justin, Logan and I will mention him at every opportunity). These are obviously different players in much tougher leagues than MLS. They are also probably better players than Malanda will ever be (we’re talking about one of the best CBs ever in Silva, a CB who has been a starter for Roma and PSG since he was 18 in Marquinhos, and the young player of the year in France last year who has been a standout on the league-leading Arsenal). That is not a knock on Malanda, as he seems to have the potential to be a top CB in MLS, if not force his way back to Europe.


When looking at CBs, there are a few things I look for, aside from the ability to tackle.

  1. He needs to be at least 6’0″. Yes, I am a height snob when it comes to CBs. I want them to be bullies and command the penalty area.
  2. He needs to be able to progress the ball out from the back. This comes in the form of passing, but also dribbling ability. I don’t need a CB to be Neymar on the ball, but he should have the technical ability and on-ball confidence to turn a defender from time to time or take the space when it is given.
  3. He needs to be able to chip in 3-5 goals per year.
  4. He needs the pace to be able to recover. A CB is never going to win a footrace with the likes of Gaines, Ruan, or some of the other quicker players in the league. However, he needs to have enough pace to match up with 80% of the forwards in a league and the wherewithal to manage his limitations against the quicker players.

How does Malanda stack up with these “requirements”?

Quick note: I will be using FBref stats and their scouting report. We should take the scouting report percentages with a HUGE grain of salt. Malanda has 6 games in MLS. It’s an incredibly small sample size, however, I think it’s still worthwhile to see how he is stacking up so far. I expect these numbers to change over a full season–some probably drastically.

Height

First, he’s listed at 6’1″ on Charlotte’s site (though he’s listed half an inch shorter on FBref). Having seen him in person, this seems about right. He’s only 165 lbs and looks it. He’s spindly and wiry, but that doesn’t seem to stop him from being physical in games. I would probably like to see him add about 10 pounds of muscle, but there’s a balance between him doing that and potentially losing some of his pace/quickness.

On-ball Ability

Malanda can pass. When he was first signed, there wasn’t much information out there for him. I found this video and what jumped out to me was his confidence to make a pass and run with the ball.

As with any YouTube highlight video, there aren’t bad plays in here–but his ability to be calm on the ball, go around a player, and make a pass are all evident.

Malanda’s passing ability is already evident, but I don’t think we’ve seen its full impact. This is probably due to Lattanzio. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way either. I imagine CL wanted to have Malanda focus on defending and leave the penetrative distribution to others. For a young player coming to a new league in a new country with a new language, this all makes sense.

On the season, Malanda attempted 376 total passes, good for 62.7 attempts per 90. That was good for 4th on the team behind Santos (71.7 passes attempted/90), Afful (71.5 passes attempted/90), and Fuchs (70.3 passes attempted/90). Technically, Hegardt led the team with 120 passes attempted/90 (!!!) but he had 0.2 90s, so it’s hard to really count him. Even Santos is a bit iffy to count with this, as he only had 1.8 90s. Regardless, the point is that even if Malanda wasn’t meant to be a focal point of distribution, he saw a lot of the ball.

Note: some of Charlotte’s struggles offensively can probably be traced to the fact that our defenders lead the team in passes attempted per 90. Hegardt and Santos, as previously mentioned, are dubious to include in these rankings due to their overall lack of playing time. Even if you do include them, though, 9 of our top 11 players in this category were defenders. If you exclude them, Bronico is the only non-defender to break the top 10 (51.3 passes attempted/90). That is problematic and something that has to be changed in the coming season. It’s also one of the reasons I view Santos as such an important player moving forward. It’s a very small sample size, but those 71.7 passes attempted/90 are much needed. Westwood, if healthy, should also help.

Of his 376 passes, Malanda completed 326 of them (54.3 completed passes/90) at an 86.7% clip. Breaking it down even further, most of his passing came in the medium range (194 completed of 207 attempted, 93.7% completion percentage). He completed 93 of 97 short passes (95.9%). Where I’m most excited to see him evolve is in his long passing; he only attempted 63 long passes last year, completing 37 of them (58.7%). In the video above, there were numerous times when he would hit a long diagonal ball to the wing. That’s something I would like to see from him more this year.

Malanda Passing Percentiles vs. MLS CBs, past 365 days, via FBref.com
Malanda Passing Types vs. MLS CBs, past 365 days, via FBref.com

For a then-20-year-old, this is outstanding. Compared with his central defender peers, Malanda is already a league leader in passing. His one area of improvement needs to be with key passes, but, again, he was 20! We can nitpick a few areas if we want, but when there is this much green, you just enjoy it (while also continuing to acknowledge the all-important small sample size).

