When you’re in doubt, it seems that Charlotte is going to get a draw. Match 8 against Colorado Rapids was at home at the Bank and we managed to fumble the 3 points at the very end.
Coach Larranzio made a couple of changes following the 3-1 loss against Real Salt Lake. Joseph Mora made his second start of the season over Jaylin Lindsey in the back line, as Harrison Afful moved to the right-back. Kerwin Varagas was on his normal left-wing side of the pitch while Karol Świderski was pushed back into the midfield. Lastly, Brand Bronico got the start over Ben Bender in the day’s encounter.
There were no changes in the formation with Coach Larranzio sticking with his normal 4-3-3:
The first half for Charlotte was a very typical first half, as Charlotte owned the possession stats (58% to 42%) and completed more accurate passes (196 to the Rapids’ 116). Charlotte was be able to get more shots (9 to 6) but other than that it was a pretty normal 0-0 half for this club.
The second half was a tad bit different for Charlotte. Charlotte got beat from a statistical standpoint, with the possession going to Rapids (53% to 47%). While Charlotte was able to get more total shots (8 to 7), Rapids would get more shots on goal (6 to 3).
The Rapids finally got their breakthrough through the buildup between Yapi, Rubio, and Nicholson. Nicholson took on his defender and split the defense with a ball in the middle towards Max, who would put it away in the back of the net in the 53rd minute.
Charlotte’s breakthrough in the match would come from Afful. Afful gave the ball up to Świderski, who then laid the ball off at the top of the box for Vargas. Vargas was able to slot one into the bottom right corner to bring the game level at 1-1.
Charlotte’s next goal would come from our Polish duo. Świderski crossed the ball from the edge of the box for fellow Pole Jóźwiak, who leaped over his defender to head it in, putting Charlotte up in the 64th Minute of the match.
Just when you think Charlotte had 3 points secured. in the 91st minute, Colorado’s Michael Barrios had an open net to equalize. George Marks rushed out of his goal in what appeared to be a routine stop, but just failed to hold on to the ball.
The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
I don’t think there’s much to be said this week. We were unlucky to get a result that wasn’t in our favor. For 26 minutes we were able to hold them off and all it took was a goalkeeper error for them to equalize. That’s football for you, though, and all it takes is one opportunity for a team to change the result.
Coach Larranzio needs the team to get into that extra gear and get goals in bunches more often, as they did between the first and second goals. It can show dominance in the match.
Charlotte needs to be able to adjust between being able to play counter-attacking and possession-based football. Possession is great, but it hasn’t gotten us many positive results and there is a need to be able to tweak the philosophy. This includes just sitting there, building off of the counter, and letting the ball work for you.
The defense has improved, or at least it did in this matchup. I would like for them not to ball-watch so often. They should be scanning their zones better and communicating more with each other. The first goal was conceded because there was no communication between the defenders, which left gaps for our players to cover and spaces for the Rapids to exploit. It led to a simple cross and tap in.
There’s an interesting–if unsurprising–debate happening online right now about who should be playing for this club currently. Two trends I see:
Enzo can’t play up top alone.
Sobociński should be getting time over Tuiloma.
Both of these ideas confuse me.
First, this team hasn’t scored goals, yet Enzo has 2. Second, and a strong small sample size warning applies here, he’s played about how he should be expected to play. He was a Rios replacement who was supposed to bring the same aspects to the team that Rios did, but better. Well, I’d argue he’s probably meeting that. Here are some indicators for him when compared to other MLS forwards for 2023:
He’s in the 95th percentile for Average Shot Distance, meaning, he’s getting into excellent positions when he shoots.
He’s in the 70th percentile for Shots on Target % and Goals/Shots. He’s only in the 5th percentile for Shots Total, but I don’t think we can blame him for the dysfunction of our attack.
He’s in the 75th percentile for Progressive Passes Received, meaning, he’s consistently making himself available for forward passes from teammates.
He’s in the 75th percentile for Goals-xG, which means he’s outperforming his xG (which is a good thing considering this team’s struggles on the offensive side of the ball).
Are there areas where I’d like to see him improve? Sure. But Enzo is in the mold of a traditional striker. He’s also one that appears to be better in a more transition-based side, whereas CL wants possession.
Enzo hasn’t been perfect, but the frustration with him seems to come from his supposed “antics” (something I disagree with). This subjective anger at “antics” has bled into and created this idea of a “performance” issue. I really am not seeing that. To me he’s often been isolated up top, yet runs his a** off, holds up the ball decently, and seems to take chances when they infrequently come.
The Sobo over Tuiloma argument is even weirder to me. We have allowed a ton of goals this year and we have had numerous errors from defenders that have led to it (Tuiloma’s own goal and his bad back pass, Malanda’s bad back pass, Byrne’s bad back pass). We’ve allowed 4 goals, though. Those defensive errors are important, but they’re not the main reason that we’re allowing so many goals. It’s a team issue.
There is consistently loads of space between lines for opponents to exploit, both in terms of passing and positioning. Charlotte’s backline often has multiple attackers running at it, seemingly unopposed by anyone in the midfield. Our midfield has been porous and it’s coupled with CL’s usage of fullbacks, which allows space in behind. I believe in Sobo’s talent, but he’s not making a meaningful difference in this squad right now. We’re not talking prime van Dijk here. Frankly, I don’t believe he’s better than Tuiloma right now and I don’t think it’s particularly close.
To my eyes, Sobociński has struggled with the Legacy. How is that going to get better at the MLS-level? Sobo is talked about as if he’s this exceedingly young CB. He’s young at only 24, but at 24 Tuiloma was in his 2nd season with Portland and had made 37 total appearances with 30 starts. He made 57 appearances and 43 starts for Portland over the next 2 seasons. Sobociński has made 9 career MLS appearances with just 3 starts.
Yet, Sobo is talked about as if he must be played due to some great potential talent. I would argue Tuiloma is more talented, plus has MLS experience.
In my opinion, the real reason that people are calling for Tuiloma to be replaced has to do with:
We’ve shipped a ton of goals this season, so the correlation equals causation fallacy comes into play and Tuiloma is taking that blame.
His 2 mistakes led directly to goals.
Regarding those 2 errors, as I honestly think that’s what colors the opinion of most people about Tuiloma. Those errors should not be dismissed, but, again, I implore you to look at his process over the results. He did everything right in terms of reading the game and positioning in both of those goals; he failed at the end with his execution. That is a problem! You need a defender that will reliably make the play in the big moments. Determining whether a player is reliable requires more than 6 games. The fact that he is closing in on 100 career MLS starts is more important to me right now than his 6 just with Charlotte.
The bottom line is we’re close to the point of “play the kids” but we’re not there yet. Inter Miami started last year with 7 points through their first 7 games (a draw, 4 consecutive losses, and then 2 wins). We are behind that pace, but not in an inconceivable way. Are we likely to make the playoffs based on current form and history? No. But it’s not quite time to throw in the towel.
Finally, I’m going to continue saying this until I’m blue in the face: Christian Lattanzio is NOT going to play a 4-4-2 or any other variation that puts 2 at the top. The only way this becomes a realistic possibility is if we actually see him do it, and we’ve never seen it. Please, I’m begging Charlotte fans to stop having this conversation. It’s tiring and pointless.
WhoScored Team Rating (SofaScore Team Rating)
5 (14th in the East)
6 (11th in the West)
Shots per game
Shots on target per game
Goals for (xG)
Goals against (xGA)
On the surface, Colorado seems like a poor offensive team, having only scored 3 goals. However, Colorado’s massive underperformance on goals versus their xG has me worried. I’m not saying they are a juggernaut of an offensive that has had severe bad luck, but a gap between actual goals and xG leads me to believe they’ll revert to the mean shortly.
Charlotte, meanwhile, continues to rack up possession numbers that lead to nothing. We continue to be second in the league behind only LA Galaxy in this category.
Lineup and Roster Breakdown
Colorado is sound defensively. They got hammered in the opening game at Seattle by a score of 4-0, but since then haven’t allowed more than 2 goals in a game. In fact, of their 7 games, they’ve allowed 1 goal or fewer 5 times, including 2 shutouts (one over LAFC, which is an impressive feat).
That defensive stability comes from the fact that they’ve started the same goalkeeper (William Yarbrough) and mostly the same 3 CBs–Lalas Abubakar, Andreas Maxsø, and Danny Wilson–the entire season. Abubakar and Maxsø have started all 7 games, while Wilson has appeared in 6 and started 5, including the last 3.
Wingbacks Keegan Rosenberry and Sam Nicholson have both started 6 games, with Nicholson appearing in all 7. Midfielder Connor Ronan has also started all 7 games.
Over the past 3 games, the front 3 has also been relatively unchanged with Jonathan Lewis and Max starting all 3 of the previous games and Diego Rubio starting 2/3.
Other players like Cole Bassett (5 starts), Darren Yapi (6 apps, 4 starts), Bryan Acosta (4 starts), and Michael Barrios (7 apps, 3 starts) have all seen consistent playing time. In all, this is a team that has a pretty clearly defined starting 11, where the most changes come in the attack. It could explain their underperformance on goals but also helps explain their defensive stoutness.
