By Jacob Sokol
Photo courtesy of planetsport.com
Lineup experimentation has been a theme throughout Charlotte FC’s second season in MLS. Brandt Bronico, the midfielder, played two games at left back earlier this year. Derrick Jones, another midfielder, has put in shifts at center back due to multiple injuries in the back line. Designated Player, Karol Świderski, has been shuffled from his preferred position as a striker to an attacking midfielder, or even a winger, at times.
A few weeks ago in a press conference Charlotte FC’s head coach, Christian Lattanzio, made it clear he has asked the front office for at least three new additions to the squad in the quickly approaching transfer market. With the second half of the season upon us, the time for experimentation needs to end. It is time to solidify a consistent lineup.
It appears the front office has heard Lattanzio and more importantly, they have acted. Scott Arfield, an attacking midfielder from Rangers FC, will be joining Charlotte FC on a free transfer. His contract will run through 2024 with an option to sign for 2025.
Arfield has had a career that has seen international appearances for Canada, Champions League, and Europa League appearances for Rangers FC, as well as three seasons that ended with promotion in England. Calling him a hardened veteran is almost an understatement. He will arguably have the most complete career of any player wearing a Charlotte FC jersey.
From SPL and League One to the Europa League Final
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Arfield began his senior career with Falkirk in the Scottish Premier League, scoring 13 times in 101 appearances across three seasons. With those seasons ending in 7th, 10th, and 12th place respectively, it wouldn’t be until he went to League One side, Huddersfield, that he would have his first taste at glory. His first season at Huddersfield was another consistent one for Arfield, playing in 40 matches, where he found the back of the net four times. They would ultimately lose in the promotion playoff final against Peterborough, but this would only push them harder the following season.
At the end of the 2011/12 season, Huddersfield would once again make it to Wembley for the League One playoff final, this time facing Sheffield United. Arfield suffered a hairline fracture in the semi-final playoff against MK Dons but would push through, playing every minute in the final.
After regulation and extra time ended the teams were locked at 0-0. Penalty kicks would be required. With promotion on the line, a game with more pressure than anything MLS has ever experienced, Arfield buried his penalty kick in a result that ended 8-7 and saw every single member of both lineups take a shot from the spot. Arfield proved he can perform when the pressure is on.
Unfortunately due to the hairline fracture Arfield played through in League One playoffs, he would miss the beginning of Huddersfield’s first Championship stint in 11 years. His involvement in the second half of the season wouldn’t be enough, and the team was relegated back to League One once more.
Despite Huddersfield being relegated, Arfield had proven his ability. This led to him being transferred to Championship side Burnley, where he would be part of a much more important promotion. Burnley finished in second place, automatically qualifying them to join the English Premier League. Arfield was key, scoring eight times in 45 appearances.
Much like the Burnley team of today, the squad in Arfield’s time would bounce back and forth between the Premier League and the Championship. They would finish 19th in 2014/15, relegating them, before placing first in The Championship in 2015/16, securing promotion once more. Arfield would show his consistency throughout, playing in every single match across those two seasons except one.
What happened next for Burnley is important to the Charlotte FC narrative. Ashley Westwood would join the squad. Arfield is likely joining Charlotte this month based, at least in part, on the relationship the two had at Burnley. Westwood has been the epitome of class on and off the pitch for Charlotte FC. If Arfield is anything like Westwood, Charlotte FC is in for a treat.
While Westwood became more prevalent in the 2016/17 season for Burnley, Arfield would become less prevalent. He would eventually move to Rangers FC where he could continue what he was used to — playing every game possible.
At Rangers, Arfield would come in second place four out of five seasons and would place first in 2020/21 under team manager, Steven Gerrard.
During the 2021/22 season, Rangers would make it the whole way to the Europa League Final. Arfield, as usual, continued to play every game, and would even bury his penalty kick when the game ended in a shootout. Unfortunately, Aaron Ramsey would miss his penalty, handing the title to Eintracht Frankfurt.
43 goals and 19 assists across 233 matches in all competitions would be Arfield’s total contribution to Rangers FC before joining Charlotte. If he can bring that goal-scoring and creative ability to the Queen City, we could see Charlotte FC quickly jump a few places in the league standings.
The Missing #10
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The truth is, Charlotte FC doesn’t have a definitive #10. The advanced playmaker role has been overseen by Świderski and more recently, Ben Bender. While these players are capable of great performances at times, they haven’t shown the creativity and consistency required to inspire confidence.
Świderski has filled the role best, but only out of necessity. Enzo Copetti has become the official striker, playing nearly every minute of every match when healthy. This has pushed Świderski elsewhere, which is why he has been playing in the attacking midfielder, or second striker, role.
With the addition of Arfield, a veteran who has had success in multiple leagues, it is easy to envision the playmaker role as his for the taking. His impact could be comparable to what Justin Meram and Westwood have brought to the squad in the form of cool and calm consistency. The growing veteran presence could mitigate pressure from the younger, dynamic players who are trying to find their form in MLS.
Copetti, Świderski, Bender, Kerwin Vargas, Brandon Cambridge, and, Kamil Jóźwiak, are all in their early to mid-20s and their first or second season in MLS. These players all have raw talent and at times, have created opportunities that can leave fans in awe. What is required is a gel that binds them. What is required is a veteran attacking midfielder who can unleash their potential. Arfield is set up to be that player.
Charlotte FC currently sits in 10th place in the Eastern Conference of MLS. With expectations for the season being playoffs, most would agree their form hasn’t been good enough.
Injuries have plagued the team so there has been room for some errors. It’s understandable. With the success of Crown Legacy FC though and the young and upcoming players that come from that success, the real thing lacking is role models that can prove winning is possible. Arfield is a winner. He has won the English Championship title. He has won The Scottish Premier League title. He has made it to the Europa League Final with Rangers FC. He knows what it takes, and his presence can inspire wins. If his impact can be immediate, Charlotte FC could see themselves catapulted into a playoff position.
Arfield will be available for first-team selection on July 5th. This means he could be seen on the pitch as early as the match against NYCFC.