Goal Contribution

Goals are never the most important stat for a CB, but the very best teams always seem to have a CB who chips in some goals. Malanda has never actually scored a goal in his professional career and has only 1 assist (last year for Charlotte). Thus, there’s nothing in his history that necessarily leads you to believe that he could contribute 3-5 goals per season. Yet, I think he will and it’s mostly due to one thing: his ability to time runs and jumps.

Logan was one of the first people I heard mention this, but Malanda has already shown an ability to get himself into good positions from corners. He crashes down into the box.

Charlotte at Chicago Fire, 9/17/22

Malanda doesn’t score this, but his run and jump from deep are so well-timed. It causes confusion in the box, which allows Świderski to finish off the chance.

Charlotte vs. NYCFC, 9/10/22

This second one deserved a goal. It’s a fantastic ball in from Vargas and, again, Malanda’s run and jump are impeccable.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention that the numbers don’t necessarily bear out his aerial ability. In fact, they show the opposite.

Malanda Miscellaneous Percentiles vs. MLS CBs, past 365 days, via FBref.com

Yikes. Those numbers are not great and show a definite area of improvement. I predict–and am confident that–further game experience will improve these numbers.

Pace

Malanda has shown the ability to recover and provide cover for teammates. In the Chicago game, the second goal comes from a good move by Chicago and poor decision-making by Malanda’s veteran teammates, Walkes and Afful.

Charlotte at Chicago Fire, 9/17/22

When the ball is played, Malanda is on the halfway line and a few good yards behind the fullback making a run. He covers the ground exceptionally well, forcing #2 on Chicago to cut back. Unfortunately, no one but Malanda and Byrne has tracked back well on this play and Chicago gets a goal.

This next angle shows it even better.

Charlotte at Chicago Fire, 9/17/22

In general, you don’t want a CB to have to go full-bore, as that usually means a mistake has been made somewhere else. It will happen, though, and it’s good to know that Malanda has the ability to catch up.


With only 6 games under his belt at the MLS level–and only 40 total for his career–it’s far too soon to say exactly what Adilson Malanda is. This discussion has also largely ignored his tackling ability, so let’s take a look.

Malanda Defensive Percentiles vs. MLS CBs, past 365 days, via FBref.com

There is clearly room for improvement. His relative lack of errors is encouraging, as is his ability against dribblers. Of course, that ability hasn’t been extensively tested. FBref has him in only 3 duels vs. dribblers. While his 100% success rate in these situations is good (you certainly want him at 100% and not 0%), there’s not a big enough sample to say that it will be predictive of his future ability.

It should be noted that defensive stats are notoriously fickle and, of all the advanced stats, the least fleshed out, in my opinion. That is not to excuse these numbers; Malanda will need to improve them if he is to reach the heights the beginning of his Charlotte career has hinted at. To be a true defensive stopper, you will want him to get stuck in a bit more and have success while doing it. With that said, I don’t think these numbers need to be overly concerning for us just yet due to the small sample and age.


It’s hard not to dream about Malanda’s future. It does look that bright. Charlotte’s first overall pick, Diop, also shows some of these same traits (ball carrying, passing, physical build). Even Jan fits in this mold. It seems Charlotte has a CB prototype in mind.

For the upcoming year, all Charlotte fans should be excited for a Malanda-Corujo pairing, provided Corujo comes back healthy. This is not a given; ACLs, while common, are not easy injuries to come back from. They take time and there are often setbacks (usually in the form of muscular strains). Don’t be surprised if it takes a few months to see the pre-injury Corujo. It could even take most of next year.

Once Corujo does get back, this pairing should really complement each other. I’ve long said that Corujo’s biggest weakness was his lack of distribution. This deficit should be covered by Malanda’s on-ball ability.

Malanda, meanwhile, is still learning how to tackle and defend at a high level. Corujo is an aggressive defender, which I know worries some. While his aggressiveness can cause issues, he is a really good tackler and defensive stopper (91st percentile in tackles and tackles won, 96th percentile in tackles in the defensive 3rd, 88th percentile in dribbles contested, 91st percentile in tackles plus clearances). His aggressiveness can get him caught out at times, but, again, I think Malanda’s pace and more balanced defending can help cover for that.

Center-back pairings often come down more to chemistry than talent. Yes, ability is important, but unless you have a generational talent (in which case, he’s not at Charlotte), you need to balance those abilities. I’m very optimistic about Malanda and Corujo doing just that. Even more than that, though, I’m confident in Malanda’s ability, regardless of the partner.