Like Real Salt Lake who we just saw, Colorado only has 1 Designated Player: Maxsø
According to the MLS Availability Report, the Rapids were missing 2 players last week: defender Moise Bombito (left knee) and midfielder Jack Price (Achilles). Price will be a big miss for Colorado. The veteran, who also serves as Colorado’s captain, tore his Achilles on 3/20/23, so he’ll miss the entire season.
Midfielders Cole Bassett (left hamstring) and Braian Galvan (groin) were listed as questionable and neither made the bench.
Of note, Maxsø was forced off last week due to an injury. It’s unclear what his status for our matchup is. He would be a miss for them.
Diego Rubio (Forward, CAM)
Rubio began the year injured, which led to him missing the first few games. He’s recently come back into the side, appearing in 3 games and starting 2. He has one of Colorado’s 3 goals.
Rubio is coming off a career year last year. He’s in his 5th season with Colorado and had 16 goals (4 PKs) and 5 assists last year in 30 appearances (28 starts). This was double the number of goals he had over the previous 2 seasons (8 goals in 42 appearances over the 2020 and 2021 seasons). His first season with Colorado saw him get 11 goals and 4 assists in 26 appearances.
So who is he? To be honest, I’m not sure. Part of this is: how do you define him positionally? Colorado lists him as a forward and FBref has him as a “FW, MF.” In 2021, his percentiles are only compared to other MLS forwards, but in 2022, you can compare him to forwards, CAMs/wingers, or midfielders.
In terms of goalscoring, if he’s a forward, those 2 years (2020, 2021) are concerning. If he’s a CAM, they’re fine. If he’s a forward, last year was good! If he’s a CAM, last year was amazing! His heatmaps don’t help.
These are definitely not the maps of a forward (and his maps are pretty consistent throughout his years). I’m inclined to view him as a CAM, which makes his goal returns excellent, even in the “down” years.
As a CAM, he’s not a great passer. Compared with the “Men’s Next 8” CAMs, his passing is average. He is decent in long passing (70th percentile for long pass completion %) and he’s trying ambitious passes (77th percentile for passes into the final third, 84th percentile for passes into the penalty area, and 79th percentile for progressive passes). And this leads to him shining with goal and shot creation.
These aren’t the best we’ve ever seen, but they do show a player that will consistently cause issues for defenders.
Darren Yapi (Forward)
I’m not sure we should expect Yapi to start, but he’s an interesting and talented young player. He has made 6 appearances this year with 4 starts but hasn’t started a game since 3/18.
Yapi is only 18 and last year only got into 11 games (1 start). He didn’t have a goal or an assist. This year, he’s only gotten 1 assist. Normally, this wouldn’t read like that interesting of a player, however, I think he is for two reasons. First, I always enjoy young players who break into teams, even if it is limited minutes. Second, in all his appearances last year he had 1.9 90s. So far this year, he’s already at 4.6 90s, meaning, Colorado clearly see him as ready to be part of the first team in a major way.
Further, Colorado has only scored 3 goals all year, so the fact that he hasn’t scored doesn’t mean much to me. What does mean a lot is that he’s the team leader in xG at 1.2 (along with 0.7 xGA).
Positionally, he’s all over the place on the front line, but on the right he’s getting further toward the end line by a lot. Due to his overall lack of playing time, I don’t think the percentile ranks are hugely relevant yet. With that said, he does appear to take on people readily (5.56 take-ons attempted/90) and has success with it (2.32 successful take-ons/90). He’s someone who also appears to carry the ball well (20.38 carries/90, 40.29 progressive carry yards/90, 1.08 carries into the penalty area/90).
Even if he doesn’t start, it seems likely he’ll come off the bench when Charlotte has tired legs. He looks like a real prospect.
Brazilian players do names right. Max. Hulk. Fred (even if it is pronounced as “Fredj”).
Max is a 22-year-old winger in his 2nd season with Colorado. Last year he got into 28 games (9 starts), but didn’t score and only had 1 assist. So far this year, he’s gotten into 6 games (4 starts) and still doesn’t have a goal.
He favors the left side of the pitch and doesn’t really get into the penalty area all that much. Considering the positions that Rubio gets into, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
FBref allows him to be compared to midfielders or CAMs/wingers. Based on his heatmap and his position in the starting lineups, I’m going to consider him a CAM/winger.
The shooting numbers are terrible, as you might expect from someone who has yet to score a goal in MLS. The passing and possession numbers, though, are good.
89th percentile for medium passes completed (87th percentile for medium passes attempted)
94th percentile for long passes completed (82nd percentile for long passes attempted)
92nd percentile for passes into the final third
86th percentile for progressive passes
99th percentile for successful take-on % (though only 25th percentile for take-ons attempted)
96the percentile for times tackled during a take-on
94th percentile for dispossessed
He’s not perfect in these categories, obviously. His short passing is oddly poor and he doesn’t carry the ball much or well. However, he is still young and many of these numbers point to someone who has serious attacking potential.
William Yarbrough (GK)
Yarbrough is now in his 4th season with Colorado and has been their #1 since his arrival. Over his 3+ seasons, he’s made 88 starts. He’s been…fine? As with any goalkeeper, the numbers are dependent on a number of factors, but his numbers have been pretty in consistent.
His best season was in 2021 when Colorado finished 1st in the Western Conference and made the conference semifinals. In 2020, they finished 8th in the West, and in 2022 they finished 10th in the West.
I’m not fully confident in making the argument that his performance is a result of the overall team, however, I do think there’s a real argument to be made that he’s not lifting his team. Bad teams allow more goals, so you would expect a goalkeeper to have worse numbers. However, good goalkeepers also help bad teams and I’m not sure I see evidence of that happening either.
The PSxG+/- numbers point to a player who, even in his best year, is just slightly above average, while in bad years (2022) is very bad. His number so far this year is excellent, but he doesn’t have a history of keeping it up. Maybe you could argue that he’s still prime-ish age for a goalkeeper (34), so maybe he’s going to have a career year? I tend to trust history more. I imagine that his PSxG+/- will come down a bit.
Overall, Yarbrough looks like an average keeper to me. In general, if the team is good, he’ll probably play well enough for you to win. If the team is bad, he’ll not do much to help you.
We’re in “must-win” territory now. A home game against a struggling team should be cause for optimism. Like most of you, I don’t feel very optimistic right now.
Colorado has some good players, but there’s not one that jumps out as a “danger man.” Players like Rubio, Yapi, and Max can cause problems to be sure, as can players like Ronan and Abubaker (both of whom I didn’t highlight, but are good players in their own right). If this were late 2022 Charlotte, I’d be exceedingly confident of a win. Right now, I’m wondering if we’ll be able to score.
The biggest question for me is what to do with our midfield. In an ideal world, I’d like to try a Karol-Westy-DJ/Bronico midfield. Swiderski and Bender lacked defensive stability against RSL and I just don’t think you can play both of them in the midfield.
This is what I’m hoping to see on Saturday.
Now, this lineup is based on what I think our availability will look like and, more importantly, what I think is reasonable to expect from Lattanzio. If Westwood is fit, I’d put him in for Bronico. Regardless, I think that this lineup gets the majority of our talent into the side (with Nuno being the glaring exception), while also providing us with the best chance at scoring.
In possession, I’d like to see us set up our midfield/backline with one of these two options:
Have DJ drop between the CBs to give us 3 at the back, if we’re going to push Afful and Lindsey into the middle.
Shift Tuiloma, Malanda, and Lindsey left into a back 3 with Afful and Jones forming a double pivot in the midfield.
My preference is option 2 as I’m not convinced Jaylin has the passing ability I want in the center of the pitch. Don’t get me wrong, he can make some fine passes, but they’re usually not build-up passes.
Vargas and Jóźwiak need to continue to provide width, but I am worried about Vargas’ positioning last game. It was something I noted in-game.
It’s further emphasized by his heatmap from that game:
Kerwin Vargas has no business being that far away from the opposing goal. It’s a waste of his talents. Compare the above map to his previous 3 games (ORL, RBNY, TFC):
Ideally, I want Vargas’ maps to look like the Orlando and Toronto games all the time.
Let’s hope some issues have been ironed out this week, though I’m not confident. This is one of the few times I’m predicting a home loss and probably the only time to a team I don’t consider elite.
Editor’s note: Previews will be a bit different moving forward. Gone is a complete overview of the opposing team, including every player, in favor of spotlighting 3-4 key players. Most, aside from Johs, probably weren’t interested in that much information. For those who enjoyed the old previews, apologies! For those who never read them or had little interest in them, hopefully this new format will be more interesting!
In a vacuum, the draw against Toronto is a really good result. In the real world, the draw against Toronto is still a really good result. So, why do I feel disappointed by it?
I think it’s the manner in which we conceded the goals, especially the first one. Normally, announcers annoy me, but I thought the broadcast team made the correct point that, with the wind the way it was, not having a player on the back post was malfeasance. Perhaps that ball still goes in, but I’d much rather have known we had set up to defend it properly. We were the beneficiaries of an Olympico last year, so there’s no real right to complain, but Jordy didn’t have the benefit of the wind.
