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Notes on Charlotte FC's preseason heading into Week 1

By Sam Vanolinda

Photo courtesy of Cisco's Art

After three games in Coachella Valley, Charlotte FC’s Dean Smith era has started on a high note with wins against LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes and a 0-0 draw with Minnesota.

Since these games were being live-streamed for free on Charlotte FC’s website, it has given us a chance to look at what style of football may be played in the regular season under Smith, and what players he may prefer at the contested positions within the club.

Three clean sheets in three games, with a convincing 3-0 win versus a talented LA Galaxy squad and a solid 1-0 victory against the Earthquakes suggests a more solid, well-organized game plan in 2024, compared to the up-and-down 2023.

In regards to the 1-0 win versus San Jose, Smith noted that the team “Showed discipline without the ball, won it back in really good areas at times..we made it tough for them to score against us and got another clean sheet, that's a bonus because the more of them you can get in the league this season the more games you’re going to win.”

Here are some notable players and position battles that stood out:

Joao Pedro looks like he belongs

João Pedro was touted as a very talented prospect for Charlotte FC after his amazing performances last year for Crown Legacy.

Through the first three preseason games, he has played at both left center back and left back, and he looks like a seasoned player despite only being 20 years old.

The Brazilian is solid on the ball and has great defensive instincts. He could challenge Privett for that LCB role by pairing up with Adilson Malanda.

Enzo Copetti is the key

Down two DP’s and with the season rapidly approaching, the spotlight is on Enzo Copetti to lead Charlotte this year. If he excels, the team could overachieve, if he isn’t able to provide consistent good performances or picks up an injury, it could be a long year.

Copetti was able to score as a substitute in the second half of the LA Galaxy game, showing his composure in front of the net.

He and Patrick Agyemang have been sharing the striker role in these preseason matches, and that will most likely continue into the season, Agyemang being a great option off the bench if Smith does not want to operate with two strikers.

Smith was impressed with Copetti’s performance versus the Galaxy. “As you saw today, he’s hard-running, he knows where the goal is, won the foul for the free kick, and scored a good goal as well. He made a difference when he came on at halftime.” Smith said post-game.


The right-wing is still a large question.

Arfield switched from his usual more central position to start there versus the Galaxy, and star boy Nimfasha Berchimas was given a go against San Jose.

Once Bender is healthy he could slot into that position, but for Saturday against NYCFC, the door is wide open as to who could be given the spot.

Berchimas seemed like a future prospect after he broke out at the U-17 World Cup, but he may already be able to make an impact this year at the MLS level if he continues to impress against players five-plus years older than him.

There is also SuperDraft pick, Tyger Smalls, who may not make an immediate impact in the MLS, but has some explosive dribbling ability and could be a name we hear as the season goes on, just like how Bender broke onto the scene in his rookie year.

Trialist Tarique Fosu also saw some time on the wing, the 28-year-old former Brentford stand-out would take up an International roster slot if he was signed.

Iuri Tavares, who was just signed to a first-team contract, could also slot into a starting role due to the lack of current depth at winger. Tavares impressed during the preseason and Saturday could signal just how much of an impression the young attacker made on Smith in California.

Brecht Dejaegere played centrally

Even with the right-wing being in question, Smith opted to keep his Belgian midfielder in a more central role throughout the preseason. This suggests that when the team is lacking in one area or position on the field, he’s not going to put key contributors out of position to fill that role.

This approach highlights some of the pragmatism of Smith’s coaching style. Demonstrating that he plays the players he has available in the positions where they are the strongest, regardless of how strong other positions in the XI might be.

Westwood and Malanda see the most time

Smith made it obvious that Ashley Westwood and Adilson Malanda are two players who will look to be leaders within the team this season.

Westwood was the only player to play a full 90, versus San Jose, And Malanda played close to 75 minutes, more than the 30-60 minutes most players in the team were getting. 

Malanda showed incredible potential last year, but look for him to be a true anchor and leader coming into this year; Westwood being a captain and a player with top-level English league experience, it's clear that Smith trusts him to lead this team.

These two players will have a massive impact on the success of Charlotte FC this year, it’s good to see that Smith has already developed a trust for them.

Direct football

Last year, the possession-based, pressing style that Charlotte played with under Christian Lattanzio would look very pretty at times but also could fall apart.

It would create goals for the Crown, but lead to tired legs and late lapses of concentration that cost the team a massive chunk of points.

Through the preseason games, it seems as though Smith wants to implement a more direct style of football, with organized defending and fluid counterattacks. 

It’s clear Smith favors full-backs in a more traditional role, making overlapping runs, and he trusts his ball-playing center-backs and midfielders to make key passes to the players making those runs.

Overall, the play may not be as possessive as last year, but the team looks prepared to grind out more positive results. Three preseason clean sheets show that the team believes in Smith’s system and is ready to have an identity as a hard team to get past.