A Tale of Two Kamils

Ah, Kamil Jóźwiak. It feels like Charlotte fans either love him or hate him. A once-hyped European talent who had a really good Euro 2020, his time at Derby took some shine off of his promise. Further, having come to Charlotte as a DP, many looked at him to have an immediate impact on the team.

He did not.

As I covered in my preview of him last year (one of my first posts at my old Banks, Beer, and Soccer location), there were a number of factors that gave me pause about Jóźwiak, and I summed it up as such:

At the end of the day, is this transfer worth it? Yes. This squad still lacks depth and it lacks talent. Jóźwiak gives that. While I do have concerns about the profile and his inability so far to consistently produce, he is still only 23.

If we view his previous couple of seasons as heavily impacted by a global pandemic and a disastrously run club–both of which seem likely–then maybe we should view him more as the player coming off of his last season at Lech and Euro 2020. In doing that, it is hard not to be excited.

I still highly recommend anyone who didn’t check that article out do so, as it gives some context to why Derby (and Charlotte) wanted him (also, it’s one of my first, so go easy on me!). To summarize, though, his time in Poland as a young player was very exciting and promising.


That leads us to Jóźwiak with Charlotte. Kamil ended his season with zero goals and 3 assists, off of 1.7 xG and 2.7 xGA. His passing wasn’t awe-inspiring: 73.8% total completion percentage, 87.4% (215/246) on short passing, 73.0% (103/141) on medium passing, and 43.6% (17/39) on long passing. He averaged 3.52 crosses per 90 (45 total). So far this is the profile of a bust, especially for a DP.


Let’s make a quick aside and talk about that DP label, too, shall we? I’ve made this point a number of times (probably too many): it’s not Kamil’s fault that he is a DP. Has he produced at the level that you want from someone who is taking that spot and earning that level of money? Absolutely not. Even the most ardent Jóźwiak supports (and I’m probably among them) wouldn’t say he has. There are 2 things I will say about this, though.

First, he didn’t give himself that label or title. If you have issues with him being a DP–and these issues are valid–blame the FO, not Kamil. Professional athletes have a very short time to make money, so I never begrudge them the opportunity to make it. Further, it’s not our (i.e., the fan’s) money–it’s a (usually) billionaire owner’s money. Why are we taking the billionaire’s side in this debate?

Second, he won’t (or shouldn’t) be a DP for much longer. There was always the option of buying him down and, coupled with the cap going up, he should be bought down. As such, I encourage all to try to evaluate Jóźwiak as a player and not a DP. The question isn’t, is he worth the money? Rather, it’s can he help Charlotte FC compete, win, and challenge for a title?


Kamil appeared in 19 matches for Charlotte FC last year, making 13 starts. He played for 1,151 minutes, or just under 13 90s (12.8 to be exact). FBref has a handy feature where it breaks down where a player played positionally on a per game basis. I’m sure it’s not perfect, however, it can give us some idea of where Jóźwiak was deployed.

Kamil made his debut on 4/30 against Orlando City and came on as a “forward.” He started the next game (5/7 against Inter Miami) as a left midfielder. In his next 9 appearances, Kamil was deployed on the right hand side, listed as a right midfielder or even right back. There is the 5/29 game against Seattle where he appears to have played on the left in addition to the right, but for the most part his deployment is consistently on the right side of the pitch during this part of the season.

Starting with the 8/17 game against NYCFC, Kamil ends the season as our starting left midfielder/winger. He is listed as a “LM,RM” for the home match against NYCFC on 9/10, but the difference is clear: he is no longer a right sided player.

In the end, Kamil has two games labeled as a “forward,” 8 games where he’s being deployed on the right, and 8 games where he’s being deployed on the left. I’m here to tell you, right-side Kamil is useless; left-side Kamil shows real promise.


If we look at Kamil’s first 11 appearances for the club (again, the time when he is mostly a right-sided player), he contributes 0 goals and 0 assists on 1.1 xG and 0.4 xGA. There’s a further caveat to this, though!

Of that 1.1 xG, over half of it (0.6 xG to be specific) comes in one game: 7/3 against Houston. He also had 0.1 xGA in that game. Removing that one game and we have 0.5 xG and 0.3 xGA in 10 appearances. Oof.

In his final 8 appearances–again, from the left–Jóźwiak records 0 goals, but 3 assists (!) off of 0.6 xG and 2.3 (!!!!!!) xGA. Ok, I’m getting a bit carried away with the exclamation points because you still want to see more production, but the point is clear: on the left, Kamil is much more dangerous.

