A Tale of Two Kamils

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

He did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we have this heatmap:

Kamil Jóźwiak 2022 heatmap, via SofaScore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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