By Vaughn Pollman
Miguel Angel Ramirez during his press conference on 2/10/2022
When the history books are written about the storied Charlotte FC, a club that won over the hearts of the Carolinas, it will inevitably begin with the team’s inaugural season, marred by the notion of “Estamos Jodidos.” How near-sighted a statement. Today marks the one year anniversary of that inflection point in the narrative of the team’s inaugural season. While the situation felt dire at the time, it is clear now that those feelings will be a mere footnote on the greater story to be told.
The season began with excitement and anticipation, but a high level of uncertainty around the state of the roster and lack of optimism from most outsiders following former head coach, Miguel Angel Ramirez’s declaration. National and local pundits latched on like sharks in bloody water. Following a mixed bag of early results, the club shocked everyone with the surprise dismissal of Ramirez only 110 days after his now infamous quote, with the club sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, far higher than even he seemed to project.
So much has happened and so much has changed in one calendar year. Results aside, the personnel carousel has been spinning at high speed from the start as the club has moved on from Ramirez, Alan Franco, Titi Ortiz, Christian Makoun, Sergio Ruiz, Jordy Alcívar, Daniel Ríos, and Christian Fuchs. All the aforementioned were key figures at the start of the season.
A mass exodus. Since first kick, the club has inversely added Derrick Jones, Kamil Jóźwiak, Kerwin Vargas, Andre Shinyashiki, Nuno Santos, Nathan Byrne, Adilson Malanda, Ashley Westwood, and Enzo Copetti, among others. A mass influx. This roster turnover is substantial, but not unprecedented for MLS sides.
As the 2022 season drew to a close, there was a renewed sense of belief in the squad as results became increasingly favorable down the stretch as the team fought to stay in the playoff chase down to the final week of the season. While many factors played into this turnaround relative to initial perception, it is fair to say that stability in personnel and consistency in the team’s game to game approach were leading causes to getting the ship back on course.
Christian Lattanzio, the current head coach, repeatedly highlighted the need for the team to have the right mentality and the right intensity both on matchday and in training. His ability to show progress in instilling those tenets in the team led to the removal of his interim coach tag.
Ramirez and his assistant coaches — current head coach, Lattanzio, is second from left
We can now look at the squad with confidence in the players, their abilities, how they complement one another, and the overall roster depth. The team is rife with position battles and a different level of competitiveness. This is a far cry from the uncertainty of how the team would perform a year ago.
Furthermore, the club has an even deeper foundation with the formation of Crown Legacy FC and the impending opening of the team’s headquarters which will house the offices and training facilities for the entire organization from first team down to the academy.
Prior to the unexpected passing of Anton Walkes, there was a certain air about the club. You likely sensed this energy. A sense of togetherness and a vibe of the unspoken and intangible “it factor.” This feeling was beginning to permeate the fanbase and seemed to be supported by many inside the club who talked about the camaraderie among the club in early training sessions. Confidence was building in what has been built and what can be accomplished in the approaching season.
Then the unimaginable rocked the team and fanbase to its emotional and spiritual core. Walkes’ passing and his legacy has changed everything. There is a different drive and a different purpose. Time will tell, but the desire to play in his honor should serve as a galvanizing moment for players and fans alike as the club rallies around his memory. The memory of his leadership, his friendship, and his desire to instill in others respect. Respect for the team. Respect for the fans. Respect for all.
So, were Charlotte FC screwed? "We are definitely not screwed. I don't think we were screwed last year, but you know, what was said was said" Charlotte FC midfielder, Brandt Bronico, said in a recent press conference. Maybe the personnel was not the right mix for initial success, and the roller coaster has been a bit of a bumpy ride at times, but no, Charlotte FC were not screwed in the short or long term. This has been proven out over time as the Front Office recognized their mistakes and acted quickly to correct course and move on. On paper, Charlotte FC are primed for success and a “Year Two jump” as they embark on their second campaign.
To be clear, it took a collective effort to start so low in terms of perception and a great amount of work by many of the same individuals went into righting the ship and improving the team’s outlook in the immediate and beyond. If anything, this righting of course was the club’s crowning achievement, one year on.
For such a young club, there has been an unprecedented barrage of adversity. And in spite of that, there is reasonable reasons for optimism and hope. To dare to dream. As we approach the start of our second campaign it would be more apt to say “Stiamo appena iniziando.” We are just getting started. And this is not a statement of excuse; it is a warning. We, the Charlotte FC family, can all feel it and the clubs’ pursuits are clearly to aim higher.
Sporting Director, Zoran Krneta has said the club’s goal and expectation this season is to make the playoffs, and that anything less will be a failure. Coach Lattanzio has punctuated this sentiment by saying the club must remain “humble, but also ambitious.” This focus and mentality are how the club will continue to grow and overcome. Together. Insieme. For Anton. For The Crown.