This trend appears in other statistics as well. When looking at Shot-Creating Actions (SCAs) and Goal-Creating Actions (GCAs), Left-Sided Kamil is much better than Right-Sided Kamil. He produced 44 SCAs on the year and 4 GCAs on the year. In his first 11 appearances, he created 21 SCAs and just 1 GCA. In his final 8 appearances, he created 23 SCAs and 3 GCAs. Still not great production, but a definite improvement.

When looking at his passing, he also improves it slightly from the left side: 74.66% compared with 72.84%.

Maybe you’re someone who doesn’t believe in the “stats” and goes by the “eye test.” Well, SofaScore’s rating shows the same type of improvement. Jóźwiak’s average rating for his first 11 games was 6.67, with a high of 7.1 and a low of 6.3. In his final 8 appearances, he had an average rating of 6.96 with a a high of 7.5 and a low of 5.9. That 5.9 was against RBNY on the last weekend when there was nothing to play for and the entire team looked like it would’ve preferred to be anywhere but in New Jersey (I mean, who could blame them, amirite?).


Then we have this heatmap:

Kamil Jóźwiak 2022 heatmap, via SofaScore.

Would you look at that. From the right, Kamil is rarely getting himself into dangerous positions. He’s confined to the touchline and his most consistent touching of the ball is near the halfway line and between the halfway line and penalty box. Importantly, though, it’s not really in the penalty box.

Now look at the left. It’s night and day, really. He’s still near the touchline, but he’s also picking up positions much more centrally. He’s further up the pitch and instead of being clustered in the middle of it, he’s operating near and around the box.

The answer for this change appears to be pretty simple, too. Kamil is right-footed. When deployed on the right, he’s forced to operate like an old-school, traditional winger, where the goal is to drive by players wide, get to the end-line, and make crosses. Think of the way Gaines likes to operate. On the left, though, Kamil is able to act as more of an inverted winger who can take people wide, but will drift inside onto his favored foot.

Now it should be noted that his time at Euro 2020 saw him exclusively operating from the right-hand side and his time with Derby also saw him more commonly on the right. Of course, if we view his time at Derby as a disappointment, we must also acknowledge that it might be because he was not playing where he should be (at least in my estimation). Unfortunately, SofaScore doesn’t have heatmaps for his time in the Polish league.


The other point of discussion for Kamil has often been who should be deployed on the left instead of him. This past year there were probably 3 main candidates for this role: Ben Bender, Andre Shinyashiki, and Yordy Reyna. While all 3 can play as a left-sided midfielder, I don’t believe all can play there in Christian Lattanzio’s system.

First, I’m of the opinion Bender is better when he is deployed more centrally, either as one of a pair of 8s or as a 10. When he is able to take up central positions and then drift into wide spaces (and vice versa), he is much more effective.

Second, Shinyashiki’s scoring ability is good, but it’s clear that Lattanzio, for better or worse, doesn’t see him as a wide player. With how Charlotte operated under CL, this is not necessarily surprising or illogical. Lattanzio prefers quicker wide players who can take players on (think Reyna, Jóźwiak, Gaines, Vargas). Shinyashiki is good, but what he is not is a pacey, tricky winger. The same can be said for Bender.

Thus, we’re really left with Reyna as Jóźwiak’s primary competition for the left side (with reports that his time is over with the club, it’s maybe a bit disingenuous to even include him here). For now, I’m going to ignore Justin’s favorite talking point that Vargas is probably also better on the left. I probably agree with him on this point, but Vargas is so young and has so little data that I don’t think it makes sense to include him in this current discussion (especially since CL insisted he be played on the right this past season).

Anyone who has followed Banks, Beer, and Soccer or The Crown Cast since I’ve joined will know that I am not a Reyna fan. In the proper setup, Reyna can be a good piece, but he’s a moments player who drifts in and out of games. In my opinion, he is most often out of games. He doesn’t run, rarely puts in any defensive effort, and struggles with consistency.

When it comes to Reyna, I am mostly confused to how he became such a fan favorite. People often point to his trickiness and ability to score and/or create scoring opportunities as reasons to why he should be in the side. This supposed ability is simply not there, at least on a consistent basis.

Reyna ended the season with 3 goals and 3 assists. But, Josh, that’s 3 more goals than Jóźwiak! He’s 300% the goalscorer Jóźwiak is! This is true. But what is also true is that those 3 goals came in two games, both of which Charlotte lost. He scored two wonderful goals against Inter Miami and a header versus Chicago in the first minute. What did he do after that in that game?

I will give Reyna his due on his assists. Each of them are lovely balls that are perfectly placed. The ones against Nashville and Columbus are especially beautiful.