Seeing Jóźwiak finally get a goal was wonderful. I’m sure it must feel like a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders. I hope this is the start of a wave of goal involvement from him.
Kamil has never been as bad as his detractors have said, as he’s consistently added running and defense, along with a little trickiness, to the team. However, he’s also not quite as good as many of his most ardent supporters claim either. At the end of the day, Jóźwiak is a winger. While tracking back on defense and making tackles is all well and good, his primary responsibility is to contribute goals. It’s something he hasn’t done reliably for a few years now. Let’s hope the latter half of last season and this goal are a sign of a newfound goal-contribution reliability.
I also thought he looked pretty good on the right. I’m a longstanding proponent of LW-Jóźwiak-only, but having him on the right does 1) help fill one of the problem positions and 2) allows Vargas to be on the left where he can cut in onto a right-footed shot. If he can continue putting in performances like he did against Toronto from that side, the front 3 is set.
Well, that’s if Copetti doesn’t continue to pick up yellow cards at an alarming rate. He’s currently on 4 yellows; one more will get him a suspension. Part of this accumulation is on Enzo, but I do think he’s picked up at least a couple for…well…I’m not sure why. The RBNY game is a prime example of how I think he’s been officiated a bit differently so far. He gets a yellow for a shoulder charge, but an RBNY player does it in the same spot on the pitch later and only gets a foul.
Enzo right now reminds me of how Granit Xhaka was and can be officiated in the Premier League. Xhaka is another player who skews towards the “hot-headed” end of the spectrum. As a result, Xhaka has often picked up yellows and reds for challenges that others get away with entirely or get away with for far less. Again, some of this is on a player like Xhaka or Enzo; some of it, though, is a reputation that is gained. Players should not be officiated on reputation, though. They should be officiated on what they do. It’s especially alarming that a guy can get a reputation in just a handful of games.
WhoScored Team Rating (SofaScore Team Rating)
5 (14th in the East)
Real Salt Lake
3 (11th in the West)
Shots per game
Shots on target per game
Goals for (xG)
Goals against (xGA)
Real Salt Lake
This should be fun. The moveable object meets the stoppable force! I’ll let you decide who is who.
Neither of these teams is particularly good at getting goals. Charlotte is near the bottom of the league in shots per game and shots on target, though we’re second in the league in terms of possession While Real is middle of the road when it comes to getting shots off, their xG is bottom of the entire league. RSL beat Vancouver Matchday 1, but scored both of their goals within 3 minutes of each other in the 2nd half. They have yet to have a player with the designation of “Forward” on FBref score a goal for them. Their leading goalscorer is a defender with 2.
It’s too early to say that our goals allowed are a function of bad luck, but it should be noted that there is a huge discrepancy already between what would be expected and what we’ve actually given up. Note that while Charlotte and RSL have given up a similar number of goals–11 and 13, respectively–the xGA difference is massive (7.8 xGA for Charlotte; 11.1 xGA for RSL). RSL’s xGA is 2nd worse in the league (0.02 behind Montreal). In the East, teams like Inter Miami and New England both have slightly worse xGA–8.4 and 8.2, respectively–but have allowed far fewer actual goals than Charlotte (7 GA for Inter; 6 GA for NE). The Olympico this past weekend certainly plays a part in this discrepancy, but I’m hoping that our defensive record will improve and return to a number closer to the xGA.
For what it’s worth, last year we ended with an xGA of 44.1 but allowed 52 actual goals. Bad to below-average defensive teams will “outperform” their xGA, but I’m not ready to say we’re a bad defensive team just yet. It’s true we haven’t been good, but there have been a lot of moving pieces and reasons for this.
RSL has been playing a 4-2-3-1 until last week. Now, as always, the formation that is listed on MLS’s site could be correct or not. For instance, they had Charlotte in a 4-5-1 last weekend, while Charlotte’s official Twitter had us in a 4-3-3. Go figure. Perhaps it’s incorrect, or perhaps they did switch it up for this past game. If they did switch it up, it didn’t work as they endured a 2nd straight 4-0 loss.
Regardless of the formation, what should be noted about this team is the utter randomness of their personnel. That’s (probably) hyperbole, but if Charlotte fans are complaining about how much CL chops and changes, I can’t imagine how Salt Lake fans feel.
Aside from their center-back Justen Glad and fullback Andrew Brody, I see no other player that has appeared in each of the past 3 games. Indeed, those are the only two players who have started in each of RSL’s games so far this year. There are only a few other players–midfielder Damir Kreilach and forwards Anderson Julio, Carlos Gómez, and Justin Meram–who have appeared in all 5 games.
I won’t hazard a guess as to who we’ll see.
As of last week’s MLS Availability Report, RSL has quite a few issues (which also likely helps explain the myriad of personnel changes discussed above). Forwards Jefferson Savarino and Daniel Musovski were both listed as “Probable” last week with a calf and ankle issue, respectively. However, neither even made the bench. Defender Marcelo Silva was listed as questionable with a hamstring injury and also didn’t make the bench.
Meanwhile, defenders Bryan Ovideo (calf), Zackery Farnsworth (thigh), and Erik Holt (Achilles) were all listed as “Out.” Midfielder Bode Hidalgo and forward Axel Kei (ankle) were listed as “Out.”
Most of these absences aren’t noteworthy, as most of these players are young and haven’t featured yet or often for RSL. Ovideo is a bit of an exception, as he made 3 starts.
The other potential exception is Kei who is FIFTEEN. He signed a professional contract with RSL as a 14-year-old, breaking Freddy Adu’s record. He made his debut in the USL at the age of 13 (and 8 months)! He’s already listed at 6’1″ and 161 lbs, so physically, he has a body capable of competing at this level. I can’t imagine he gets a ton of playing time at the MLS level this year, but who knows? If he’s good enough to get a contract, he might be good enough to break through. He’s more of an interesting name to know for the future rather than for this game.
Jefferson Savarino (LW, RW, CAM)
Savarino is RSL’s only Designated Player. While he has been listed on the injury report and didn’t feature last week, his “Probable” designation leads me to believe he might be back for our game. This tweet seems to confirm that (though I can’t speak to the veracity of the account).
Savarino is a 26-year-old Venezuelan who rejoined RSL last year from Atlético Mineiro in the Brazilian Série A. He began his career with Zulia in the Venezuelan league, before joining RSL in 2017 as a 20-year-old. He spent 3 seasons with RSL before moving to Mineiro in 2020.
In his first stint with RSL, he made 82 appearances and 78 starts, scoring 21 goals and getting 19 assists. With Mineiro, he made 53 appearances and 40 starts, scoring 14 goals and getting 8 assists. Since his return to Salt Lake, he has made 23 appearances and 20 starts, including 19 appearances last year and 4 this year.
He’s a flat-out productive player. Last year in his 19 appearances (17 starts) he got 7 goals and 4 assists. He has an assist this year already. Further, he’s consistent in his production. From 2018-2020, he made 27-32 starts and scored 7 or 8 goals with 5-9 assists each year. In 2017 he made 19 starts for RSL and in 2021 he made 11 starts for Mineiro. He scored 6 goals in 2017 and 5 in 2021, with 5 assists in 2017 and 2 assists in 2021. Basically, if he starts anywhere near 20 games, he’s going to give you double-digit goal contributions. If he’s starting closer to 30 games, he’ll probably mean in the 13-15 goal/assist range.
On top of that, he’ll play anywhere across the front line (though not as a striker).
What’s interesting is that Mineiro used him exclusively as a right-sided player. Prior to his departure to Mineiro, RSL used him in the same way. Since his return, though, they’ve been a lot less strict with this. Last year, he’s all over the pitch, while in his brief time this year, he’s been primarily deployed from the left. He clearly has the versatility to play either side or centrally.
With his goal-scoring record, I expected him to be a bit higher in these shooting percentiles. What does jump out, though, is his ability from free kicks, as he’s taking a high number as well as creating an insanely high amount of GCAs and SCAs from dead-ball situations.
Yep, the passing is very good. Ignore the percentage (71.6% and 64th percentile), as the quality is what jumps out. He’s not settling with the ball, but rather making progressive, dangerous passes. The same can be said with his dribbling and carrying ability. Let’s hope he needs another week to recover.
Damir Kreilach (CAM)
The 33-year-old Croat is in his 6th season with RSL, having joined from Union Berlin in 2018. With RSL, Kreilach has made 129 appearances (122 starts), scoring 44 goals and getting 18 assists. His best year, by far, was in 2021 when he made 32 starts, scored 16 goals (0 PKs!), and got 8 assists.
Last year was a lost year for Kreilach due to injury. He made only 5 appearances (3 starts) and scored once. He was injured in April and missed the rest of the season. He’s returned this year to feature in all 5 games and make 4 starts, along with scoring once and getting an assist.
While the 16 goals in 2021 were impressive, it’s a bit out of the ordinary for him. He has 2 other years of double-digit goal scoring: 2018 when he had 12 in his first year with RSL and 2015-16 when he had 12 with Union Berlin. With that said, he still found the back of the net 6 times in 2019 and 8 times in 2020, along with 5 assists across the two seasons. Further, Kreilach isn’t a striker; rather, RSL plays him more as an attacking midfielder.
