Editor’s Note: We are excited to announce that we’ll be having a new contributor on the site! Meet Rolo. Each week, Rolo will be bringing you a quick recap of the game along with some of his thoughts on it related to Lattanzio’s tactics.
We finally got our three points!
Charlotte FC fans are going to be able to enjoy their week knowing we now have some positive momentum after three consecutive losses. Coach Lattanzio made five changes following the 3-0 loss to Atlanta UTD, including dropping Nathan Byrne, Karol Świderski, Kamil Jóźwiak, and Andre Shinyashiki. Kerwin Vargas and McKinze Gaines got their names into the Starting XI, while Jaylin Lindsey and Ghanaian international Harrison Afful were put in as the fullback partners. That meant that Brandt Bronico was pushed forward into his preferred midfield position. Coach Christian Lattanzio chose to stray from his 4-2-3-1 and picked a 4–3-3 for this matchup. He was rewarded.
The first half looked good as Charlotte had more shots (7 vs. 4) and more shots on target (4 vs. 3) than Orlando. Charlotte was able to hold it pretty even with Orlando with both teams sharing 50 percent of possession and both teams having a similar amount of passes completed in the first half as Charlotte had 237 passes completed to Orlando’s 240.
The forward trio of Vargas, Gaines, and Copetti were vital in Charlotte gaining more opportunities, as they provided width and pressure, leading to Orlando’s mistakes.
The continuous pressure proved beneficial throughout the first half, with Bronico slotting a pass to Gaines in the 24th minute. Gaines’ shot challenged the Orlando keeper but was saved. One minute later, Charlotte got its reward. Goalkeeper George Marks passed a ball toward Ashley Westwood, who played a one-touch pass to Jaylin Lindsey. Lindsey pushed forward and hit a beautiful ball over the head of Orlando, which fell at the feet of Copetti. With a 1v1 against the goalkeeper, Copetti scored his second goal of the season.
Twelve minutes later, the second goal would come. Kerwin Vargas received the ball on the outside of the box and beat his defender, slotting the ball into the bottom left corner. Charlotte went into the half with a 2-0 lead. Ashley Westwood would receive a knock just before the end of the half and would later be subbed off at the beginning of the second half for Nuno Santos. Hopefully it is nothing serious and we’ll get an update later this week on his fitness.
The second half was not good from a Charlotte FC perspective and there isn’t much good to talk about for the Crown. Being 2-0 is one of the most deceiving score-lines in football. All it takes is one goal for the momentum to shift. This occurred in the 56th minute of the match when Martín Ojeda scored. He capitalized on the communication mistake of the Charlotte FC defenders, in particular Bill Tuiloma. Luckily, we were able to see the game out and escape with a full 3 points.
I’m fed up with the amount of crossing we let into our box throughout each match. There are instances (such as the third-minute offside goal) where attacks coming from our left side are catching us out. It has been a consistent issue for our defense this year where attacks coming from the opposition right lead to crosses that provide ample scoring opportunity for them. In the thirty-third minute, again, too much space is allowed and a cross from the right side is put into a dangerous position. The fix for this is simple: the players need to do a better job of stopping our opponent’s from crossing, or at least make it more difficult for them to be put in.
Our defensive lines are also being broken too easily. Look at the Orlando buildup in the 7th minute as an example of this. Marks makes a save, but it’s too easy for Torres (#17 on Orland) to get in and get a shot off.
During the second half, Charlotte didn’t play to their strengths. Lattanzio’s philosophy calls for playing possession football with quick passes that lead to goal-scoring opportunities. In the second half, Orlando City held 62 percent of possession compared to Charlotte’s 38%. Orlando completed 262 passes compared to Charlotte’s 161 passes. Charlotte was held to one shot in the entire second half, compared to Orlando’s eleven shots.
For me, the Man of the Match should be George Marks. He had five saves and his long ball would help in the lead-up to the Copetti goal. Marks was able to play a composed first half, which led to momentum being on Charlotte’s side early. He was also able to effectively push the distribution between players. The second half was much of the same from Marks. His saves in the last 10 minutes kept the win in place. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Marks throughout this season.
