By Tyler Trent
Brandt Bronico visits the U13/U12 Discovery Program. Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.
Our second position of need will be midfield depth. At the moment, the Charlotte FC options in central midfield are Brandt Bronico, Nuno Santos, Derrick Jones, Chris Hegardt, and Ben Bender. Moving into next season, Chris Hegardt is likely to see split time between Charlotte’s MLS Next Pro team, and the senior team with Brant Bronico, Nuno Santos, Derrick Jones, and Ben Bender as the main midfield options. Bender has often played further up the field than the previously mentioned players, but could slot in deeper as needed. Charlotte likely see Derrick Jones and Brandt Bronico competing for the starting "6" position for the team in year two. Bronico finished the season playing a more advanced role, but I think he is more suited playing deep. Rumors are that Charlotte is also considering another player to fill the "6" position as well. Adding more central midfielders will be a key area to improve the team and add more depth. I could see Charlotte signing a starting caliber player and bringing in another strong depth piece as well with the departure of Jordy Alcívar. For attacking midfield, Charlotte currently has options of Ben Bender, Nuno Santos, and Karol Świderski. It remains to be seen if Charlotte considers any of the above players primarily an attacking midfielder. Although the rumored signing of Enzo Copetti could lead one to believe that Świderski might be staying in that position as he finished last season. Regardless, looking for more players capable of filling that role is likely be considered for the club.
Central Midfield - Dream Signing
Tijjani Reijnders on the pitch for AZ. Photo courtesy of AZ.
Tijjani Reijnders (AZ Alkmaar – Age 24) has started seeing consistent playing time this season for AZ in the Dutch Eredivisie. Reijnders is midfield player who can control the middle of the park with his accurate passing no matter the distance needed. In 26 games across all competitions this season, he has scored 5 goals and added 6 assists. Reijnders is currently estimated to be worth 6.3 million dollars which would require Reijnders to come as a designated-player. When the research began for this article, his estimated value was closer to 3 million dollars which was a more realistic fee for Charlotte FC to consider. However, if they think he is designated player quality, he could still be a potential option but at a record-breaking price for Charlotte FC if he does at his current estimated value.
Central Midfield - Realistic Signings
Johnny Cardoso (Sport Club Internacional – Age 21) received a callup to the United States national team after Yunus Musah was out with an injury in September. Johnny last season in the Brazilian Série A was a strong one for the midfielder with 3 goals and 2 assists. Transfermarkt’s estimated price tag is 2.6 million dollars which puts him in a reasonable price range for furthering midfield depth. His USA citizenship is also a big plus as previously mentioned. Johnny would provide a lot of fight in midfield to win possession back and start the attack.
Bilal Hussein for AIK. Photo courtesy of AIK.
Bilal Hussein (AIK – Age 22) has been an elite passer for AIK in the Swedish Allsvenskan this season. In his five seasons with AIK, he has seen a steady increase in playtime and consistency. Known for his accurate long balls, he has also seen an increase in offensive production this season with 3 assists in 24 games. He is currently estimated with a 2.1 million dollars price tag which makes him well-in the range Charlotte should be looking to pay for an updated midfield.
Hugo Vetlesen celebrates a goal. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Hugo Vetlesen (FK Bodø/Glimt - Age 22) has possibly the most impressive stat line for this season. He scored 16 goals and added 12 assists in 29 games all while playing from central midfield. Currently valued at 1.3 million dollars, for a very talented player could be a bargain. His defensive and standard passing stats aren't as impressive as his goalscoring feats, but they are average for the league as well. However, he is near the top of the league in most offensive stats.
Hampus Finndell (Djurgårdens IF – Age 22) is another Swedish midfielder that I’ve kept an eye on recently. In 27 matches this season, he scored 5 times and added 2 assists from central midfield. While his passing numbers aren’t as accurate as the previously mentioned Hussein, he provides more offensive output with decent passing stats as well. His team also play a pressing style which could benefit Charlotte. The young Swede is currently valuated at 1.9 million dollars.
Sergio Peña on the ball for Malmö. Photo courtesy of Andreas Hillergren/TT
Sergio Peña (Malmö FF – Age 26) is a Peruvian midfielder that currently plays in the Allsvenskan. He previously made stops in La Liga and the Eredivisie, and is a regular with the Peru National Team. Peña is an all-around midfielder with a great range of passing with pressing and other strong defensive work as well. He is currently valued at 2.1 million dollars and could provide that bite in the midfield that has been missing since the departure of Alan Franco.
Johan Hove (Strømsgodset – Age 22) while only 22 years old, he is currently in his 7th season playing professional football in Norway. With an unusual amount of experience for a 22-year-old, Hove has continued to improve his game from central midfield. This season, he scored 11 goals and added 2 assists. Hove has also been a regular with the youth teams of Norway, most recently the U21 team with 19 appearances. With an estimated value of 1.4 million dollars, he could be a prime target for Charlotte FC in the offseason.