Reyna assist versus Nashville, 7/9/22
Reyna assist versus Columbus, 10/5/22

Reyna appeared in 19 games for Charlotte (handy for the Jóźwiak comparison!) and started 10. He totaled 845 minutes and was just under 10 90s (9.4 to be specific). He finished the season with 2.2 xG and 2.2 xGA. So more xG, but less xGA.

He created 36 SCAs and 7 GCAs, which corresponds well to his xG and xGA compared to Kamil (i.e., he creates more goal-scoring chances, but fewer shooting chances). His passing was slightly better percentage-wise than Kamils: 74.9% on the season, 87.1% (115/132) for short passing, 79.4% (81/102) for medium passing, and 55.4% (31/56) for long passing. He put in 4.26 crosses per 90 (40 total).

So far, we honestly have pretty similar players when looking at these 2 when it comes to goalscoring and assisting. What separates Reyna in the minds of many fans, though, is his ability to take people on with the dribble. This isn’t untrue, but this ability is blown way out of proportion. Let’s look at Jóźwiak, Reyna, and Gaines’ possession numbers. I’ve included Gaines as kind of a control player.

Player NameSuccessful Dribbles (per 90)Attempted Dribbles (per 90)Successful Dribble PercentageMiscontrols (per 90)Dispossessed (per 90)
Kamil Jóźwiak17 (1.33)43 (3.36)39.5%27 (2.11)15 (1.17)
Yordy Reyna8 (0.85)36 (3.83)22.2%24 (2.55)23 (2.45)
McKinze Gaines17 (1.43)46 (3.87)37.0%33 (2.77)22 (1.85)

Reyna completed the fewest dribbles, had the lowest successful percentage, and had the most dispossessions. On a per 90 basis, it’s even worse for him. He’s far and away the least successful at dribbles even though he’s attempting them almost as much as Gaines. While Gaines leads this trio in miscontrols per 90, Reyna is far and away the most likely to get dispossessed.

Kamil comes out looking really good in this comparison. He’s the most successful of this trio in terms of percentage, almost as good as Gaines on a per 90 basis, but has far fewer miscontrols and dispossessions on a per 90 basis. Yet I would wager that if you polled 100 Charlotte fans, most would say Reyna is the better dribbler of the two (if not on the entire team).


Reyna doesn’t have a good history of goal contribution to fall back on, especially in recent times. His best season his probably his age 20 season, when he was with Grödig in the Austrian Bundesliga. That season (2014-15), he had 11 goals and 5 assists. His best MLS season is probably 2018 with Vancouver when he was 24. He recorded 6 goals and 9 assists that season. The following season for Vancouver, Reyna had 7 goals and 1 assists. Since that year–3 seasons, 50 appearances, 25 starts, and 2,419 minutes of game time–Reyna has a total of 8 goals and 5 assists. Of course, Reyna’s lack of production is matched, if not surpassed, by Jóźwiak’s. Over the past 3 seasons, Jóźwiak has made 77 appearances, 56 starts, and has 4,795 minutes of game time with just 1 goal and 6 assists to show for it.

So why do I believe in Jóźwiak rather than Reyna? Simply put, age. Jóźwiak is currently 24 while Reyna is 29. We absolutely know what Reyna is while there’s a world where Jóźwiak gets back to his pre-Derby days. For reference, with Lech Poznań, Jóźwiak had 15 goals and 8 assists over 104 appearances (73 starts) and 6,621 minutes of game time. This was during his age 17-22 seasons! I’ll always take younger, talented player over an aging veteran when the production is similar.

Finally, I’ve said it before, but a young player moving countries, learning a new culture and language, at a horribly run club during a global pandemic is not a good gauge of ability. Jóźwiak spent two wasted seasons in England. I won’t assert that his lack of production is 100% the result of these factors, but I don’t think they can be dismissed and shouldn’t be minimized.

I have no idea if Jóźwiak can find the kind of form he had with Lech Poznań again, but the latter half of last season showed there is a useful and talented player in there who is capable of doing so. It’s up to CL and co. to unlock that potential consistently.

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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
BuyBuyBuyBuy

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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldBuySellBuy

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)

LoganJustinJoshEuan
SellSellHoldHold

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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldHoldHoldSell

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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
BuyHoldHoldHold

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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldHoldSellSell

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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldBuyHoldHold

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.

Conclusion

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.

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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldHoldHoldHold
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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldHoldHoldHold
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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
BuyBuyBuyHold
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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
SellSellSellSell
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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldBuyBuyHold
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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
BuyBuyBuyHold
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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
HoldSellSellSell
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

LoganJustinJoshEuan
SellSellBuyBuy
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.

Conclusion

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 FBref.com
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 FBref.com
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 FBref.com

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

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?

Conclusion

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