At 33 and coming off an injury, who knows what kind of year he’ll have? Based on his history, as long as he’s returned to health I imagine that he’ll be somewhere in the 5-8 goal range with 3-5 assists. With RSL’s struggles, his numbers may be depressed due to a lack of quality around him.
The big danger* with Kreilach is that, while he doesn’t shoot often (47th percentile for shots total at just 2.08 per 90) when he does he’s extremely accurate (99th percentile for shots on target percentage at 58.3%). A corollary to this precision is the fact that when he shoots, he’s doing so from incredibly dangerous positions. His average shot distance is just 13.30 yards away from the goal, which is good for the 96th percentile. Our defenders and midfielders–especially DJ–are going to have to keep an eye on where he is at all times, but especially so when RSL find themselves in our third and around our box.
*Note: due to his injury absence last year, some of his percentiles are probably skewed. He’s being compared with wingers/CAMs from the Next 8 leagues over the past 365 days. Normally I’d be cautious about including these numbers due to his long injury absence, but when looking at his 2021 season, most are similar. For example, he’s in the 95th percentile for shots on target percentage at 52.7% and he’s in the 76th percentile for average shot distance at 15.70 yards out. I’m confident that while the numbers that look at the past year are a bit skewed for him, they still give a good representation of who he is as a player and where and how he presents danger.
Andrew Brody (FB)
While Brody and Glad are the only two players to have started all 5 games, I find Brody to be the more interesting of the two. Specifically, he’s a fullback that has played extensively as both a left-back and right-back. On the year, he’s made 3 starts at RB and 2 at LB.
Last year, in 34 appearances (33 starts), he was mostly deployed as a LB (21 times) but has a significant amount of time on the right side too (6 times as a RB, 5 times as a RM/RW). He has some designations as a WB (4 times) too, but I’m too lazy to look through each to see what side he was on. The point is, this is a guy who is comfortable on either side and RSL is clearly comfortable with that too.
Last year was his best season from a goal-contribution standpoint in MLS as he scored twice and got 4 assists. Now, he is a bit of a late bloomer. Brody didn’t make his MLS debut until he was 25 in 2021. Prior to that, he spent 6 seasons with the Real Monarchs. He made 101 appearances (88 starts) for the Monarchs, scoring 7 times and getting 8 assists. And that record is important, I think.
In the lower division, he was consistently getting a couple of goals a year and anywhere from 2-4 assists. Last year may have been a career year in a sense, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get 1-2 goals and 2-3 assists again this year based on that history.
That’s an overlapping fullback if I’ve ever seen one. Last year’s map is probably influenced by his time as a more attacking wide player (either as a wingback or right-sided midfielder), but he’s clearly a player who likes the touchline.
So, he’s not in the team for defense. I’d describe him as an above-average offensive fullback. His progressive passing (98th percentile) and passes into the final third (90th percentile) do jump out, as does his carrying ability (97th percentile for progressive carries, 90th percentile for carries into the final third, 86th percentile for carries into the penalty area).
This is meaningful carrying of the ball, too, as he’s only in the 63rd percentile for carries, but in the 93rd percentile for total carrying distance and, more importantly, the 94th percentile for progressive carrying distance. If he improves his overall passing a bit and improves his defense to even below average (rather than just plain bad), he’ll be one of the better fullbacks in the league.
Whichever side he’s on, our wingers need to attack him and the space he’ll leave. My hope is that he’s playing RB again so that Vargas can get in behind him.
Zac MacMath (GK)/Gavin Beavers (GK)
MacMath was RSL’s undisputed #1 last year, as he started all 34 matches. He wasn’t bad either, considering RSL’s overall league position. He allowed 45 goals, had a 73.5% save percentage, and a 1.32 GA90. The PSxG+/- number wasn’t great at -1.9, but that was almost 50% better than Kahlina’s (-3.6).
With all this said, he was benched last week. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising.
MacMath is 31 and last year was his first time as an undisputed #1 since 2014 when he was 22 and with Philadelphia. In fact, with Philadelphia, he made his first starts as a 19-year-old and spent 4 total seasons with the club. He made 102 starts for Philly, but only had a 67.5% save percentage with them, allowing 1.37 goals per 90.
He moved to Colorado for 4 seasons but only got double-digit starts once (17 in 2016). With Colorado, his save percentage (75.0%) and goals allowed per 90 (1.14) were much better, but he also played significantly less. A year stop in Vancouver saw him make just 8 starts. In his first 2 seasons with RSL, he would only make 13 starts.
Basically, until last year, MacMath’s career had been that of a backup. This year in his 4 starts, he allowed 9 goals and had just a 66.67% save percentage. As with any keeper, these stats will be, in part, determined by the defense in front of him. However, with the way the season has started for Real, it’s unsurprising that they would try something different.
In stepped Gavin Beavers. Beavers became the third youngest starting keeper in MLS history at just 17 years old. He allowed 4 goals. The young man must be hoping for better things ahead.
It’ll be curious to see who gets the nod this match. It seems that if you’re willing to start a 17-year-old keeper on the road, you’d be willing to do it at home. Perhaps it was just a wake-up call to MacMath. It does seem too early to throw in the towel on the season (which starting a 17-year-old in goal would seemingly imply).
In the end, Charlotte will be facing either a journeyman keeper or a baby in goal. Charlotte doesn’t often show the ability to test keepers early and often, but this is a game to do it in.
Real Salt Lake is more of a mess than Charlotte right now. Injuries are certainly a part of this club’s struggles in the early season, but so is the talent level. In key positions, they are young or lacking talent. I can’t lie, though, I’d love to see them start a 17-year-old in goal and a 15-year-old up top. It won’t happen against us, but maybe this year? Fingers crossed.
Road games are not Charlotte’s forte, but if there was ever a time to get a road win, it’s this game. In fact, this is as close to a must-win game as you can have with a Western Conference team in April. A draw would be fine (it is important to remember that playoff teams don’t so much win on the road as a draw), but a win would really make our position in the standings feel better.
It looks like Ashley Westwood is set to miss another game. Honestly, I’d really like Lattanzio to run out the exact same lineup he did against Toronto, with the exception of adding Świderski back in for Nuno or Bender. Ben had a great game, so I think it would be unlucky for him to not play.
With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brand and Karol back in the lineup in place of Bender and Nuno. I’m not sure that’s fair to either Bender or Nuno, but I’ve been very wrong this entire year about CL’s selections. Maybe I’ll probably be wrong again.
Nuno missed some chances last game, but I’m not convinced he had a bad game. He still had to get into those positions to make those changes. Plus, we can’t clamor for him to start and then reverse that after one start. He needs consistent minutes.
Up front, the trio of Vargas-Copetti-Jóźwiak should start again; I can’t see a reason for them not to. It’s a similar situation in goal and with the backline. Our best 4 defenders right now are Afful-Tuiloma-Malanda-Lindsey. It should continue.
In Match Day 6 away against Toronto FC, we managed to rescue a point after being 2-0 down. We’ve created a bit of momentum with the somewhat positive results of the last three games, including two draws and a win.
Coach Lattanzio made three changes following the draw at home against New York Red Bulls, including McKinze Gaines being benched and Kamil Jóźwiak making the Starting XI on the right wing. At the same time, Kerwin Vargas took over on the left side of the attacking front three. He was joined by Enzo Copetti up top.
In midfield, Ben Bender made a start over the suspended Brandt Bronico. MLS reviewed a tackle Bronico made on Omir Fernandez (RBNY), which led to Bronico facing a game suspension and an undisclosed fine. Jones, Bender, and Nuno Santos would hold down the midfield.
In defense, only one change was made, with Bill Tuiloma making a return from injury over Nathan Byrne. Coach Lattanzio would stay with the 4-3-3 format that got him the draw last week against New York Red Bulls.
The first half was a mess on corners and a cold night in Toronto is not the place to coincide corners. In the 5th min, we conceded an Olympico goal. Four minutes later, we set up an opportunity at Toronto’s goal, with Nuno Santos getting a great chance at goal. Charlotte would have a couple more chances in the forms of an 11th minute cross from Vargas onto the head of Nuno Santos and a free kick from Santos into the inside box (with the header going wide from Enzo Copetti).
The second goal from Toronto came from a 44th minute goal from a corner kick, when Michael Bradley got his head onto it and sent it into the back of the net.
The first half would belong to Toronto FC. They got more shots on target (5) compared to Charlotte (2), as well as having 8 corners in the first half. Of course, 2 of these corners led to goals.
The second half was the changing point for Charlotte FC.
Five minutes into the first half, with buildup on the right side between Jóźwiak and Lindsey, Jóźwiak crossed it into Bender. Bender calmly slotted it away.
The second goal would be in the 70th minute. Vargas received the ball on the edge of the area and sent in a cross for Jóźwiak, who would put one past the keeper.
The second half would ultimately belong to Charlotte. As this season has shown, the second half is where Charlotte seems to change the match’s tempo in their favor. The second half stats show that Charlotte held most of the possession (56%) and had more shots (7 vs Toronto’s 3). Charlotte also had more corners (7 to 2).
The Match ended in a 2-2 draw.