Passes/crosses breaking the Charlotte defensive lines: 1:09- 1:17
Pass from Bronico to Gaines shot challenging keeper: 2:09 – 2:13
First goal: 2:17-2:32
Vargas goal: 3:37-3:42
The left-sided moment on the defense: 6:26-6:32
Editor’s note: For some reason, embedding the game highlights shows a “not available, watch on YouTube message.” I’m assuming this is a MLS/Apple thing, as we’ve not encountered this before. Link to the video is in the “Game Moments” heading!
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.
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’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.
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.
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).
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.
With Godoy Cruz, he shows a strong bias towards the right. I can’t speak on how exactly he was deployed with them.
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.
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.
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.
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+/-.
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.
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.
Three games into the season, Charlotte FC sit bottom of the Eastern Conference with the worst goal difference in the entirety of MLS. They are one of three teams to be on 0 points and have a worse goal difference than each of the other teams, Houston and Montreal.
It is clear that things have not gone well so far for the 2nd year team, and there was no better example of that than the first half of Saturdays game. Charlotte conceded 3 goals in this half and offered no real structured attack in reply against an impressive Atlanta United team.
Though the fixes for this would not seem simple, the fact is that, at this time, Head Coach Christian Lattanzio is not making things any easier for himself. There are some solutions available to him that we will discuss here, with a particular focus on that first half against Atlanta.
Right now, Charlotte have big questions when it comes to both of the full back spots. Whilst Nathan Byrne playing right back is no surprise, his underwhelming start to the season has raised eyebrows. Meanwhile, Brandt Bronico at left back is something nobody could’ve seen coming, especially after Joseph Mora played a solid game in Charlotte’s opening fixture against New England.
The answer for this decision comes back to one of Lattanzio’s core principles, something we’ve often seen ever since his first game in charge against New York Red Bulls: the inverting of his full backs
In Nathan Byrne and Brandt Bronico, Lattanzio will likely feel that he has his best pairing of players for this role – comfortability on the ball paired with the athleticism to cover the spaces they vacate to invert.
Saturday’s game was the first chance to see each of them perform those roles together, contrasting their debut as a full back pair against St Louis, where importantly they played as fairly traditional full backs.
Against Atlanta, Charlotte displayed probably the most complex build up structure in all of Christian Lattanzio’s time as Head Coach. Though the team still had a 2-4 structure that was seen against St Louis, the way this came together was done very differently.
Here we see this setup in the form it would be expected – the centre backs making up the 2 and the full backs pushed up alongside a double pivot to make the 4. Now compare how this setup is constructed to how it was done against Atlanta.
Here, we see a 2-4 structure made up of the same players, except now Jóźwiak has come from his left wing position to play in Bronico’s role, whilst Bronico occupies a more advanced central space as we can see on the end right of the screen.
See also this clip below of how, when the ball moves to the other side of the field, Świderski and Byrne move into these same areas relative to how Jóźwiak and Bronico are structured but on the right side (i.e., Byrne taking up a position higher than Świderski).
It is hard to know exactly why Lattanzio opted for this change, but I suspect that he has 3 core ideas of how he wants his build up to look:
– a base of 2 – a double pivot – inverted full backs
The ‘inverted full backs’ part of this is obviously the major change from St. Louis to Atlanta, but it is also the part that created problems for Charlotte, especially when it came to their first goal conceded on Saturday.
Though the positioning from Malanda does not help, Charlotte’s rest defense from this structure is still incredibly flawed even with correct established position from the centre backs. The hyper-centrality of this structure is always going to create situations where the opposition will have an extra man over in ‘transition-like’ moments. We saw this right from the beginning of the game.
Again, we see Malanda play way over on the ball-side to squeeze that area, and even with right back in position to help, as Byrne is here, the threat of an unmarked player still exists.
This structure doesn’t just present issues defensively, but also when Charlotte are in attack. With the ball in their possession and the full backs inverted, combined with inverting wingers who want to cut inside, you are left with no real byline threat or predictable attack from wide areas.
Take a situation like this one with Świderski and Byrne:
This would typically be a classic situation where the inverted winger would have a full back overlapping to put the player marking the winger in jeopardy as to whether he should stay with his man or follow the overlapping run. In a situation like that, the decision from the defender would inform what decision the winger on the ball makes.
Instead, in this instance we see that the right back is actually in position to play the ball wide from the central area, then shows for the ball again inside before starting an overlapping run. By this point he is coming from too deep and has waited too long, allowing the defense to re-gain their structure.
