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A Charlotte FC Offseason Analysis: Forwards

By Brian Maurer

Karol Świderski. Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.


This is the fourth and final article in our offseason series. And this one could not have come at a better time, as it has been reported that Charlotte FC are signing striker Enzo Copetti from Racing Club in Argentina. Here is my analysis of Charlotte’s attackers, and my thoughts on how Copetti fits in this group.


Charlotte FC’s Attacking Set Up


Under current head coach, Christian Lattanzio, Charlotte FC almost exclusively used a 4-3-3 formation, although he did add a wrinkle to it by the end of the season when Charlotte was making their final playoff push.


During the Black and Blues final games, Lattanzio added a fourth attacker to the formation. Instead of having Karol Świderski playing up top, Lattanzio had him play a little deeper and he brought Daniel Ríos in to play as the striker. This created more of a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-2-2-2 look depending on various situations.


The 4-2-3-1 (four attackers) variation of the 4-3-3 is what I would expect Charlotte FC to continue to use in 2023. I have two reasons for this. First, it worked better than any other formation they used all of last season, including going on a four game unbeaten streak. Second, Charlotte FC’s current roster is more suited to this variation, and as Charlotte FC have reported that they are only planning to add a couple more key pieces to the team, this roster will look relatively similar to last year.


Based on this four attacker setup, here is the current depth chart for Charlotte FC’s attacking line (including Copetti).

LW

CF

Second Striker/CAM

RW

Kamil Jóźwiak (DP)

Enzo Copetti (DP)

Karol Świderski (DP)

Kerwin Vargas (U-22)

Yordy Reyna

Daniel Ríos

Andre Shinyashiki

McKinze Gaines

Vinicius Mello (U-22)

I moved Andre Shinyashiki into the backup position for Świderski as he has experience playing in a role that is a little bit deeper. Lattanzio also reported that he wanted to play Shinyashiki more centrally last season. Based on how Lattanzio appears to prefer to set up his attack, Copetti and Ríos seem to be his preferred style of center forward over a playing style of Shinyashiki.


Big Spending In The Attack


With the signing of Copetti, Charlotte FC have now invested pretty significantly into the attack. They have spent well over $10 million in total transfer fees, six international roster spots, three DP spots, two U-22 initiative spots, and around $7 million in guaranteed annual salary* (I am assuming that Copetti’s contract will be a similar amount to Świderski).


Total Spending Between All Four Lines


While talking about the recent money spent on the attacking line it is worth also looking at how Charlotte FC are spending their money across all positional lines. Below is a table that splits up the guaranteed salary of Charlotte FC’s roster by positional line.


Guaranteed Salary of Charlotte FC Roster by Position (found on MLSPA.com)*

Goalkeepers

Defenders

Midfielders

Forwards

Guaranteed Salary

$810,028

$2,725,385

$1,136,031

$7,364,150

Pct of Total Salary

6.73%

22.64%

9.44%

61.19%

The table shows a significant amount of spending has been done on the attacking line. While there were many growing pains with the attack from Charlotte’s inaugural season, the investment in the attack has started to become significant. The expectations of this team producing goals should be high from fans based solely on the amount of investment that has been made.


It should be pointed out that forwards cost more than any other position, but regardless, Charlotte FC have spent in the attack, strong scoring results should be expected in year two.


The Final Five Games


Since this appears to be a likely regular set up for this Charlotte FC squad moving forward, my analysis of the attackers will look at the final five games primarily to help derive what could be expected from this group going into 2023.


In possession Lattanzio often had Charlotte FC set up in a 3-2-2-3. One of the fullbacks would often push up and move into a double pivot along the CDM. The two other CMs would push up higher behind the three attackers in the front.


Out of possession Charlotte FC often set up in more of a 4-5-1 with Świderski dropping back to join the midfield line and Ríos staying up top for clearances and second balls. Derrick Jones would occasionally drop extremely deep to help cover the backline, sometimes joining them, creating more of a 5-4-1 or 4-1-4-1 look.


Charlotte’s Wingers


Charlotte FC’s wingers had a difficult time for much of the inaugural season. The team barely played with wingers at the beginning of the season, instead regularly opting to use a 4-4-2 diamond. As Kamil Jóźwiak got healthy, and when Shinyashiki was signed Charlotte switched to their preferred 4-3-3 (or 4-2-3-1) formation.


Overall, the winger position had a limited amount of goal contributions (10 goals/10 assists** combined). This number is also a bit generous as several of these goals were scored by Shinyashiki when he came off the bench in a more central striker position. One reason for this lack of production is likely inconsistency.


