By Brian Maurer and Tyler Trent
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
With Nathan Byrne receiving his Visa this week, what better time to dive into a closer look of Charlotte FC’s new veteran right back? Byrne (30) is an exciting addition to the Charlotte FC defense – a capable defender and a relentless attacking threat capable of providing service into the attack like no one else on the roster.
The Englishman arrives off a fantastic season for an over-performing Derby County side that was ultimately relegated due to a 21-point deduction for entering administration and breaching accounting rules. Even with the massive deduction, Derby County still only finished 7 points off safety in the Championship. Byrne was a force all season and was voted as the Players’ Player of the Season.
Byrne has spent 6 of his last 8 seasons in the Championship playing with Derby County, Wigan Athletic, and Wolves during that time. While his stats don’t pop off the page screaming that he is an incredible signing for Charlotte, opinions from Derby County supporters along with his teammates and coaches are through the roof. Byrne is the teammate that everyone wants.
A teammate that is reliable and intelligent with the ball and raises the level for everyone around him. Byrne is a teammate who gives his all in each training session and is constantly striving to keep his fitness at peak levels. Byrne was able to start 41 of 46 Championship matches last season.
The Aggressive Worker Bee
The two aspects of Byrne’s game that stick out after watching some of his games is that he has an extremely high workrate and that he is relentlessly aggressive. His work rate can also be seen in his career stats as he has played over 3000 minutes in four of the last five seasons*. He is aggressive in every aspect of his game. Byrne likes to take aggressive risks by jumping passing lanes to make interceptions, which then gives him the opportunity to carry the ball forward quickly and help transition into the attack.
He also likes to be aggressive in one versus one situations, which is one area where he can get beat if he faces a patient dribbler. While his aggressive approach to his game can occasionally lead to missteps defensively, the reward is an extra attacker in the attacking phase.
When in possession Byrne acts as both a center midfielder or as a right winger depending on where the space opens up. At Derby County, Byrne is seen multiple times creeping centrally from the right, especially when the ball is being possessed on the left wing. He then waits for space to open up between the two defensive lines before making a cut into the open space between the lines looking for the ball near the top of the box (space C).
Below is a diagram of the variety of different inside and outside runs that Byrne likes to make from the right side.
In an FA cup match against West Ham United, Byrne can be seen making a variety of different runs along the right wing. Cutting into the box to get open to take a shot, as well as overlapping to the outside to send in crosses. The Wigan Athletic versus West Ham United game, specifically, was an excellent example of when Byrne’s aggression and speed can overwhelm defenses that play at the highest level.
He would sit back in space along the right side and fire crosses in (A), this is where he got his assist in the game from. He also would wait for space to open up and then make aggressive cuts towards the six (B), or make overlapping runs to the outside (D). This variety of movement and aggression caused West Ham fits for much of the match.
While Byrne’s aggressive attacking movement without the ball truly flashes the dynamism he can bring to Charlotte FC in possession, he also is aggressive when he has the ball. When Byrne intercepts a pass or receives the ball deep, he is quick to scan the field and if the space is open he often makes the decision to charge up the field into the attacking third himself. With his acceleration he is able to make his aggressive carries transition standard possession into aggressive attacking phases of play quickly.
How His Positioning and Play Style May Look in Charlotte
What Byrne will provide Charlotte is more of the same aggression and work rate. The main difference that he is likely to make is his attacking aggressive style, something that has been lacking in Charlotte for most of the season. His positioning and approach to attacking space could open things up for many of his Charlotte FC teammates.
Charlotte forward Andre Shinyashiki could get a boost in both performance and minutes with a player like Byrne added to the roster. This is because Byrne plays more like an attacking right winger when in possession. This could mean that Byrne occupies the right wing and a player like Shinyashiki is given the agency to spend more time occupying space inside the box. Central attacking spaces is where Shinyashiki prefers to operate.
A player with Byrne’s playing style allows for this change to happen more fluidly and could give Charlotte more of an aggressive two striker look out of their typical 4-3-3 formation when in possession. Below is a diagram of this attacking shape.
Byrne’s flexibility would also allow for different attacking looks if Charlotte were to play a more natural wide winger on the right, such as McKinze Gaines. If a right winger who prefers to stay out wide is on the pitch, Byrne allows another connecting central option with his cutting runs in the box.
At the age of 30, he still has plenty of seasons ahead and should be able to come in and make an instant impact in a team that has struggled with chance creation for most of the season. Byrne will likely become the fourth or fifth attacking option in most of Charlotte FC's attacking possessions. Byrne will also be able to serve as a mentor for Charlotte’s own Jaylin Lindsey to help him continue to reach his full potential.
Specifically, Byrne will be able to demonstrate through his work rate and aggressive style that there is another level that Lindsey can aspire towards. By making a signing like Byrne, Charlotte have pushed the competition of their right back position higher. This forces Lindsey to reach for a new level long-term, which could significantly benefit his career.
Byrne will also provide the right back depth moving forward that Charlotte FC lacked, as Lindsey was the only right back currently under contract going into 2023.