Some would call this a failed experiment and revert back to what was done against St Louis. While I do agree that this system can not be a long term solution for Charlotte, I do think that of Lattanzio’s ideals for playing, full back inversion takes quite a high priority given how often we have seen it before in his time as coach.
Instead of completely abandoning the idea of fullback inversion, a compromise must be made elsewhere. I believe it’s time for Charlotte to get to a 3-2 structure in buildup that would help them both in and out of possession.
Firstly, a major benefit of a back 3 build up set up is how much it can help your rest defense. A simple way to explain this would be to ask: why are transition moments so threatening in the first place?
The main benefit of playing in transition is the space that it allows you to play in. In a 2-base structure you can quickly by-pass a cluttered midfield in transition if you win the ball high and directly attack a large amount of space where the defense has only 2 outfield players in between the ball and the goal (rather than 3 if you build up in a 3-2 structure). A simple numbers game to help you defensively is clearly offered by setting up with 3 defenders at the base of your in-possession-structure.
In possession, a 3-2 structure gives you a much better chance to get the ball into advanced wide areas. Having 3 players at the beginning of the structure means all angles into those areas are available, and, with only 2 players ahead, this means that the access into these areas is more direct. Consider how much Charlotte struggled to get the ball to those areas on Saturday, and how easy Austin FC are able to do it here from a base 3 structure
Considering how much investment Charlotte have put into their wide areas, it would be wise to try put them in as best a position as possible. Speaking of which…
A major part of this tactical change has to be the implementation of Karol Świderski back into a central role, and redefining what that central role is.
Putting Świderski back into a central area is a simple first step fix, as we have seen him in the 10 role plenty of times before and know what he brings as the team’s best player. Redefining that role will be much more important.
Take this example from the NYCFC game last season, when Świderski is in the 10 role.
In this setup, Świderski was given a true ‘free role’ to drop deep and facilitate build up, occupying the space in the double pivot to allow one of the original holding midfielder license to get forward. See also how this helps Fuchs, who was playing as an outside centre back in a base 3 in this passage*, get forward into a good position with the ball, link up with Świderski who is still free to relate with other players, then offer a byline threat knowing he has sufficient cover in defense.
*Note: remember, Fuchs is started as a LB in a back 4 base formation this game (4-2-3-1). In this passage of play he is part of a back 3.
Contrast what happens in that above clip with the Charlotte setup now. Currently, we have a hyper-positional setup with no freedom given to Shinyashiki in the 10 role to relate with any of his teammates in build up.
The restriction of Świderski out wide, paired with the restriction of the 10 role itself to whoever plays it, shows the merging of both tactical ideas as a structure and tactical instructions per player. Hyper-positionally in effective systems produces the most elite football we currently have in the game, but at other levels, there must sometimes be a merging of structure around a cerebral talent. This type of talent is what Charlotte have in the Polish international.
In a 3-2 setup, more space would be offered in that 2nd phase of build up for a number 10 to drop in to link the play. The link-up play would be seen both in terms of dropping into wide areas to create triangles and in giving one of the double pivot a chance to get forward by looking to drop in centrally
Using Charlotte’s personnel from that Atlanta game, here is an example of how that 3-2 structure in-possession* could look.
*Note: Again, this is not the starting, base formation. That would still most probably be listed as a 4-2-3-1, as shown below, or 4-3-3. The above is what we would look like in possession.
Here in this lineup we have: – Direct ball access to the wingers. – Świderski playing centrally with options around him to relate with. – Sufficient rest defense cover with a base of 3 and 5 good athletes for their roles. – A box midfield which gives Charlotte the chance to control the game, both in possession and in transition (should we turn the ball over in the opposition third).
This Charlotte team has a lot of talent, and results will likely turn soon anyway as a result of that. But to give the team the best chance long term to have success, this is a switch that should be strongly considered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 Bürkiwas 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 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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
Charlotte FC have continued there commitment to building for the future in the last few weeks with multiple signings for the newly created Crown Legacy. Perhaps none are more high profile than Nikola Petković, a midfielder from Serbian side FK Čukarički.
Petković’s star rose considerably after making his debut for the Serbian National Team last month, doing so against the USMNT in a friendly match. It is reported that Charlotte had to fight off plenty of competition to secure the 20 year old’s signature, and their belief in the player was displayed with a significant transfer fee of $3 million, one of largest fee’s paid for a player in the clubs short history.
