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Reviewing Lattanzio's First 40 Games

By Brian Maurer

Christian Lattanzio (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)


Becoming a midseason caretaker manager is challenging. Generally, they are assistants who do embody similar philosophies to whomever they are replacing. Still, they are inheriting a roster that they likely had little influence in putting together, and players they hadn’t selected to work with them. Plus all the other technical and assistant coaching changes and shifting around that have to occur.


These were all dilemmas that Christian Lattanzio faced when he took over nearly halfway into Charlotte FC’s inaugural season. His first immediate shift as a caretaker in 2022 was to solidify his backline. Miguel Ángel Ramírez (MAR) regularly rotated his center backs (CBs), often flip-flopping between Christian Makoun and Christian Fuchs.


When Lattanzio became interim coach, he played Guzmán Corujo and Anton Walkes. In Lattanzio’s first 11 games, he started the pairing of Corujo-Walkes 10 times. In their 10th start together, Corujo tore his ACL. During the offseason, Walkes tragically passed away in a boating accident. The team hasn’t had a cohesive CB pairing since.


While Lattanzio was attempting to work through securing cohesion along his backline, the team had to do a complete overhaul in the midfield. Several of Charlotte FC’s midfielders were brought in specifically because of MAR. When Charlotte decided to let go of their inaugural coach, many of those players also left. This included letting go of Alan Franco, Sergio Ruiz, and Titi Ortiz during the season. Makoun was also transferred out in the summer window. They then let go of Jordy Alcívar, Yordy Reyna, and Daniel Ríos during the winter window.


Coaching a side with a lot of turnover is one of the greater challenges for Lattanzio, as the team begins to sign on pieces fit to the style he wants to play. First, the team started cutting loose players from the MAR regime. Second, players started getting signed who were more conducive to how Lattanzio wanted the team to play.


Incoming Transfers


During the last week of the summer window, Charlotte FC signed three new players; Nathan Byrne, Nuno Santos, and Adilson Malanda. Byrne and Malanda have become mainstays in Lattanzio’s starting eleven. While it is clear Lattanzio and the front office were of a similar mind when these transfers were made, Lattanzio likely did not have as much of a hand in picking these signings as they had not yet committed to him as their long-term coaching solution.


The winter window transfers, however, can be deemed part of the Lattanzio era. The winter window signings have had mixed results. Ashley Westwood has grown into the captaincy and midfield distributor role. He looks every part a leader in the midfield and capable of making clinical dangerous passes to help spring attacks.


Justin Meram was an instant hit as the winger as he had six goal contributions (3g/3a) in his first seven MLS starts for Charlotte FC. Young forwards Patrick Agyemang and Brandon Cambridge have also been a hit among fans since making their professional debuts.


The big question mark that continues to overshadow the Lattanzio tenure is designated player (DP) Enzo Copetti. He was brought in on a record transfer fee and his signing was greatly influenced by the style of play Lattanzio is looking to implement. He has shown brief flashes of his finishing quality and his work rate is expectedly high, but he has yet to be able to show up for the team in crucial moments.


The most recent 0-0 draw against CF Montréal is one of the better examples of this. Big money is spent on goalscorers because the expectation is that they can get the team over the line in tight games such as that one.


Defender Bill Tuiloma has also had a rocky start to his Charlotte FC tenure. However, there are several more explainable reasons for this than Copetti’s inconsistencies. Tuiloma was a last-minute acquisition made just before the start of the season.


The changeover and lack of cohesion along the backline would make it difficult for any new player to slot into and produce consistently out of the gate. I would say the jury should still be out on whether Tuiloma can find himself in a regular role on the team. In short glimpses, he has shown he is capable of stepping up with strong last-ditch defending. He is also versatile, as he has been put into several roles along the backline.


The question remains on whether he can cut down on the many blunders he has had. When looking at the scope of his entire career, I would say that is likely as these errors were not a regular trait of his before arriving in Charlotte.


Number one SuperDraft pick Hamady Diop was also added to the ranks, but Lattanzio seems a bit hot and cold on whether he is ready to give Diop any serious consideration this season. The most recent evidence of this was when Lattanzio put Diop in as a substitute against Atlanta and then promptly subbed him out around 15 minutes later.


Charlotte FC lost nine regularly contributing players in 2022 (Franco, Ruiz, Ríos, Makoun, Alcívar, Fuchs, Ortiz, Walkes, and Reyna). This list does not include Santos or Andre Shinyashiki as their status has not yet been officially confirmed by the club, although it looks like both players could be gone during the summer window. The overhaul in transitioning from one coach to another is generally immense as the philosophies and personnel of the entire club change in that process. Player turnover is a natural outcome of that change.