While Nuno had a shot at goal in the ninth minute to equalize, I would’ve preferred him to look to his left side towards Vargas. Vargas had a better opportunity at goal compared with Nuno shooting it from outside the box. This would have taken back the early momentum and given Charlotte a better chance at a full 3 points.
Why do we need to be 2-0 down for there to be any urgency toward getting goals? This is the second straight week we’ve gotten a draw from a winnable opponent. Red Bull and Toronto were, and still are, beatable teams if we could just stop conceding these’s goals early on. It seems it is either the defense being bad in the first half or forwards not playing with a level of urgency. When looking at the last 3 games, it appears we’re better at working under the pressure of defeat.
MotM: This week’s Man of the Match is Kamil Jóźwiak. He had a goal and an assist in his 71 minutes of action.
It’s a big April ahead. I alluded to this yesterday in my post about our passing networks, but April provides a chance for Charlotte to earn a lot of points and erase the bad start to this season. A full 15 points from the 5 games is unrealistic, but something between 8-11 points would be really helpful to the cause.
With Karol having a pretty successful international break, I’m hoping that he comes back ready to go on a scoring run. That goal epitomized the player: good positioning and bad first touch, but ultimately a good finish.
Westwood’s injury is still something that continues to cloud our midfield selection. Now, Bronico will be serving a one game suspension for this challenge in the game against RBNY last weekend.
We can’t really have too many complaints as fans. In reality, we’re lucky we’ll only miss him for 1 game, as this easily could’ve been a red over the weekend plus a 3 match ban.
While I’m a huge fan of Brandt, I would like to see a midfield of Derrick Jones, Karol, and Westy. It’s something we haven’t seen yet. This would’ve been the perfect weekend to do so, but considering that I still haven’t seen word on his status, it seems unlikely to happen.
Unlike Charlotte, Toronto has been pretty consistent in its lineup and personnel. They’ve run a 4-2-3-1 over the past 3 games, and most of their personnel have remained the same. They are missing Lorenzo Insigne, who is one of the more talent players to ever come to MLS, but retain the services of his compatriot, Fernando Bernardeschi. Their backline and midfield has remained largely unchanged game to game. The biggest changes have been the result of injury and international duty.
Last week Toronto dealt with a myriad of injuries and unavailability due to the international break. According to the MLS Availability Report, the following players were unavailable for them:
Cristian Gutierrez (OUT, illness)
Adama Diomande (OUT, lower body)
Lorenzo Insigne (OUT, lower body)
Ayo Akinola (OUT, international duty)
Mark-Anthony Kaye (OUT, international duty)
Richie Laryea (OUT, international duty)
Jonathan Osorio (OUT, international duty)
Tomas Romero (OUT, international duty)
Some of these players have not featured at all or haven’t featured extensively for Toronto on the year (e.g., Romero, Akinola), but others were huge misses (e.g., Kaye, Osorio, Laryea). Lucky for Charlotte, those players should be back for our game!
Where Charlotte does have luck is in the absence of Lorenzo Insigne. He’s only played 33 minutes on the year and reinjured himself on March 14. As a result, he’s set to miss our game. Toronto still has plenty of attacking talent, but Insigne is a true game-changer. Having to play Toronto without him is a blessing.
Without Insigne, Toronto’s attack will be centered on Bernardeschi. The Italian had a much better debut than I was expecting. He always had talent, but after an 11-goal (3 PKs), 4-assist season in 2016-17 with Fiorentina which got him a move to Juventus, his production stagnated. Over 5 seasons and 134 appearances for Juve, he only managed 8 goals and 12 assists, with his high being in his first season (4 goals and 3 assists).
Of course, MLS is not Serie A and his talent has shown here. Over 13 starts last year, Bernardeschi scored 8 goals and got 2 assists. Here’s the big asterisk though: of those 8 goals, FIVE were PKs. First off, did Charlotte even have 5 PKs awarded all of last year? Second, that kind of production from the spot is usually not a good indicator of future goalscoring output. He does already have another PK scored this year, so maybe it is. The larger point is that from open play, Bernardeschi continues to struggle to find the back of the net consistently (I say this as if any of our wingers last year had 3 goals…). So far in his 5 starts this year, he has 2 goals (1 PK) and 1 assist.
He favors the right side, but as we see from their formations, he can play as a 10. He’s a creative player as his 4.21 shot-creating actions/90, 7.40 take-on attempts/90, and 2.60 successful take-ons/90 show.
For reference, Vargas currently leads Charlotte in SCAs/90 at 5.38 (I’m not including Bender who is at 6.43 because he only has 0.2 90s played), but also only has 2.8 90s versus Bernardeschi’s 5.0. As far as take-ons go, again our leader is a player who has too little time for me to include (Mello at 10.0/90 on only 0.3 90s). Of the players who have played at least 2 games, Karol leads the team at 3.85 take-ons attempted/90. Our leader for successful take-ons (with 2 90s set as the minimum) is Vargas at 2.50/90. Side note: Vargas has been hugely efficient with his take-ons, sporting a 70% success rate.
While Bernardeschi might be the big name, Jonathan Osorio is one of my favorite MLS players. He was a free agent this winter and I held out a ridiculous hope that Charlotte might tempt him away from Canada. In reality, it looks like he was looking for opportunities in Europe, none of which he fancied. Therefore, he returned to Toronto where he’s spent his entire career.
Osorio has made 263 career appearances for Toronto, including 211 starts. He has 43 goals and 33 assists in his career. His best year from a goal production standpoint was 2018 when he had 10 goals and 6 assists. Last year wasn’t too far behind that, though, as he got 9 goals and 4 assists. With the attention players like Insigne (when healthy) and Bernardeschi demand, it really opens things up for him.
For me, 5 games are still too few to take percentiles seriously. Therefore, these are Osorio’s from last year. He was good.
That’s a lot of green! Now, there are some caveats to this.
First, and most obvious, these percentiles compare him to midfielders, not attackers. I would love to see his numbers versus CAMs/wingers.
Secondly, many might consider him a midfielder, not an attacker. Looking at the way he has been deployed by Toronto this year–as a left-sided wide midfielder–is why I have decided to include him here. Further his goal return from last year is more in line with an attacker than a standard CM. As a result, if we were to compare him to more attack-minded midfielders, these numbers might not look as good, but the more important point is they give a clear view of how good a passer, carrier, and shooter he is.
Up top, Deandre Kerr has been their striker for the past 3 games. The 20-year-old has 1 goal so far. Last year he got into 26 games (11 starts) as a 19-year-0ld, scoring 3 times.
Kerr’s positioning seems to have changed from last year. His heatmap (below) shows a right-sided wide player. Indeed, his percentiles are comparing him to midfielders (which is actually rather annoying since it appears he should be compared to wingers/CAMs).
Kerr’s passing is not great. He was at 74.9% last year and is down to 62.1% this year. He’s only attempting 13.2 passes per 90 and only completing 8.18 passes/90, both down from last year. This decrease in the amount of his passing isn’t necessarily surprising due to his change in position.
Adama Diomande was the striker for the first two games. He’s new to Toronto, joining from the amazingly named club, Odd, in the Norwegian Eliteserien. While he’s new to Toronto, Diomande isn’t new to MLS. He spent 3 years (2018-2020) with LAFC, where he made 44 appearances (29 starts), and scored 20 goals with 9 assists. He only made 1 appearance for LAFC in 2020 before moving to the Chinese Super League in 2021. He only made 4 appearances there and moved to Odd in 2022, where he only made 2 appearances. Suffice it to say, the 33-year-old has not been playing much football over the past few years.
Diomande’s best scoring output came all the way back in 2015, when he was 24 and playing for Stabæk in the Norwegian Tippeligaen. He scored 17 goals (2 PKs) in 21 starts that year. He had 12 goals and 4 assists in his first year with LAFC, but aside from those 2 seasons, he’s never had double-digit goal years. While he did miss time due to international duty, it seems to me that he’s a depth piece, and the move to Kerr as striker is where Toronto will be heading this year.
Another older attacker to join Toronto this year is Victor Vázquez (though he rejoins this club, having spent 2 years there previously). Vázquez spent the last 2 years with LA Galaxy, making 54 appearances (36 starts), scoring 5 times, and getting 8 assists. At 36, he’s at the end of his career. He began his career with Barcelona and even made 1 appearance for the club as a 20-year-old back in 2007-2008. He spent most of his career with Club Brugge in the Belgian Pro League, before joining Cruz Azul in Liga MX in 2015-16.
He originally joined Toronto in 2017 as a 30-year-old and spent 2 very productive years there. In 2017 and 2018, he made 52 appearances and 47 starts, scoring 16 times (5 PKs) and getting 14 assists. This includes his first year when he had 10 assists.
Vázquez will pop up all over the pitch but does tend to favor the left side. Historically, he seems to play in similar areas to Osorio, which makes sense when you see that he was the one who took Osorio’s place last match.
Kosi Thompson, Ayo Akinola, and Hugo-Hilaire Mbongue Mbongue make up a triplet of attackers who have featured for Toronto this year but have not started.
Thompson has made 2 appearances for a total of 19 minutes. He did play in 24 games last year, getting 1 goal and 1 assist, as a 19-year-old. He has yet to record a goal or assist this year.