Yasin Ayari models the AIK kit. Photo courtesy of AIK.
Yasin Ayari (AIK – Age 19) is another talented midfield player for AIK in Sweden. He has been generating hype lately throughout Europe. He finished the season with 4 goals and 2 assists in
24 appearances. Ayari is currently valued at 3.2 million dollars and could make for a strong U-22 initiative or YDP candidate. Ayari loves to shoot and play the ball through the defense to his forwards. He has looked very impressive at a young age for AIK and the Swedish youth national teams.
Ben Lederman battles for the ball. Photo courtesy of Rakow.
Ben Lederman (Raków Częstochowa – Age 22) the former USA youth international who was the first American to be invited to Barcelona’s La Masia, is an interesting prospect for Charlotte FC. The American-born, Polish central midfielder has been with Raków for the past four seasons, but last season he really made a name for himself in Poland as a regular starter as his club finished second in the table. This season, he has been getting less minutes which could leave an opening for Charlotte to swoop in if he is interested in returning to the United States. He is currently valued at 1.1 million dollars which could be a perfect signing that wouldn’t take up an international spot, but could provide good depth in midfield.
Zorgane for Charleroi. Photo courtesy of Joris Verwijst/Getty Images.
Adem Zorgane (Charleroi - Age 22) is an imposing figure to have in midfield. Capable of playing at the "6" and "8", the Algerian will cover a lot of ground across the full pitch and provide quality passing in all situations while being positionally aware in defensive situations to extinguish trouble before it begins. Currently valued at 4.1 million dollars, Zorgane is becoming a regular with the Algerian national team for good reason. However, he has recently commented to media that he intends to stay with Charleroi through the season to secure a better position in the standings.
Samuel Gustafson (BK Häcken - Age 27) is the captain of Häcken and a teammate of the previously mentioned left-back Kristoffer Lund. A textbook defensive midfielder who controls the center of the pitch and loves to be on the ball with an excellent passing range. He was consistently one of the best players for this years Swedish champions providing strong cover for the defense and progressing the ball up into the attack.
Midfield – Hidden Gem
Amir Richardson playing for Le Havre. Photo courtesy of Ligue 2.
Amir Richardson (Le Havre - Age 20) is the son of former American basketball player Micheal "Sugar" Ray Richardson, however he was born to a French-Moroccan mother and has grown up in France and has broken out with Le Havre's first team in Ligue 2. Richardson has scored 1 goal and added 2 assists in Ligue 2 this season in 13 appearances. His value is currently estimated at 2.1 million dollars, but he recently moved to Reims this summer so a move to Charlotte may be unlikely. Richardson provides a unique profile to the previously mentioned players. At 6' 5", he has a lot of height to help me with aerial challenges and his long reach help him with ground duals and interceptions. He is an excellent progressive passer including long ball and through balls and has some dribble ability as well.
Final Thoughts on Central Midfielders
Charlotte FC will likely look for midfielder reinforcements, whether they look to do that within the league, in the MLS draft, or abroad remains to be seen. However, if they do look abroad, any of the mentioned players could provide a much needed boost to the middle of the pitch. Yasin Ayari and Bilal Hussein are two players I would particularly love to see in MLS as U-22 initiative players or young designated-players. They both have really high upsides and have received interest from some top league and clubs in Europe. Bringing that talent level to MLS and the Queen City could be huge especially with the success of recent U-22 initiative players like José Cifuentes. Both these players typically fill the "8" position which would see them likely in competition with Nuno Santos for playtime, however they have shown the tools to play multiple positions in the midfield. Specifically Ayari with an attacking midfield role.
Perhaps my favorite of the the mentioned players is Tijjani Reijnders. He is the most complete and proven talent listed above, but the recent rise in his stock would potentially be a deterrent for signing him. He has recently received interest from Championship side Sheffield United as well who is currently looking to reinforce their depleted midfield as they look for promotion to the Premier League. Reijnders is capable of playing both the "6" and "8" at high level and has shown great playmaking ability from both.
Amir Richardson provides something none of the other players provide in his size at either of the two central midfield positions. The bonus of having an American passport is something to consider, as well as Le Havre looking to reportedly be shopping him at the moment. These factors could lead to Charlotte FC considering the player that provides a unique profile for the squad.
Attacking Midfield - Dream Signing
Eduard Spertsyan poses for a picture after the match. Photo courtesy of ArmSport.
Eduard Spertsyan (FC Krasnodar – Age 22) is everything you would want in an attacking midfielder. The Armenian is in his third season of professional football after coming through the youth system of Krasnodar. Spertsyan is an excellent set piece taker including corners and free kicks and likes to drift to the left side of the field to get a good angle for a shot with his right foot. In 16 games this season, he has scored 9 goals and provided 6 assists. His value is listed at 9.4 million dollars which would be a statement signing for Charlotte FC if the player was interested.
