By Brian Maurer
Images courtesy of Charlotte FC
The 2022 MLS All-Star game is just over a month away. It will be played in Minnesota, and Minnesota United’s coach, Adrian Heath, will be the MLS All-Star Team coach. Heath will be leading the team against the Liga MX All-Star Team. The question I wanted to look a little deeper into was whether Charlotte FC could have a representative at this year’s event.
There are a few aspects of how the All-Star team is constructed that should be addressed before comparing any statistics. First, the roster is partially constructed around popularity. The first twelve players are voted on by fans, media, and players. The fans and media votes will likely have a strong pull towards more popular players in the league. Popularity is something that Charlotte FC is short on.
Outside of Christian Fuchs, most people did not know who many of the players on the roster were before the season started. On popularity alone, Charlotte FC were going to receive a pretty limited amount of votes. There also has not been a player on Charlotte FC who has stood out so remarkably that they have boosted their popularity at the national level. All this means that Charlotte is unlikely to get a player voted in by the fans, media, and players.
Image courtesy of Minnesota United
Second, Heath will be selecting twelve all-stars for the match. Perhaps he has kept an eye on Charlotte FC, but since Charlotte are not playing Minnesota United this season I would not bank on him keeping to close an eye. This is just speculation, but unless something really stood out to Heath about one of Charlotte’s players so far I do not think that Heath will likely be selecting a player from Charlotte as things currently stand.
Third, Don Garber is making the final two all-star selections. These picks, to me, are interesting, as Charlotte FC have had a solid start to their expansion campaign off the field, especially with ticket sales and team promotion. Garber might be interested in providing a boost to that promotion by sending a Charlotte FC representative to the match. Garber’s two picks are where I think a Charlotte FC player could be selected.
Image courtesy of MLS
The chances of a Charlotte FC player getting selected will also depend on how the following month goes. July could be a great opportunity for a few of Charlotte FC’s more consistent contributors to push themselves into the conversation for either Heath or Garber. Since the voting for fans, media, and players ends July 1st I don’t see any Charlotte player’s being voted in by then. Unless Ben Bender grabs a hat trick and an assist against Austin FC on Thursday.
Over the next month, I think Kristijan Kahlina, Guzman Corujo, Brandt Bronico, and Bender could all make a claim from the fringes if they can continue to perform consistently and elevate their overall production. A few wins would also help solidify a claim, since winning will draw the interest from outside of Charlotte, and validate the production of the players.
Kahlina got off to a very strong start, making many clutch saves which helped Charlotte FC secure points early on. His play has dropped slightly, and the defense has improved, which has meant Kahlina has had to make fewer saves. A good thing for the team, but not for padding his stats as an all-star candidate. Kahlina has stayed in the top ten in MLS in save percentage (76.8%) and in post shot expected goals minus goals against (PSxG-GA)* showing that he is capable of hanging with some of the better keepers in the league.
However, players like Andre Blake, Dayne St. Clair, Sean Johnson, and Steve Clark are all having solid seasons this year. St. Clair, specifically, is having a breakout year, which could make it difficult for Kahlina to find a place on the all-star team. However if he goes on a heater and gets two or three more clean sheets, with a couple wins, that could change things.
Corujo is another Charlotte FC candidate who could make a push if Charlotte FC’s defense continues to maintain its stability, and Charlotte can continue to grind out results. Several of his defensive actions stats are strong and hold with several other center back all-star candidates. Corujo currently averages 6.59 successful defensive actions** per 90 minutes.
When comparing his defensive stats to other quality center backs like Aaron Long (7.58), Alexander Callens (5.86), and Walker Zimmerman (6.75), he can clearly hold his own. Whether he can make a bid, I believe, will be whether the team can continue to get results and hold another couple of clean sheets. Corujo is essentially in the same situation as Kahlina.
Bronico and Bender are both in difficult situations. They have both performed well in their positions, but their positions are also where some of the best producers in the league play. Bender has arguably no shot, at this point, of making the roster regardless of how he plays because he is competing with players like Sebastián Driussi, Carles Gil, Dániel Gazdag, and Hany Mukhtar.
All of these players, and more, are competing for the MVP award. Bender, as a rookie, has little to no shot of competing with this strong production group of central midfielders. Of course, an extremely productive July could at least add him to the conversation.
Bronico puts in a strong shift every time out. Unfortunately, his work rate does not come attached with a lot of final production, which several of his defensive midfield counterparts have. Bronico has solid defensive statistics that can compete with many defensive mids, however there are several players who provide a ton of ball progression going forward.
Players like Marco Delgado, and Ilie Sánchez are brilliant at progressing the ball up the field. In the modern game, ball progression stands out far more than strong defensive play. Which, in this case, could hurt Bronico’s potential all-star stock.
Overall, I would say these four players have been Charlotte FC’s most consistent performers, and the most likely to get a nod towards the all-star game, depending on how July goes, and what traits Heath and Garber are looking for when making their selections.
Images courtesy of Charlotte FC
Others who could also be on the fringe, and who have received a top ten in their positions' share of votes since MLS last updated the voting tally on June 22nd, are Fuchs and Jaylin Lindsey. However both Fuchs and Lindsey have seen limited minutes over the past few weeks, so time will tell whether or not they can join the all-star candidate conversation.
The upside, when it comes to July, is there are several games where Charlotte FC could get some much needed points, and provide some production which could help boost their stock towards being represented in the all-star game.
If there was a stretch of games to make a claim to both solidify a position in the playoff hunt, and to prove to Garber and Heath that Charlotte deserves an all-star representative, this stretch of games through July is the time to make it happen.
*PSxG-GA is probably the best advanced stat currently available to analyze how well a goalkeeper is playing. This stat takes the total amount of probable goals faced and subtracts it from the actual goals allowed. A positive number signifies a keeper giving up fewer goals than expected, while a negative number indicates a keeper giving up more goals than expected. This stat plus a few others, such as save percentage, help indicate how well a keeper is doing regardless of their teams overall performance.
**For the successful defensive actions stats I took the successful defensive pressures per 90 minutes, interceptions per 90 minutes, and tackles won per 90 minutes and added them all together. The purpose of this stat was to see how many times a defensive player takes an action that leads to a positive outcome (regaining possession) per match.