Petković is a right-footed midfield player who has experience playing in multiple systems, but has most commonly been used as a single-pivot 6 or on the right side of a double pivot. This positional versatility already adds extra value to the player. Additionally, the roles he has often performed so far in his career show potential translation to playing as an 8 or as a wide-right midfield player.
Petković arrives at Charlotte with great pedigree having now represented Serbia at Senior Level, but has also consistently represented Serbia at youth level from Under 15’s to the Under 16’s, Under 17’s, Under 19’s and Under 21’s – a testament to his potential as a prospect. Along with his experience at international level, Petković has logged over 700 minutes of professional club football, the majority of these coming in the Super Liga Srbije, the top tier of Serbian League Football.
Petković has a wise head on young shoulder when his team is in possession. He is vocal in organising build up and has a great understanding of how to manipulate the opposition. Take for example this passage of play that ultimately results in a goal.
The first thing to notice is how Petković moves into position to receive the ball for the second time in the passage. Rather than take a more direct diagonal run to the space, he makes sure he is always behind the attacking player and out of his vision so that he does not go with him to apply once he receives the ball.
After a scan over each shoulder, Petković elects for the bounce pass back to the defender, where we see the next interesting part of the passage.
Only a short while after the defender receives the ball again, Petković starts orchestrating the build up with assertiveness beyond his years. He calls for the pass to be played into the midfielder with the view to bouncing it outside. Despite the defender rejecting the ball inside to the midfielder to be played to the space on the left, he decides to play it over there directly himself. You can see that this has come as a result of Petković’s instruction and not of the defender’s own intuition, as the defender’s eyes did not scan this area until Petković alerted him to it.
Take also this moment in another build up phase, from later in the same fixture.
From this, we can see Petković doesn’t even need the ball at all to be able to impact the build up phase – he understands how he can manipulate the oppositions structure to create space for others as a deep midfielder. His movement is not with intention of receiving the ball (we see no gesture or real ‘showing’ for the ball) but clearly to manipulate the positioning of the oppositions number #10 and free his midfield partner to carry the ball into the space he has now been granted.
In just 6 seconds, we go from a situation where no clear options of progression are open:
To a situation where the midfielder is driving forward with the ball and has plenty of options, with the opposition scrambling in a transition phase. All of this comes from that one piece of structure manipulation from Petković.
Overall he boasts a very mature game. His awareness of the field combines with his already developed ability to scan the field when his team is in possession, which he was able to showcase against the USMNT in the friendly played just last month. This was arguably his best performance as a pro and gave him the chance to showcase all the on-ball ability that makes him such a tantalising prospect.
An interesting exercise with this video is to count the number of times we see a scan from Petković, and the variation of his scanning when it comes to playing in different areas of the field.
The clips of his ball playing ability in the final 3rd here are promising and were also there to be seen at times during his games for FK Čukarički.
To see these instances of confidence playing forward in the final 3rd add to Petković’s ceiling as a player. When combined with his traits shown earlier, you can see how he projects as a player who can thrive in a ball dominant system.
When discussing Petković’s positional versatility, the off-ball side of his game must be considered, as this is what creates more questions about where and how he should be best deployed on the field.
Firstly, his size and athleticism does not project well to playing the single pivot, especially not in a ball dominant system. In a team that has the majority of the ball, the single pivot is relied upon to cover large spaces in transition as well as thrive in duels, whether they be in the air or up against ball carriers. Petković stands at 5’11, while most players who thrive in this role tend to be at least 6’2 and above. Combine this with Petković’s slender frame (although this is something that can improve given his age) and his current profile does not project well to the role.
Further, Petković’s smarts and instincts when in-possession, unfortunately, do not translate to off-ball moments just yet. He can often be caught out by runners around him and/or runners that he is man marking. This can make for high-level chances for the opposition, as shown in the clip below (Petković is the player on the right side of the centre circle when the clip begins):
Moments like these are common in Petković’s game. They’re made especially concerning by the fact that this situation initially does not offer any real threat, but by one player being loose, it becomes very dangerous. In this particular instance, it lead to a goal.
This also shows the issues when it comes to his athleticism. Other, more athletic players committing the same error may be able to recover with speed. This is something he does not possess in his game yet.