Carlo Holse celebrates a goal. Photo courtesy of Rosenborg BK.
Carlo Holse (Rosenborg BK – Age 23) – is a great prospect for a central attacking midfielder for Charlotte FC. At Rosenborg, he plays both wings and attacking midfield depending on the match, however he has primarily played at right wing for Rosenborg. This season, he scored 3 goals and added 16 assists in 28 appearances. While his goalscoring is down compared to previous seasons, he has more than made up for it with his contributions passing to his teammates. His playmaking ability and passing would be a welcome addition to most clubs. The Danish player is currently valued at 1.7 million dollars which would provide a quality option at a much cheaper rate.
Kevin Sandoval (Club Cienciano – Age 25) has been a huge asset in the Peruvian League this year scoring 11 goals and bagging 12 assists in 35 games. Sandoval is capable of playing as an attacking midfielder or a left winger with great set piece delivery as well. He is currently estimated to be worth $760,000 which provides a lot of value if he could continue that production in MLS.
Martin Baturina (Dinamo Zagreb - Age 19) in his first full season as a professional, he has quickly began to make a name for himself in Croatia. Baturina has scored 3 goals and provided 4 assists in 15 appearances so far this season. He is currently valued at 6.8 million dollars which would require a leap of faith for a player that doesn't have a full pro season under his belt yet.
Franco Cristaldo celebrates in his classic fashion. Photo courtesy of CA Huracán
Franco Cristaldo (CA Huracán - Age 26) is a former Boca Juniors youth player who was bounced around on loans before finally finding his feet with Huracán in 2020 and eventually moving there in 2022 as a permanent members. Last season he played nearly every minute in the league scoring 14 goals and adding 5 assists. His estimated value has shot up to 6.1 million dollars after his explosive season. However, there are reports a deal is close to being completed with Grêmio for an estimated 4.5 million dollars.
Iliman Ndiaye kisses the Senegal badge at the World Cup. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters.
Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United - Age 22) recently participated in the 2022 World Cup with Senegal where he made 3 appearances and provided an assist in the win against Qatar. This season in England's Championship he's scored 9 goals and added 2 assists in 21 appearances. His value is currently estimated at 3.7 million dollars. As previously mentioned Sheffield may be interested in Tijani Reijnders which could leave opportunity for someone to swoop in for Iliman Ndiaye as Sheffield also have youngster James McAtee at attacking midfield this season. However, the player has specially mentioned wanting to play in France.
Michal Ševčík (Zbrojovka Brno - Age 20) is an interceding prospect for attacking midfield. In his third season of professional football, he has built on a strong campaign in the second division of the Czech Republic where he scored 6 goals and provided 10 assists. This season in the top division, he has scored 7 goals and added 5 assists in 16 appearances for the newly promoted club. Currently valued at 1 million dollars, it could be worth a shot to bet on his talent and potential before his stock begins to rise.
Attacking Midfield – Hidden Gem
Makoto Mitsuta celebrates in his first professional season. Photo courtesy of J League.
Makoto Mitsuta (Sanfrecce Hiroshima – Age 23) is an attacking midfielder used to playing a pressing style and covering a lot of ground. With 9 goals and 8 assists in 29 games this season, Mitsuta has been a huge contributor to Hiroshima’s 3rd place finish in the table in Japan. Currently valued at $470,000, taking a chance on Mitsuta could provide huge dividends if he would consider leaving for MLS and was able to adjust to a new league.
Final Thoughts on Attacking Midfielders
Eduard Spertsyan would be a statement signing plus some. With interest already confirmed by several top French clubs and numerous other European teams likely to follow, convincing the player to come to Charlotte would be a coup. Combine that with the high and rising price tag, it likely won't happen. Franco Cristaldo is an interesting option if the currently reported deal with Grêmio falls through. However, Carlo Holse and Iliman Ndiaye are the two most interesting prospects mentioned for me. Holse is potentially on the market at a very affordable price combined with three seasons of solid performances. Ndiaye is in the midst of a very strong season in the Championship after a solid season last year as well. Combine that with his recent World Cup experience and if he was available near his 3.5 million dollars estimated value, it seems like a no-brainer to me.
There are a plethora of strong midfield options for Charlotte in the foreign transfer market. It remains to be seen if they will look to enforce all three positions and continue in their 4-2-3-1 formation next season. Be on the lookout tomorrow to see an in-depth look at a few players from this article and what they could provide Charlotte FC next season.
All player values have been sourced from Transfermarkt – they are not representative of actual transfer fees that would be required to sign a player and, in many cases, will be lower than the actual value of the player.
The transfer market is much more difficult than looking at players values. This article does not take into account player salaries and intangibles.