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Charlotte FC's Top 5 players in April

By Brian Maurer

Jere Uronen (Photo courtesy of CJ Hellner/TopBin90)

April was a poor month for Charlotte overall. They first fell to the New England Revolution, who currently sit in last place in MLS. The following week Charlotte recovered and figured out some of their attacking woes with a 3-2 win against Toronto FC.

That momentum was short-lived as they lost their final two matches of the month. While last week’s 2-1 loss to NYCFC left a bad taste in fans’ mouths, the 3-0 loss at home versus Minnesota United was the more unacceptable result.

While the Crown is struggling, there are still players worth mentioning who had stand-out performances in April.

Ashley Westwood

Ashley Westwood played every minute in April, he did a bunch of box-to-box running while also helping the team progress the ball from deep-lying positions, and still showed up in the final third to create chances. He has done top-class work. That has been the definition of his whole season. At this point, he has been the team's most consistent player.

The one fault that will need to continue to be reviewed is how and why Charlotte keeps losing control and momentum in games through large stretches. As both the captain and a central midfielder game control and motivation are key parts of Westwood’s job. Two consistent partners filling the other midfield spots would benefit the team, but until that time, the pressure is on Westwood to lift this team and get it done.

Kristijan Kahlina

Earlier in the year, Charlotte’s defense had been staying more compact and reduced the number of chances they were conceding. In April, that trend started to change and far more chances, shots, and goals have been conceded.

Kristijan Kahlina made several big saves against NYCFC, New England, and Toronto that helped Charlotte stay in all of those games. The final result was not always positive but Kahlina played his part in at least keeping the game close by making timely stops.

Ideally, Charlotte’s defense can return to their early season compactness and reduce the number of chances to the opposition. This would likely take Kahlina out of the list of being a top-five player month-to-month, but it would bode far better for team results.

Kerwin Vargas

Kerwin Vargas has continued to get the most opportunities out of everyone in Charlotte. He was able to start putting some of those chances away with two goals which puts him as joint lead goal scorer with Patrick Agyemang. This is not saying much as Charlotte’s attack has struggled to finish for most of the year.

The Crown is not getting a ton of overall attacking volume, but Vargas was the team’s most consistent attacker in April. He led the team in shots in all but one of Charlotte’s four April games, and that volume had goalscoring production along with it.

Vargas has been an inconsistent attacker for Charlotte over the last two years, but he is currently on an upward trajectory. May is an ideal month for Vargas and all of Charlotte’s forwards to prove that they are capable of far more than they are currently showing.

Jere Uronen

Jere Uronen, like Westwood, has been one of Charlotte’s most consistent performers. He has shown to be a strong two-way player and April was no different. His one poor performance last month was against Toronto FC. He was lined up against Federico Bernardeschi and got burned on several occasions. The Italian forward is one of the most talented players in all of MLS so Uronen will not be the last defender this year struggling with that match-up.

In the other three games, Charlotte’s opposition primarily attacked down their right side and avoided Uronen’s side of the field for large stretches.

Uronen also provides a lot of progressive passes going forward. This is likely one reason for Vargas’ attacking opportunities remaining so high. The Finnish defender also had quality shots from outside the box. 

He is one spectacular free-kick goal away from becoming a true fan favorite. Based on the free kicks he has taken so far, that looks to be in the cards at some point this year.

Djibril Diani

Djibril Diani has risen as another stabilizing force in the midfield alongside Westwood. His lowest single-game passing percentage this past month was 84%, showing that he continues to be a calm technician in possession.

His play will need to be monitored as Dean Smith opted to sub him off after 60 minutes against Minnesota United. Smith stated in the post-match presser that he does not like it when his defensive midfielders are making as many runs forward as Diani made in the first half. 

Smith then opted to go with Júnior Urso rather than Diani from the start the following week versus NYCFC. Charlotte struggled to maintain much of a foothold possession-wise in that game and one reason for that was how disjointed Urso and Westwood looked in midfield. Urso struggled with his passing as he only maintained a 75% completion rate against New York City.

Smith’s choice in midfield this weekend against the Portland Timbers will be telling as it will indicate whether leaving Diani off the eleven was a tactical change based on his forward runs that Smith stated he did not like or if it was to give him rest because of all the running.

Looking ahead

The six games in May hold a lot of opportunity for Charlotte’s attack to get going. They are facing multiple poor defenses making this an optimal time for attacking players like Liel Abada to make their mark on the season and push their way into a top-five Charlotte FC performer.

With four home games in May, this is also an opportunity for Charlotte’s defense to get back on track as they will likely be the betting favorites in several of their games, making this a good opportunity for the team to take control of games and hold on to a clean sheet or two.