Many transfers have come in to fill the gaps (Westwood, Meram, Copetti, Tuiloma, and newly acquired Scott Arfield). Charlotte FC also made several other signings to help increase the amount of depth and developmental pieces that are on the team. Lattanzio is calling for more moves to be made during this summer window to help fill out the rest of the roster. Time will tell if more of the open spots can get filled during the summer months.


Interim Caretaker to Full-Time Decision Maker


After coming just short of a playoff spot in 2022, the team has had an up-and-down 2023. Some of these issues were from the amount of turnover at the club, and injuries during the early part of the season (e.g. Westwood and Kristijan Kahlina).


Lattanzio has also been going through some growing pains as a new manager. Early on, he spent time rotating players around, sometimes to very different positions. Brandt Bronico was put in at left back early on, and Karol Świderski has been asked to play a variety of different roles. Byrne has been flip-flopped on both sides of the backline, and Derrick Jones has been asked to rotate between the midfield and backline.


The amount of rotation and changes that have been made all come down to Lattanzio. Some have worked, and some have not. Needless to say, he is sticking to his guns on what he wants to happen, but consistent results have just not been there. That isn’t to say they won’t get there, though.


Several good coaches in MLS had difficult starts 40 games into their coaching careers in MLS. Some of those coaches are now very successful with their teams today. Here is the list of coaches who started with their teams as caretakers before earning the full-time position:

Coach

Team

Record Through 40 Games

Brian Schmetzer

Seattle Sounders

19-12-9 (69 points)

Pablo Mastroeni

Real Salt Lake

17-7-16 (58)

Christian Lattanzio

Charlotte FC

14-8-18 (50)

Nick Cushing

NYCFC

12-13-15 (49)

Peter Vermes

Sporting Kansas City

13-9-18 (48)

Jim Curtin

Philadelphia Union

12-10-18 (46)

All caretaker managers who have earned full-time manager roles currently in MLS, and their records through their first 40 games (Records pulled from Transfermarkt)


An Analytical Comparison of Lattanzio’s 2022 and 2023 Seasons


Lattanzio’s 2022 season had several highs and lows to it. Many of these were to be expected as he had to come in to try and help put out fires left by the club after letting go of MAR. He ended the season on a high, winning several key games down the stretch that put the club within striking distance of a playoff spot in the final weeks. They fell just short, but the effort and the togetherness that the team showed likely played a key role in the team signing him on as the permanent head coach.


His 2023 season, however, has had many of the same lows seen by fans in 2022. After 20 games, Charlotte FC finds themselves seven points off seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Several of their underlying numbers have been consistently low for much of the season.


When looking at Charlotte FC’s 2023 expected goal differential (xGD) as a five-week rolling average, there has not been a five-week period yet this season where they have had a positive xGD.

xGD stats pulled from American Soccer Analysis


This is particularly difficult to swallow when compared to last season during Lattanzio’s 20-game stretch where there were both highs and lows, but with the season ending on a high when looking at xGD as a rolling average. The high the team ended on last season was likely where many would have hoped the team would have picked up from in 2023. But that has not been the case.

xGD stats pulled from American Soccer Analysis


A similar valley can be seen when looking at the 2022 xPoints rolling average during the Lattanzio era, with the end of the season climbing to a new height and optimism. A bottoming out has occurred with these numbers in 2023.

xPoints stats pulled from American Soccer Analysis

xPoints stats pulled from American Soccer Analysis


When looking at offensive production in 2022, the volume was steadily increasing as the season progressed when looking at the rolling average of Charlotte FC’s xG. In 2023, that average has also bottomed out a bit and is even decreasing.

xG stats pulled from American Soccer Analysis

xG stats pulled from American Soccer Analysis


These final graphs tell me a different story than what has been the most common narrative surrounding fans and what has been discussed at times in press conferences. That narrative is that Charlotte FC’s defense is the issue. But, when looking at offensive volume (xG), the attack has gotten worse compared to where it was at the end of last season. The attack has also retained most of its pieces and added a few. This is the current conundrum of the Lattanzio era and one that needs to be solved during the season's final stretch.


Final Thoughts


Lattanzio’s tenure has included many more hurdles than is typical of most caretaker managers that have earned their way into the permanent coaching position. These extraneous challenges have come with a mixed bag of results. When comparing those results to most other current MLS coaches, who also earned their way to full-time roles from a caretaker position, a mixed bag appears common.


What is concerning is how Lattanzio was able to get progressively positive results out of his 2022 group but is struggling mightily to get that same progression out of his 2023 team. This is especially concerning on the offensive end, where the team made significant positional upgrades during the winter transfer window. For the tide to turn on this season, attacking volume will need to increase during the final stretch of the season.


This point was made pretty clear by Lattanzio as well during the post-match press conference against CF Montréal after the team walked away with a 0-0 draw. The final stretch of the season will come down to whether Lattanzio's tactics can get his attackers into dangerous positions consistently in possession. Once there, more efficient finishing will also be required for Charlotte FC to make the playoffs.


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