Akinola has made 3 appearances this year, failing to get a goal or assist. He made 26 appearances for Toronto last year, scoring twice. For his career, he has made 67 appearances for Toronto over 6 seasons (he debuted as an 18-year-old for them), scoring 15 goals. He had 9 goals in 15 appearances in 2020 but has never replicated that production again.
Mbongue Mbongue is yet another young attacker at 18. He made 1 appearance for Toronto last year but has already made 3 this year. It’s only been a total of 58 minutes, but Toronto clearly sees potential in him.
Alonso Coello is yet another young attacker (this time a CAM) for Toronto. He’s not even listed on their official roster; only on TFC II’s roster. With that said, he did make his MLS debut last week as their 10. With TFC II last year, he made 24 starts, had 1 goal, and 1 assist. I know little else about him.
The final piece to the attack is Brandon Servania. The just-turned-24-year-old is in his first season with Toronto, having spent the majority of his career with FC Dallas. He had a short loan spell at St. Pölten in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2020-21. He made 10 appearances (7 starts) for the Austrian club but failed to record a goal or assist.
With Dallas, Servania debuted at 19 and would go on to make 67 appearances (43 starts) for the club. He scored 2 goals and had an assist his first year, then went 2 full seasons without getting on the scoresheet. Last year he made 23 appearances (15 starts), scoring twice and getting 3 assists. He’s made 5 appearances with 4 starts so far this year.
Servania’s position is a bit nebulous. He’s started as part of Toronto’s double pivot, as a 10, and as a wide right-sided midfielder over the past 3 games. With Dallas last year, it was a bit more defined.
To me, it seems like Servania is primarily a right-sided midfielder, but obviously, he has some positional flexibility which is never a bad thing.
The midfield is comprised of that double pivot for TFC and it’s really just two players: Michael Bradley and Mark-Anthony Kaye. Kaye came over midyear from Colorado to help reinforce their midfield, while Bradley enters his 10th season in Toronto. At 35, you have to think the end is near for Bradley, but he keeps churning away. Last year he made 34 starts, scored 3 goals, and got 3 assists.
Kaye, meanwhile, has bounced around a bit over the past couple of years. He spent 4 seasons with LAFC, making 77 appearances, before moving to Colorado in the middle of 2021. He would only spend a year there (parts of 2 seasons), before joining Toronto. Wherever he’s gone in MLS, he’s been a starter. He made 71 starts (77 appearances) for LAFC, 29 for Colorado (32 appearances), and has made 11 already for Toronto (12 appearances).
He’s off to a tremendous goalscoring pace to begin this year, having scored twice already. His previous career high in MLS was 4 goals (and 8 assists!) back in 2019 for LAFC. Perhaps this pace is sustainable, but more than likely it’s not. He consistently chips in goals, but he’s not a scoring threat, per se.
Bradley is a stereotypical CDM now, while Kaye plays a similar role, though he stays on the left much more than Bradley. Bradley is still a pretty good passer, while Kaye is more of a recycler of the ball. In this team, their primary responsibility is obviously to get the ball and keep it so that players like Osorio, Bernardeschi, and Insigne can do damage.
Elsewhere on the roster, there are midfielders Markus Cimermancic, Themi Antonoglou, and Jordan Perruzza. None have made an appearance so far this year.
With the international break over, chances are we are going to see Bradley and Kaye as the midfield partnership (although they could go with someone other than Kaye if he needs some rest).
If there was one major issue for Toronto last year, it was defense and goalkeeping. Toronto scored 49 goals last year, good for 6th in the East. The problem was they allowed 66 goals, 2nd worst in the East. While not a defender, Kaye was one part of trying to fix that issue. The other was going out and getting almost an entirely new backline (and goalkeeper).
At center back, Toronto brought in MLS veteran Matt Hedges, who had spent his entire 11-year career in Dallas, making over 300 appearances and starts for that club. They also brought in Sigurd Rosted from the Danish Superliga to pair with Hedges. He joined from Brøndby, where he made 84 appearances (69 starts) over 4 seasons. Finally, they brought in left-back Raoul Petretta from Kasimpasa in the Turkish Super Lig. Petretta only spent 1 season in Turkey, making 9 appearances. He spent the previous 6 seasons with Basel in the Swiss Super League, making 109 appearances (99 starts) for that club. These 3 players are aged 32 (Hedges), 28 (Rosted), and 26 (Petretta) and bring a ton of high-level experience to this club and backline.
Hedges is a good reader of the game, as he was in the 76th percentile for blocks, 89th percentile for shots blocked, and 91st percentile for clearances last year. Rosted’s percentiles are versus the “Next 8 Competitions” (i.e., MLS, Brazilian Série A, Dutch Eredivisie, English Championship, Mexican Liga MX, Portugues Primeira Liga, Copa Libertadores, and UEFA Europa Conference League) and, defensively, they are good. He’s in the 89th percentile for tackles, 95th percentile for dribblers tackled, 96th percentile for passes blocks, and 91st percentile for interceptions. The upgrade at this position (CB) has been swift and real.
The only holdover from last year in this backline is Richie Laryea. Laryea has been with Toronto since 2019, making 81 total appearances for the club. He did spend part of 2021-22 on loan at Nottingham Forest (then in the English Championship) but only made 5 appearances and 1 start for Forest. He made 10 starts last year for Toronto, getting 3 assists.
Layrea is a good passer. He’s in the 99th percentile for pass completion % (overall), as well as the 99th percentile for pass completion percentage at short, medium, and long-distance passing. N0w, it should be noted that he was only in the 20th percentile for medium passes attempted and only the 5th percentile for long passes attempted, so it’s not something that he does a ton. He’s in the 79th percentile for progressive passes, as well as the 88th percentile for key passes.
That heatmap shows a more traditional fullback than what Charlotte employs. With Bernardeschi liking to cut in off that right-wing, it makes sense to have Layrea fill that space wide.
Elsewhere in defense, you’ll find Jahkeel Marshall-Ruty. He’s listed as a forward on Toronto’s roster, but FBref has him playing as a right-back in his only appearance this year. He got into 17 games last year (5 starts) and is only 18.
Kobe Franklin is another young defender at 19. He’s appeared in 2 games this year. He only had 1 appearance last year for 14 minutes.
Finally, there is a trio of players who appeared in a number of games last year for Toronto but have yet to do so this year. Shane O’Neill is a center-back who got 21 starts and 26 total appearances last year. Lukas MacNaughton appeared in 25 games last year (20 starts). Jordan Perruzza appeared in 13 games last year (just 1 start). None have gotten off the bench this year.
Goalie play was a distinct problem area for Toronto last year. Like the defense, they have basically scrapped their options from last year and started over. Gone are Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg to DC United and Atlanta United, respectively. Bono made 24 starts for them in 2021 and 2022, while Westberg made 10 in each of those same years. Bono had a 1.83 GA90 in 2021 and a 1.75 GA90 in 2022; Westberg had a horrendous 2.20 GA90 in 2021 and a 2.40 GA90 in 2022. To say a change was needed is an understatement. Neither has appeared in a game for their new clubs, which, when seeing those stats, isn’t a surprise.
Greg Ranjitsingh is the only holder, but he hasn’t appeared in an MLS game since 2020 with Minnesota. For his career, he’s only made 5 starts at the MLS level. It should be said that his record in the USL with Louisville City is quite impressive: 78 appearances and a 1.02 goal allowed/90. He’s either never proven himself capable at the MLS level or has never been given a shot.
Tomas Romero is another goalkeeper who has barely played in MLS. He’s younger than Ranjitsingh at only 22. He does have more games at this level, though, they all came back in 2021 when he made 18 starts for LAFC. It didn’t go particularly well, as he had a 1.56 GA90.
Neither Ranjitsingh nor Romero is going to be counted upon this year for Toronto. Instead, Toronto brought in Sean Johnson to shore up their goalkeeping. The USMNT goalkeeper is now in his 14th season in MLS, having played 7 years in Chicago and the last 6 for NYCFC.
Johnson is a good MLS keeper, though I’d say he tends to be in the above-average category, more than the elite. For his career, he has a 1.30 GA90 with a low of 1.07 GA90 in 2021 and a high of 1.68 GA90 way back in 2016 (his final year with Chicago). Over the past 6 years with NYCFC, he’s been solid and ended his time in New York with a 1.19 GA90.
His PSxG+/- backs up that he’s a pretty good keeper. Last year was his worst in some time, as he posted a -0.6 PSxG+/-, but in the previous 4 seasons, he was solidly in the plus. He was at +1.9 in 2018, +3.9 in 2019, +7.0 (!) in 2020, and +2.1 in 2021. So far this year he’s at +0.1.
These numbers are not outrageously good (except for 2020). He’s not Andre Blake or any goalkeeper that NE seems to find, but he’s really solid. He’s an especially solid option when you compare him to Bono’s above GA90 numbers and Bono’s PSxG+/- numbers (career -2.7, including -2.9 in 2021 and only +0.1 in 2022). While every team would prefer to have a Blake or Petrović, those are few and far between. Compared with what Toronto had between the sticks, Johnson is going to seem like a godsend.