Jóźwiak was signed when he was still recovering from an injury. McKinze Gaines was working through some developmental growing pains as a player earning regular minutes. Yordy Reyna struggled to maintain his status as a starter, although he showed flashes of brilliance at times. Kerwin Vargas appeared to be going through an adjustment period as a young player transitioning to a new league and country. Finally, Shinyashiki showed an ability to find goals, but was also considered to be more of a center forward by Lattanzio.


A more consistent group of players earning minutes and being fully adjusted to playing in Charlotte should help improve the results from the wings.


Below is a deeper dive into how the wingers performed in the attack and defensively.


In The Attack


When in possession, Lattanzio kept all his wingers very wide. From these wide positions they could play balls into the box or take their defenders on 1 v 1. Overall, their positioning was designed to help keep defensive lines stretched out the full length of the pitch. Below is a demonstration of the width with which the wingers consistently played.


Jóźwiak's 2022 heatmap (found on SofaScore)


Gaines' 2022 heatmap (found on SofaScore)


Shinyashiki's 2022 heatmap (found on SofaScore)


Vargas' 2022 heatmap (found on SofaScore)


Reyna's 2022 heatmap (found on SofaScore)


The greatest exception to this standard is Shinyashiki. His heatmap shows a more mixed positioning in the attacking third because he was also used as a center forward as a substitute, or would be rotated into a center forward position during games.


Winger Advanced Analytics (all stats are per 90 and are percentile rankings compared to other MLS wingers with at least 601 minutes played during the 2022 season)***

Wingers

Shot Assists

Dribble Success Pct

Cross Comp. Pct

Jóźwiak

82nd

89th

70th

Gaines

55th

55th

36th

Shinyashiki

13th

20th

57th

Vargas

99th

87th

89th

Reyna

80th

67th

97th

Vargas' creativity statistics especially pop out amongst the Charlotte FC wingers, however minutes played was also the smallest. His progression into year two is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Perhaps he can become one of the regular goal contributors on the wings that Charlotte was missing this past season.


In Defensive Support


Defensively, Charlotte FC’s wingers looked to help the fullbacks on the wings by reducing the amount of 1 v 1 situations that the fullbacks often had to deal with. When Charlotte FC’s wingers were committed defensively their opposition had a much harder time creating numerical advantages and mismatches.


Here is how Charlotte’s wingers looked in a few different defensive categories compared to the rest of MLS


Winger Advanced Analytics (all stats are per 90 and are percentile rankings compared to other MLS wingers with at least 601 minutes played during the 2022 season)***

Wingers

Aerial Win %

Tackles & Int (pAdj)

Defensive Actions

Jóźwiak

51st

66th

70th

Gaines

34th

28th

24th

Shinyashiki

14th

91st

84th

Vargas

51st

83rd

72nd

Reyna

16th

53rd

32nd

These statistics are not a complete indicator of how all the wingers performed but it does provide some idea on how active different wingers were out of possession. In 2023, Lattanzio will likely focus on finding more consistency from his wingers and pick those who are capable of providing more goal contributions in possession and are defensively active and supportive of their fullbacks out of possession.


Charlotte’s Strikers


The striker position for Charlotte FC, like the wingers, has been inconsistent. However, the highs of this group have been tremendous, and the potential of what this group can be has been seen. The question will be whether the consistency can be raised, especially when it comes to goal scoring. Increasing consistent goalscoring from the striker position is why a move for Copetti was made.


In The Attack


The way Charlotte’s strikers played changed throughout the course of the season under Lattanzio. At first Świderski played as the striker. However, when he was the only striker on the field Charlotte was left with their most technically gifted player trying to be both in the box to receive scoring chances, and be the player linking up play with his technical ability.


When Lattanzio made a late season adjustment to bring Daniel Ríos in as the striker up top and shifted Świderski into a deeper attacking role Charlotte’s attack started to show a bit more fire power. This tactical shift allowed Świderski to freely move around the field getting himself involved in possession and being creative, while also maintaining a scoring threat in and around the box.


Striker Advanced Analytics ((all stats are per 90 and are percentile rankings compared to other MLS strikers with at least 1502 minutes played during the 2022 season)***

Strikers

Touches In Penalty Box

npxG per shot

Goals/Shot on Target %

Świderski

25th

57th

30th

Ríos

35th

72nd

60th

One of the major issues from the above statistics is that neither of Charlotte’s primary strikers last season got a lot of touches in the penalty box. When a team's primary scoring threat is getting limited touches in the most dangerous area on the field it is difficult to count on regular scoring production. This is likely something that will be a focal point heading into 2023. This could also be a problem that Copetti can help solve as he was capable of getting lots of touches in the box last season for Racing Club.


