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.
Prediction: Charlotte 3 – RSL 1
Data Notes: All heatmaps come fromSofascore.com. All percentile rankings and percentile charts come fromFBref.com. All formation graphics are fromMLSsoccer.com. Other websites used for data include transfermarkt.us,Wyscout.com, andMLSsoccer.com.