Toronto’s start to this season has surprised me. It hasn’t been terrible, but I expected them to make the jump into the upper tier of the league. I really liked the offseason moves they made and, with their superstar attacking Italians, I thought they’d be really dangerous. Insigne’s injury is certainly part of their slow start but probably isn’t the entire reason. As with Charlotte, though, there is still plenty of time for them to turn it around.
Importantly, their defense seems to be getting better. This isn’t surprising considering 3 of the 4 starters are new to the team and each other. They gave up 3 goals in their opening-day loss to DC United, then gave up 1 goal in their next 2 games (both draws against Atlanta United and Columbus). Over the past 2 games, though, they’ve not conceded (a 2-0 win over Inter Miami and a 0-0 draw over San Jose). Considering the level of the opponent, to give up so few goals over the last 4 games is impressive. Charlotte doesn’t know how to score, so this could be a problem.
In attack, it’s a good thing we miss Insigne, but it would’ve been a better thing if we could’ve played them last week when they were missing Insigne, Laryea, Kaye, and Osorio (amongst others). Such is life.
Based on how little news we’ve heard, I don’t expect Westwood to play. This means another week of guessing who mans the midfield, especially with the forced exclusion of Bronico. If I had to guess, we’ll see a midfield of Karol, Nuno, and DJ. Of course, I didn’t see Lindsey starting 2 weeks in a row at RB or Byrne as a CB, so who knows?
Vargas at LW seems a foregone conclusion at this point, though I do wonder if Jóźwiak on the left and Vargas on the right don’t give us the best option now in terms of talent and floor. Mello was electric when he came on and I wouldn’t be opposed to him starting at all, but it just seems unlikely. Further, for a young player learning a new league and coming back from a wasted year due to injury, being a bench player for a bit is probably the prudent choice. I love me some Gaines, but this season has not been good for him so far. A sub role seems appropriate right now with the hope that he’ll get going.
For all the strife around Enzo and his supposed antics, the man has been off to a good start for us. His 2 goals obviously lead the team, but so does his 1.3 xG. Karol isn’t too far behind with 0.8 xG. I’m not sure we could’ve asked for more, especially with how poorly some of our other players have been.
I think his “antics” have been overblown, but more worryingly is that I think he’s being reffed differently already. Against RBNY, he had a foul on Tolkin for which he was given a yellow. I don’t remember other fouls from him before the yellow, so I thought it was not only a soft one, but undeserved. I especially felt that way once a RBNY play did the same thing in the same place on the pitch and didn’t get a yellow.
Some will argue that this difference in reffing might be due to his own behavior. Miss me with that. A referee’s job is to be impartial and call the game fairly. If he/she is so thin-skinned as to let complaining drive his/her decisions, they don’t need to be a ref.
In defense, I do hope that Tuiloma is healthy enough to go. I didn’t think Byrne was that bad outside of the poor trap that led to the goal. To me, he didn’t lose us the game; our inability to do anything with the over 70% possession we had did. At the same time, I do need an experienced professional to handle a backpass better. The bottom line is if he does have to start again at RCB, I’m not overly concerned. It does move Malanda out of the better fit of RCB to LCB, but that kid is so good he can handle it.
Lindsey has not given me a reason to remove him from the lineup. He should continue to start. Meanwhile, Afful has looked really solid in the last 2 games. I’m still skeptical he can keep this up for an extended period of time, but considering the team doesn’t appear to have any intention of getting a new left-back, he may continue to be our best option (so long as we’re inverting that LB). This week will be a real challenge for him, though, as Bernardeschi presents a pace and technical problem.
Finally, George Marks keeps showing out. Marks really has been something else in goal. He’s looked assured on the ball and has had good ideas with his distribution. He hasn’t necessarily executed those ideas well, but when he tries a pass he’s doing so in a way that doesn’t immediately cause danger if it doesn’t come off. When it comes to actually making saves, yeah, he’s doing that too. He’s at 1.00 GA90 in his 2 starts and is at +1.0 PSxG+/- in those starts. That’s really good!
Now, there is the warning that Kahlina also started the year off well with PSxG+/- before ending in the negative, but Marks has clearly played better than Pablo. If this continues, I do think there is a real discussion to be had about whether Kahlina should automatically get the job back.
I wouldn’t say that I’m confident in us going to Toronto and getting a win; last year kind of scarred me. However, if there were ever a time, it might be now. I honestly believe Insigne is that big of a miss for them. Toronto is also near the bottom of the league when it comes to possession at 47.2%. That should play into our desire to keep the ball, though their transition game is more akin to St. Louis and Atlanta than RBNY, I think. I’m going naively optimistic!
It’s fair to say that the start of this season hasn’t been great. It also isn’t dissimilar to last year. Under MAR, Charlotte began its inaugural campaign with 3 losses but followed that up with 3 wins in the next four matches (the lone non-win being a loss away at Philadelphia).
It’s hard to remember now, but Charlotte played some pretty good football at the end of the year in 2022 as they made their push to sneak into the playoffs. Ultimately, that push came up short, but it gave me a lot of hope for this year. It seemed a template was set. This year, though, there has been a chopping and changing of personnel and the results have been…erratic.
One of the issues that we’ve discussed here–and has been discussed ad nauseam amongst the entire fanbase–is the formation and personnel that are playing or should be played. What seems more important to me, though, is how that personnel and formations are actually being executed in game.
One of the ways we can view this is by looking at passing networks. They’re what the name implies: visuals that illustrate the passing connections between players. MLS is kind enough to have them for every game. Indeed, they’re much more interactive on MLS’s website (for instance, if you hover your cursor over a line, it will tell you the number of passes between players, in both directions). While screenshotting these networks and putting them here takes away some of the interactivity, it doesn’t take away the usefulness.
A few things to consider:
There is some cutoff for passing networks. What I mean by that is, if you take Atlanta’s passing map from our game this year (found here), you will see that Miguel Berry (#19) has literally no lines connecting him to any of his teammates. That would seem to imply that he never completed a pass. That’s inaccurate. You can go to FBref (here) and see that he actually completed 6/6 passes. That’s obviously not a ton of passes for a player who played 58 minutes, but it’s not zero. Just because there is no line, doesn’t mean there wasn’t any connection; just that the connection was too small to be relevant.
Thicker lines indicate more passes between players.
Player positions on these maps are relative and an average of where they were. These networks should not be viewed as a measure of the areas a player took positions up in. Look to heatmaps for a better visual of that.
Some passing networks will have larger dots or smaller dots for players to denote how many passes that player attempted. MLS does not do that.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s actually look at some networks for Charlotte, both from this year and last*.
*Note: I have taken the last 4 games of Charlotte’s 2022 season, but replaced the home NYCFC game for Columbus. That Columbus game was technically the 2nd to last game for us, but due to it being split over multiple days for the weather delay, and the vast change in personnel from when it was started to when it ended, I thought it better to ignore.
2022 Passing Networks: NYCF, CHI, PHI, and RBNY
2023 Passing Networks: NE, STL, ATL, ORL, and RBNY
So that’s a lot of visuals, where do we start?
When viewing the networks from last year’s games, one of the first things that jumped out to me is the relative proximity of Karol Świderski and Daniel Ríos. The home game against Philadelphia has them the furthest apart from each other, but they are still relatively close. In the NYCFC and Chicago games, they are practically on top of one another. Interestingly, Karol is ahead of Ríos in that Chicago game, too. Then, in the RBNY game, they’re not quite as close, but still pretty darn close.
What’s also interesting is that even though each is taking up similar positions and playing close to one another, they are notpassing to one another. In the NYCFC network, Karol is literally on top of Ríos, so it’s actually impossible to know if there was a connection, but I don’t believe there was. There is no line for the Chicago or Philadelphia game, and the small line against RBNY represents 6 total passes between them (3 each way). Again, this doesn’t mean that against Chicago or Philadelphia they never passed to each other, just that it happened so little there is no line to represent it. But the proximity in which they played clearly benefited the team. Charlotte scored 8 total goals over these games (RBNY was a shutout, but the team had nothing to play for and I think it showed).
Now, compare this proximity between striker and CAM with the maps from this year. Immediately you notice just how isolated Enzo Copetti is.
Against New England to begin the season, the positioning does look similar to the end of last year. However, against St. Louis, with Karol switched out wide and Andre Shinyashiki replacing him in that forward 8/central attacking midfielder role, Enzo is by himself up top. Against Atlanta, Enzo has Jóźwiak for company, but worryingly–and absurdly–there is no connection between anyone in our midfield and Enzo. Orlando, which has probably been the best display of attack we’ve had all season (that’s not saying a lot), has him playing right next to Ashley Westwood. Again, the two dots are so close it’s impossible to tell if there is a connection. Finally, against RBNY, Copetti is again a man by himself. Clearly, one of the early season issues for this team is the isolation of our striker up top.
Midfield Cluster and Lack of Width
Now, Enzo might find himself in acres of space with nary a friendly face to be seen, but our midfielders certainly don’t have that problem. At least this is true in the 2 worst games we’ve played all year: St. Louis and Atlanta. Look at the ridiculousness in those games. Against St. Louis, Andre is almost covering Westwood, while Derrick Jones is slightly behind. Against Atlanta, you literally can’t see Westwood’s number (it is him), as DJ’s is completely covering it. Andre, meanwhile, is overlapping DJ.