In Defensive Support


In Charlotte’s system this past season the striker position was regularly involved in aerial duels for second balls as well as being involved in pressing actions. These actions are shown through total defensive actions and through another advanced stat called tackles and interceptions possession adjusted (pAdj). Essentially this stat helps show how good a player is at a defensive action even if their overall stats are lower because of their team having an increased amount of possession, meaning they have less opportunities to make defensive actions.


Striker Advanced Analytics ((all stats are per 90 and are percentile rankings compared to other MLS strikers with at least 1502 minutes played during the 2022 season)***

Striker

Aerial Win %

Tackles & Int (pAdj)

Defensive Actions

Świderski

62nd

42nd

46th

Ríos

40th

51st

52nd

Again, similar to wingers, these stats do not flat out prove how successful, or otherwise, Świderski and Ríos are at defending, but it does provide some context as to how active they are out of possession. The one alarming stat that sticks out is how relatively average at aerial duels both of them were this past year.


The Enzo Copetti Addition


Based on a few of the underlying advanced statistics for Charlotte’s striker position in 2022, Enzo Copetti seems to be an ideal candidate to fill a few voids. First, Copetti was exceptional in aerial duels this past season. He showed an ability to win the ball in the middle of the park to hold up play and link up with teammates to help his team advance up the field. He also showed an ability to position himself well in the box and to win crosses and turn those aerial battles into shots and goals.


Second, Copetti had a knack for getting lots of touches in the box this past season. Something that both of Charlotte’s primary strikers really struggled to do. Copetti showed an ability to find ways to get open in tight spaces in the penalty area (something that was also helped by his dominance in aerial duels) and to turn those touches into goals.


Finally, Copetti was a very effective scorer in 2022. Converting shots into goals was another issue that Charlotte struggled with at times from the striker position. This is partly due to Świderski's style of play. He had a tendency to drop a bit deeper and also take more longer range shots, which have a lower rate of success because of their difficulty. Copetti, on the other hand, was very effective with his shot selection as his range was far closer to goal, helping him convert a far greater percentage of his chances.


Final Thoughts


Charlotte FC’s attack had several highs and lows, as did much of the team. Again, as stated in earlier sections of this series, this is not unexpected from an inaugural season. The attack lacked consistency for several reasons. Multiple players had inconsistent seasons due to injuries and fitness (Jóźwiak, Reyna and Świderski). Some also struggled earlier in the season and started to find their form late in the season (Gaines, Vargas, Ríos and also Jóźwiak).


With Lattanzio coaching this squad on a permanent basis, and also providing the team with offseason and preseason preparations there should be more consistency from this group. It also helps that the team seems to have found a preferred formation that fits the team’s personnel and style. Adding another DP signing whose style of play on paper appears to mesh well with the needs of the team should add a boost.


I do think there could be one departure from this attacking group. Reyna stands out as a bit of an outlier. He, like several others, was rather inconsistent during Charlotte FC’s inaugural campaign. His salary is high compared to other players on the roster (his guaranteed compensation is $797,500). He also takes up a valuable international roster spot. I could see Charlotte FC looking for a transfer option for Reyna to help free up some of those resources to allocate towards another position. In my mind the midfield is in need of a signing or two. $800,000 in salary space and an international roster spot would be ideal resources to make a midfield upgrade without making a huge dent in Charlotte’s forward line depth.


I also would not be surprised if Charlotte FC went after another winger to try and provide a bit more competition amongst this group of wingers. The issues Charlotte ran into with the winger position was finding one who was capable of providing more end product in the attack while also being willing to work defensively. Adding another winger can help provide that competition to either increase the production from the wingers currently on the roster, or the new addition at winger can take hold of a starting spot and provide the on field production that Charlotte was lacking this past season.





*The information of Copetti’s salary is not yet known. Neither is Nimfasha Berchimas’ contract. To try and provide an estimate of the salary breakdown I calculated Copetti’s salary at 2,000,000 which is similar to Świderski. For Berchimas I calculated his salary as the same as Brian Romero’s (76,333). Both of these numbers could easily not be 100% accurate, but should still be able to provide an accurate overall scope of how Charlotte FC has invested their yearly salary budget.


**Goal contribution stats found on FBref.com