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Ashley Westwood: The Impact Passer

By Brian Maurer

Ashley Westwood against the Philadelphia Union (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)


Charlotte FC announced they were creating an analytics department at the end of last season, and the club has already begun using analytics to help with its decision-making process. The current club captain, Ashley Westwood, was partly signed because of analytics.


Now that Westwood has been a part of Charlotte FC for nearly half of the season, I wanted to look back at last year and compare to see what kind of impact Westwood has made since joining the Crown.


Before looking at Westwood’s impact at Charlotte FC, it's worth looking at what different analytical models say about his game before he arrived stateside.


One of smarterscout’s analytical models looks at players' style ratings. Their database has Westwood rating extremely high on their style category Passing toward goal (96-99 at CM since the 2018-19 season). His second-highest category on smarterscout is Recovering a moving ball. However, his rating in this category is far more varied (47-74 since the 2018-19 season).

Season

Passing toward goal

Recovering a moving ball

2021-22

99

74

2020-21

99

57

2019-20

97

47

2018-19

96

73

Westwood's style ratings (Ratings found on smarterscout.com)


Cross-referencing SmarterScout’s Passing toward goal rating, we can look at some of Westwood’s passing stats on FBref.

Progressive distance/90 (yards)

Progressive passes/90

Passes into the attacking third/90

Key passes/90

238.6

5.51

4.74

1.34

Westwood's average progressive passing stats from the past five seasons (Stats found on FBref.com)


Charlotte FC’s Midfield in 2022


Now that we have a sense of what Westwood’s passing game brings to a team, let’s look at what Charlotte FC’s passing looked like in 2022 without Westwood.


I decided to look at progressive passing stats from Bronico and Bender because they played in the dual 8 roles and are the only regularly contributing midfielders who returned from 2022.

Progressive distance/90

Progressive passes/90

Passes into the attacking third/90

Key passes/90

165.56

4.38

3.59

.97

Bronico and Bender's weighted average progressive passing stats from 2022 (Stats found on FBref.com)


The weighted averages of Bronico and Bender's progressive passing numbers are lower than Westwood's past five seasons.


Charlotte FC with Westwood


So far this year, Westwood has 249.5 progressive distance on his passes per 90. He is averaging 7.28 progressive passes, 5.05 passes into the final third, and 1.65 key passes per 90.

Progressive distance/90

Progressive passes/90

Passes into the attacking third/90

Key passes/90

249.5

7.28

5.05

1.65

Westwood's progressive passing stats in 2023 (Stats found on FBref.com)


This season the primary dual 8s have been Bronico and Westwood. Here is a look at their weighted average passing stats:

Progressive distance/90

Progressive passes/90

Passes into the attacking third/90

Key passes/90

199.51

5.17

4.02

1.03

Bronico and Westwood's weighted average progressive passing stats in 2023 (Stats found on FBref.com)


When comparing the progressive passing stats of Charlotte FC's 2022 central midfield to their 2023 central midfield, with the addition of Westwood, it is clear that his role has started to improve Charlotte FC's ball progression.


Westwood is Bringing Charlotte FC’s Midfield Flexibility


The above analysis makes it look like I am expressing that Westwood is replacing Bender completely in the midfield. In some ways, that may be the case based on minutes played. However, I would suggest that what Westwood provides Charlotte FC is flexibility. Because of his ability to provide quality progressive passes, head coach Christian Lattanzio now has more flexibility with how he can utilize the other dual 8 midfield role.


He can continue to stick with Bronico, who has been a regular week-in and week-out and provides the high-octane energy. Lattanzio can also pull Karol Świderski back into his second striker role to add playmaking ability. He can also put Bender in as a runner to receive passes from Westwood. In limited minutes, Bender has the most progressive passes received (5.36) out of any of Charlotte FC’s midfield options.


These midfield options can all complement Westwood's passing in completely different ways. They all look like viable solutions depending on the opponent and game script. One of the reasons their viability is increasing is because of the high passing IQ that Westwood possesses.


Conclusions


Westwood has fit right into Charlotte FC as a leader, as he was given the captain's armband. On the field, he has demonstrated an ability to make a significant impact with his passing — an area where Charlotte FC struggled. Ideally, Westwood’s impact will turn into more match control, which Charlotte FC analyst Caleb Adams discussed in his article when Westwood was first signed.


Since Westwood returned from his injury, Charlotte FC is 4-0-3 in MLS, which included a three-match win streak. This could signify a team with their midfield tempo-setter coming into form. Time will tell, likely more quickly than not, as Charlotte FC is set to face solid midfield groupings in their upcoming fixtures (Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders).


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