Those two games highlight another issue we’ve been having, though one that I believe CL is working to solve: the narrowness of this team. St. Louis probably represents the extreme of this. Look at that game’s network compared with Orlando’s, which comes 2 weeks later. The width that is being held by players like Gaines and Byrne on the right in Orlando and Vargas on the left is a sight for sore eyes.
When you look back at the 2022 networks, you see that there is always at least one player who is holding width with the exception of the game against Philadelphia: Gaines against NYCFC; Byrne (and to a lesser degree Afful) against Chicago; and Jóźwiak and Byrne against RBNY. Now, I will admit that against Philadelphia, we are playing a bit narrower than in the other games, so there are times when you can set a team up that way and find success. For this team, though, that is an exception.
Coupled with the above width and midfield issue is the issue of how deeply our team is being pinned back, especially our wingers. New England to open at least has Gaines and Świderski trying to join Copetti, but against St. Louis, no one but Enzo is beyond the halfway line. Against Atlanta, it’s a bit better, but still not great. Again, Orlando is probably our best attacking performance of the season and we finally see players taking positions up the pitch. We revert against RBNY, though. Gaines, Nuno, and Byrne are all clustered together holding the width, but only Nuno and Gaines are taking up positions beyond the halfway line, and barely at that. Again, compare this to those 2022 maps where we consistently have 4 players in the opponent’s half.
For a team that wants to hit on the counter, maybe these kinds of networks would be fine, especially when it comes to player positions. That is not Christian Lattanzio’s Charlotte. Here are our possession percentages by game:
54.40% against NE
61.00% against STL
55.80% against ATL
44.60% against ORL
74.00% against RBNY
Some of those possession numbers are absolutely wild, yet we are literally doing nothing with them. This team has scored 4 goals on the year, and one of those was an own goal.
So what do we do about this? Well, I’m not an expert on tactics. I point you to Euan’s excellent piece on our tactics in the wake of the Atlanta loss for someone who knows that subject much better than I do. What I will say is that I view this post as a companion piece to that one. We’re looking at the same issues through different lenses, so many of my conclusions align with what Euan said in that piece, though I don’t pretend to speak for him (please read his piece for his thoughts!).
First, Świderski needs to be back in as the attacking 8 or CAM (whatever you want to call it due to whatever formation you want to say we’re playing). Enzo Copetti has been far too isolated and needs someone else to help occupy defenders. Our best football under Lattanzio has come with him as a pseudo-striker who can drop deep, link play, and then make forward runs.
I’m a big, BIG fan of Nuno Santos and I want to see more of him, but also, maybe that game against Orlando shows us why he hasn’t been picked? I’ll caveat what I’m going to say next with “small sample size,” but if those are the areas that Nuno likes to drift into, then it makes more sense as to why he hasn’t been selected.
Second, the emphasis on width that we’ve seen in the last two games has to continue. It was apparent to me within the first 10 minutes of the Red Bulls’ game that Vargas and Gaines had been told to stay wide. It’s something that we did last year with at least one of our wingers and should continue. Vargas, I think, is the key here. If he’s on the left, then you need your right winger to stay touchline tight, regardless of if it’s Gaines, Jóźwiak, or Mello. If Vargas is on the right, I’d probably have him fill that role, while allowing Jóźwiak on the left to cut in.
As Justin likes to say, all our wingers are better on the left. I’ll add to that that we have a lot of wingers who prefer to cut inside. For some teams, you could allow both wings to cut in and keep width with overlapping FBs. As I’ve talked nonstop about, CL doesn’t want that; he wants his FBs inverted.
While I believe that Vargas could provide width effectively, it’s probably not the best use of his full talents. We’ve seen time and again how good his right foot is. Allowing him the opportunity to cut in onto it from the left makes a ton of sense. If we could combine his right foot with Świderski’s left, we’d have a player who would’ve been way too good to ever play for us!
Third, improve the spacing in the midfield. With more width provided by at least 1 winger, we need to see Westwood or Bronico further from Jones and whatever left-back is tucking into the midfield (I’m assuming for the time being that will be Afful). Orlando’s passing network is probably the best version of this so far. It should be noted that, of course, there are times when midfielders can be close (see: Bronico and Jones against Philadelphia last year), but what we’ve seen in the St. Louis and Atlanta games can’t happen again.
These networks are just one way to look at this team, but they confirm issues that we are seeing in-game, namely, that our possession is toothless and our passing is largely harmless. Euan asked the question of why Lattanzio changed his tactics from what seemed to be working so well at the end of last year. Like him, I can’t fully answer that. I do think we’re starting to see a shift back to some of those end-of-year principles, though. Hopefully, Saturday sees a continuation of the improvement the team has shown over the past couple of games (at least compared to the first few).
April offers a chance to erase the poor start. Toronto has only 1 win on the season (though 3 draws) and is missing Lorenzo Insigne. Real Salt Lake has 1 win and 3 losses, with a -6 GD (we only have -5!). Colorado sits bottom of the West with 2 draws and 3 losses. Columbus…well, they just thrashed Atlanta and will probably have Cucho back by our game (lucky us!), so it’ll be tough. DC ends the month. They have just 1 win and only beat us in the standings due to a slightly better GD.
Something like 2 wins, 2 draws, and a loss in those games would feel pretty good. Something like 3 wins and 2 draws would really change some feelings around here. Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately, by the end of next month, we’ll probably have a pretty good idea of if this team has a realistic shot to make the playoffs. Let’s hope it’s a good April.
Own goals! We love them when the other team gives them up!
We got a point at home against New York Red Bull and are still riding the positive momentum after last week’s win against Orlando City away. Following the win against Orlando, Coach Lattanzio made three changes from the squad that won 2-1 against Orlando City, including Nathan Byrne taking over the CB spot from Tuiloma due to the latter’s injury.
Lattanzio kept his outside midfielders the same, with Vargas and Gaines rewarded with a place in the starting lineup. Bronico and Jones held down the midfield. Captain Ashley Westwood was not featured in the match against RBNY as he suffered a thigh injury against Orlando City. Former Benfica academy product Nuno Santos replaced him in the midfield. The last change would be Lattanzio switching to a 4-5-1 over his preferred formation of a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1.
The first half left much to be desired as Charlotte was held to only one shot. Red Bulls were able to get the opening goal in the 42nd minute due to a mistake from Byrne, who miscontrolled a back pass. RBNY player Elias Manoel took advantage of this mistake, getting a one-on-one against goalkeeper George Marks. The result was Manoel scoring.
The first-half stats had New York with six shots (four on target) with three leading to saves from Marks. Charlotte held onto most of the possession, having 72% compared to Red Bulls’ 28 %. There was a huge passing disparity between the teams. Charlotte completed 332 passes to Red Bulls’ 125, but went into the break down 1-0.
Charlotte fans needed more from the team in the second half.
The second half was all Charlotte. The home team had more shots, while RBNY parked the bus and gave away sloppy fouls. Charlotte continued its attack on the Red Bulls’ goal. Charlotte’s patience and persistence throughout the match would eventually lead to our reward and us walking away with a point intact.
Kerwin Vargas proved his worth throughout the match. He seemed to be directly involved with every opportunity at goal and broke the lines of the Red Bull defense. Vinicius Mello finally made his debut 467 days after signing for Charlotte FC as a sub in the 68th minute. The match immediately felt his presence as he was able to take on his defender in the seventy-third minute and whip in a ball to the left side and the feet of Vargas. Vargas took on his defender and hit a cross that deflected off of RBNY defender, Andrés Reyes, for an own goal.
The game ended at 1-1.
I want more pressure on our opponents when they are shooting. RBNY was prone to shooting from long-range (see the long-range efforts from Luquinhas (82) in the 7th and 38th minutes as examples).
I need more communication among the defenders. For example, in the 48th minute, Cameron Harper got off a shot at our goal due to miscommunication between the left-back and the left-sided center-back.This miscommunication led Byrne into a tough choice about whether or not to go towards the attacking player, which ultimately led to a dangerous chance for New York.
Copetti…I don’t think I like my striker to have as many yellows as they do goals. I can appreciate the fact that he’s hungry, and it show’s that he’s passionate about getting the ball, but he can’t keep getting baited into silly challenges. Already he’s at a point where if he gets two more, he’ll miss a game.
Kerwin Vargas is looking to make his place in the Starting XI permanent. On his day, he’s unplayable. He can do wonders in his one on one play, which opens up the opportunities for Copetti to receive crosses in the middle or Gaines to receive at the back post.
Man of the Match goes to two players this week: Kerwin Vargas and George Marks. Both players were pivotal in getting this result. Marks provided a crucial stop in the 48th minute that could have led to us being down 2-0. On the day, he made 5 saves, had 1 punch, and completed 37/42 passes. Vargas, on the other hand, provided us with the attack we needed. He was able to effectively get up the field and drew 4 fouls. He also led the team with 8 crosses.
Vargas cross (leading to Bronico decoy and Gaines’ shot): 0:42- 0:52
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.