It is almost the reverse to what we saw earlier from Petković’s ability to manipulate opposition structure when his team is in possession. Offensively, he can turn settled moments into threatening ones with his high on-ball IQ and, defensively, his issues off-ball can do the same.
The next development for his game will be to prevent doing this for the opposition when they are on the ball, to the detriment of his own team. Because Petković is such a young player, this is an area of his game that most coaches would see as fixable as he gains more experience.
Despite only being a short while into his career, there is enough already in Petković’s game-film to show that he can be a highly productive MLS-level player in the near future. Though he will initially join Crown Legacy – a decision that I do feel is best for his development – I believe he would be fully capable of handling MLS should he have been signed directly to Charlotte FC. I would not be shocked to see him feature in the match day squad at some stage during the 2023 season, with the projection being that he would be a significant contributor to Charlotte FC come the 2024 season.
Charlotte currently play a 4-2-3-1 system, one that I believe will look to give the team the majority of possession in most games (based off Head Coach Christian Lattanzio’s quotes and the game strategy he employed last season). This system is the one that will give Petković the best chance to succeed, i.e., playing on the right side of the double pivot. This set-up gives him the best chance to show off his best qualities, whilst also looking to mitigate some of the flaws in his game. Being so young, there is plenty of time for him to work on eradicating these issues from his game.
Alongside other signings made in the last few weeks, Petković will make Crown Legacy a must watch when possible for any Charlotte FC fan this season.
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…)
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
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
The general feeling around Charlotte FC going into L.A. was one of question marks. Charlotte FC had blown past most expectations of an inaugural season, and shown the makings of something more. They had also show the makings of a glass structure… complex and beautiful, but once cracked in the smallest way was likely to shatter.
This was not the first iteration of this team. The first iteration had seen stonewall defending that even the most attacking sides in the game found little joy against. Smart, front foot play from defensive pillar and captain Guzman Corujo was only one piece of a defensive center that had more than earned its stripes.
Beside him, the newly sworn in Anton Walkes was proving he was more than capable of handling his own, in front of him the unyielding engine of Brandt Bronico, and behind him a steady and ever present rock in Kristijan Kahlina.
This core of defense had earned the respect of the league, but even as the team bus pulled into the Banc of California stadium, this core had already seen damage.
Guzman Corujo had just seen a season ending injury the game before, tearing an ACL that would require surgery. Brandt Bronico had seen more minutes than any player on the team besides the Keeper, and his legs were showing the strain even three games before. Anton Walkes had been left without his defensive partner for one of the greatest attacking threats in the MLS, and newly deputized Jan Sobocinski hadn’t seen an MLS match this season.
Still they held.
Spectacular defending from Sobocinski on the counter allowed Anton to focus on marshaling the line. Brandt’s tired legs meant misplayed passed from the midfield, but the ragged determination to cut out plays held the shape. One world class save from the hands of Kahlina, and the halftime whistle signaled hope.
There had only been one real offensive threat from the Charlotte FC in the first half, but the score board read 0-0. Perhaps, thought Charlotte fans, there was a chance to take something from the game. Perhaps Yordy Rayna could connect from his infamous curling shot, perhaps Karol Swiderski could find the opening to get his golden left foot through the ball.
L.A thought differently.
Young midfielder Ben Bender is pulled at halftime in favor of 23 year old Jordy Alcivar. It is unknown if this change is planned to help keep legs fresh, or if Interim manager Christian Lattanzio is unhappy with the players performance. If it is the latter, its the first of Lattanzio’s decisions that will come back to haunt him.
Four minutes into the second half a perfectly timed ball floats over Anton Walkes and is comfortably headed home by Jesus David Murillo. 0-1 L.A.
The deflation in the team is obvious, and is felt by the fans watching all over the country. The midfield battle is beginning to look more like a slaughter as a perfectly executed press from L.A. leaves no one with time on the ball; and right back Harrison Afful is buckling under the attacking panache coming down his sideline.
Just ten minutes later the pressure creates a mistake. Kahlina comes out to claim a corner kick and fails to grab the ball. It falls behind him and is instantly slotted into the vacated net. 0-2 L.A.
Substitute Alcivar is shortly given a yellow card in the midfield, and the rich get richer. This zone where L.A. has already started showing there dominance must now play on the back foot, or risk going down to 10 men.
