By Brian Maurer
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
Since Christian Lattanzio replaced Miguel Ángel Ramírez (MAR) as the interim manager for Charlotte FC’s inaugural season, the questioning of whether Lattanzio should be given the full time job began. Of late, the Charlotte fanbase has been calling for Lattanzio’s head as they have only won three of their past ten games. In this article I take a look at why Lattanzio could actually be the right man for the job moving forward.
Development of Players
When a club is making a decision on who to have as their coach, there are two major factors that need to be looked at. First is how good a coach is at developing players that are on a team. Second is how good a coach is at recruiting new talent to the club.
One of the biggest highlights of the inaugural season has been the season-long consistency of midfielder Brandt Bronico’s performances. When Bronico has been asked about the progressions that he has made as a player this season, he talks avidly about the time and effort that Lattanzio would put in to help him with his growth.
While Bronico might be the biggest stand out performer and demonstration of Lattanzio’s ability to develop talent, there have been several others that have shown a benefit from Lattanzio’s tutelage. Winger McKinze Gaines has shown steady improvement throughout the course of the season.
While, at first, he was regularly lacking composure in the final third, even if he was getting into the final third constantly, he has started to show an ability to slow the game down a bit and is able to make stronger decisions with the ball which has led him to getting a goal and a couple assists.
Undrafted free agent midfielder Quinn McNeill is another player who has developed well under Lattanzio. McNeill would likely not be a name under any consideration as a depth midfielder at all if Lattanzio was not currently the coach.
Lattanzio’s resume for developing players is world class. His ability to develop talent has continued both when he started at Charlotte as an assistant, and has continued in his time this season as the interim head coach.
The likelihood of Charlotte FC finding a better coaching candidate to develop the talent on the roster is unlikely, which means one of the main things that Charlotte would have to be interested in if they decide to look for a new coach is if they can find one who is capable of attracting players to Charlotte. Similar to how Tata Martino attracted Miguel Almirón to Atlanta United.
Familiarity With The Situation
Lattanzio has been in this situation before, and has helped an MLS club improve in their second season after a difficult expansion campaign. Lattanzio was Patrick Vieira’s assistant when he took over the reins of NYCFC in their second season. In New York’s inaugural season, the club ended their campaign on 37 points and finished 17th out of 20 teams*. In New York’s second season when Vieira took over as the head coach, with Lattanzio as his assistant, the team improved to 54 points and finished 4th in MLS.
Lattanzio has been involved in an MLS expansion project before and has had a direct hand in improving NYCFC into a playoff team from a team that was near the bottom of the table in their inaugural campaign. Out of the potential coaching candidates that Charlotte will likely be considering this winter, there will likely not be any who have actually been in the exact situation that Charlotte are going to be in heading into year two as a club. Lattanzio has been in Charlotte’s situation before with NYCFC, and helped them improve into a playoff team in their second season.
Committed To The Club
Lattanzio has expressed a commitment and passion to Charlotte FC. He has expressed this in recent press conferences, and also that he has an interest in helping the club longer term. Having a coach who already has a commitment and an attachment to the club could be a great asset, especially if Lattanzio demonstrates that he can help Charlotte achieve their goals long term. Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin started out as an academy coach who wound up getting an opportunity as an interim manager for the Union in 2014. He has since gone on to be a successful coach who has fully committed to the Union in the long term. While that commitment did not pay major dividends in the short term, the Union are now reaping their reward with several successful campaigns in a row.
Sometimes committing to the coach who has already demonstrated a commitment to the club can be the right answer, even if the decision is not always the flashy one. Lattanzio was already committed to the project in Charlotte, even without being the coach. Keeping him in the coaching role for next season would ensure that the players are being coached by someone who is for sure committed to the club. Bringing in a new manager brings the chance that that manager may not be committed to the club or the fanbase. This was the issue that the team ran into with their initial hiring of MAR.
Setting a Culture and Raising Expectations
One of the reasons for MAR’s departure was the lack of intensity in training. The level of intensity in training is a cultural expectation that must be set by the coach. Which was Lattanzio’s responsibility to increase and to change when he was given responsibility for the team.