Its the 70th minute of the game and undenounced to the fans the darkest times are yet to come. Harrison Afful has been playing at the end of his tether all game to maintain any presence on the wing, and diving in to stop a cross the ball ricochets painfully twisting his foot. The night adds literal injury to insult.
The medical staff determine Afful is not fit to continue, and manager Christian Lattanzio is left with a choice of how to fill the void in the squad. On the bench sits Jaylin Lindsey; a like for like replacement for Afful in the right back role. Despite spectacular performances from the young man throughout the season, he is not yet trusted by Lattanzio himself.
Instead the manager turns to 36 year old Christian Fuchs. A symbol for the club but an aging left back now being asked to play out of position in the center of defense. He is not the only one unfamiliar with his role. The switch moves the team into an unpracticed back three. While more defensive bodies might sound harder to break down, it’s also moved Walkes and Sobocinski into unknown positions.
This defensive confusion is obvious as legs get heavier. In the 73rd minute a poorly controlled touch from Brandt Bronico in the middle turns over the ball and fires up a quick counterattack. One ball over the now disconnected back line and Carlos Vela slots home a 1v1 against Kahlina. 0-3 L.A.
Now attacking freely L.A. target the clearly weakened left side of Charlottes defense. Joseph Mora has put in a respectable shift, but has yet to win a ground dual in the match. The attack swiftly move the ball through the fading defense and just three minutes later, perhaps the most stark contrast in ball control sees a L.A. rip open charlotte once more. 0-4 L.A.
When the 80th minute of the game rolls around L.A. has substituted out all of their critical pieces to give back ups a chance to play in the game. Carlos Vela is gone, Jose Cifuentes, Llie Sanchez, Brian Rodriguez, and Jesus David Murillo are all resting comfortably.
It’s not until the 84th minute, when Jan Sobocinski goes down with what looks to be another injury, that Jaylin Lindsey is finally introduced into the game. The failed back 3 shifts back to the known formation of the back 4, and for a brief period the late sub Lindsey teams up with Mckinze Gaines to produce real threat down the right wing.
These 5 minutes are the brightest part of the game for Charlotte Fans. Though the score line shows the same as the terrible defeat to Toronto just weeks ago, the thrill of watching your team break out and attack gives a moment of joy.
Then in the dying embers of a long buried game disaster strikes. A long ball over the top sent in by L.A.’s keeper is headed just over the defensive line, and Latif Blessing goes 1v1 with the keeper again. Kahlina makes a fantastic reflex save to deny Blessing, but the charging Anton Walkes is unable to react to the ball and blunders it home into his own net. A disastrous own goal in the 90+2 minute. Insult to injury to insult.
As the final whistle blows the Scoreboard reads 0-5 in favor of L.A. It is a defeat the like of which Charlotte FC have never experienced, and will look to scrub from their minds as soon as possible.
With the terrible news of Guzman Corujo’s ACL injury, as well as the dropped points against Chicago Fire, we are now faced with a painful truth: Charlotte FC likely will not make the playoffs in it’s inaugural season.
It’s not exactly surprising, to be honest. MLS teams don’t generally make the playoffs in their first season. In the past five years, with 8 teams added to the league, only 3 have made the playoffs proper in their first year (Atlanta, LAFC, and Nashville). Expansion teams have growing pains, and Charlotte FC has had more than it’s fair share, between COVID delays, managerial changes, and roster turnover.
That said, if our form on the road had just been half of our form at home, we would be in a much better position to make the playoffs this year. We have won 8 of our 12 matches at home. We knew the Vault was a terrible place for teams to visit, and we have defended our turf well, picking up 24 points here. But we only have 29 points on the season. 12 matches so far away from home, 5 points. A single win and 2 draws.
I know when MAR was here, we played a much more defensive style on the road, looking to beat teams on the counter and snatch points. Under Lattanzio, we have played a style closer to what we play here on our turf, and the results have been marginally better, but not by much. We have to find a way to improve on the road, possibly by throwing caution to the wind and just attacking like crazy. We’re going to have holes in our defense until Corujo is healthy, so for the time being, the best defense may be a good offense.
As The Crown Cast takes flight we want to put forward a mission statement. Football is a sport that shines because of you, the fans. It doesn’t matter if you watch from your couch and cheer, raise a pint high in your local pub, or raise a flag with us in the supporter section. Football is made by its community, so we here at the Crown Cast want to see it thrive. We hope you will come with us on this journey.