In his time as the coach this season Lattanzio has shown a willingness to commit to a more intense culture and higher expectations in training, which has led him to making unpopular lineup decisions at times. However, having a manager who is willing to make unpopular decisions in order to stay committed to a philosophy and a gameplan is a quality that can be found in many successful managers at all levels of soccer, and in most other sports as well.
Bringing in a new manager does not guarantee that that manager will be as committed to establishing a long term culture, or willing to look badly at times in order to help establish that cultural foundation. This is something that Charlotte FC has already seen evidence of from Lattanzio.
Ability to Attract MLS Players to Charlotte
Lattanzio has both experience in MLS and has spent over a decade developing players in Europe. He will likely be able to attract players both from within MLS and from abroad. Charlotte FC will likely be able to find other candidates who can also attract talented players to Charlotte, but the key will be if they can find a manager who can both attract new players and develop the players that are currently on the roster. These are both things that Charlotte FC’s front office will know Lattanzio can do, so if Charlotte FC decides to make a move away from Lattanzio they will need to be sure that their new manager has a strong track record of developing talent and attracting the needed talent to improve the team.
Lattanzio’s Coaching Performance So Far
Lattanzio’s coaching performance has been underrated by the fanbase. While MAR’s coaching performance was quite a bit overrated. A speculation to why that is could be how the two managers differ in their interactions with the fans and media in press conferences. MAR was always quick to highlight the flaws in the roster build and the lack of talent that was on the team as to the reasons for poor early season performances. Lattanzio, on the other hand, never brings up limitations in the same group of players and rather focuses on his belief in them and what they can focus on to do better.
It should be acknowledged as a testament to Lattanzio’s character that he is not as willing to berate the abilities of the players he coaches as easily as MAR did, especially since Lattanzio was left with even fewer players on the roster than MAR was.
When MAR was fired Charlotte FC had 16 points from 14 games. That is a 1.14 point per game (PPG) pace. Lattanzio put Charlotte FC back into the playoff hunt by earning 10 points from his first six games as interim manager. After this start the team’s performances began to slide. At the same time multiple players were sold, reducing Charlotte’s midfield greatly. During Lattanzio’s time as interim manager he has lost four players from the senior roster (Sergio Ruiz, Christian Makoun, Alan Franco and Cristian Ortíz), and the club was rumored to be trying to move on from Yordy Reyna as well. Even with the roster being reduced Lattanzio has still managed to help the team slightly improve on the team’s initial form. The heartbreak that many fans blame Lattanzio for causing is due to the team sliding away from a playoff position. A position that Lattanzio is also responsible for putting them in. A task Lattanzio was able to accomplish with fewer resources provided then MAR, who was given a multi-year deal when he was brought on as the coach.
Keeping Lattanzio for a full season in 2023 would give Charlotte FC a coach who the organization is familiar with, and can know they can count on when it comes to implementing a game plan and culture that the club desires to achieve. He would also provide the ability to continue developing the younger players on the squad who were brought into the club because one of Charlotte FC’s aims is to be known for developing talent. Lattanzio would also provide a plan for success in year two. One that he already has experience with implementing as he was involved in NYCFC’s 17 point jump in their second season.
The one area where an argument can be made for a new coach being signed to replace Lattanzio is to have a coach who can attract higher quality talent. However, Lattanzio very well could attract players to the squad based on his previous experience in both MLS and his extensive experience working abroad in Europe. If the squad chooses to bring in a manager who can attract higher quality talent they run the risk of reducing the club’s ability to develop their own talent from within, which Lattanzio has a strong track record of doing.
Charlotte FC have also set themselves up with a back up plan as well if they do give Lattanzio a shot next season and he does not work out. When Charlotte FC signed José Tavares as their MLS NEXT Pro coach they brought in a very highly touted coaching prospect. One who has even gotten an offer from a Premier League club. While it would be a very cumbersome situation for Charlotte to need to address a coaching change for twice in their first two seasons, Tavares would be another great prospective replacement for Lattanzio, or whoever else may be signed on as Charlotte FC’s coach for the 2023 season.
*All stats found on FBref.com