By Sam Vanolinda
Nathan Byrne (Photo courtesy of Cisco's Art)
After a big victory against LAFC last weekend, Charlotte FC’s busy schedule continued, with a midweek match at home versus Orlando City, and then another Saturday night game versus Nashville SC last night, Charlotte’s first-ever visit to the Music City.
Both of these games ended in 1-1 draws. Early in the season, these could be regarded as decent results against good teams, but with the season dwindling and the playoff race becoming tighter, The Crown could’ve used another three points from at least one of those games.
Here are my three takeaways from these two games:
History repeats itself
At times this Charlotte FC team seems cursed. They have dropped 21 (Twenty-One!) points from winning situations this season, meaning in games that they have had the lead.
In both the Orlando and Nashville games, Charlotte FC has had the lead with under five to go. In Nashville's case, it was a matter of seconds before the whistle would be blown, and in both of those games, minor lapses in one player's concentration have cost Charlotte four points.
On Wednesday it was the goalkeeper Kristijan Khalina, and somewhat the Charlotte defenders, for letting a free kick by Orlando’s Martín Ojeda that was supposed to be a cross bounce in the penalty area before surprising Khalina and rolling into the corner of the net.
Last night, it looked like Scott Arfield was the hero again after he smashed a ball into the back of the net in the 93rd minute of play. However, in the 98th minute, when many would’ve thought the whistle should've already been blown, Nathan Byrne, who had been incredibly solid all game in the right back position, conceded a debatable penalty.
Hany Muhktar slotted it home comfortably.
For some Charlotte fans, it may be a confidence booster for the future, and for some, it is just more fuel for the fire, but there is no denying that Charlotte FC has been the better team in a lot of games this season that they have let slip away because of mental lapses.
Even recovering half the points they have dropped from winning positions would have the team comfortably in a playoff spot.
That being said, you can avoid these dropped points by just scoring more goals, which will be discussed later.
A rejuvenated center back duo
23-year-old Andrew Privett and 21-year-old Adilson Malanda have been a breath of fresh air within Charlotte’s defense, which has been rocked by injuries for the majority of the season.
The Achilles heel for Charlotte FC has been more of an Achilles torso, it's not hard to figure out what the team's weakness is. They have allowed the most goals in the MLS because of a shaky defense that has been rotated all season.
Now, Lattanzio has finally found a center back duo that he can trust and depend on. If it wasn’t for a silly penalty and goalkeeper mistake, they would have two clean sheets this week.
Privett, a former midfielder, is the ideal ball-playing defender. He is adeptly confident on the ball, which may not be a surprise considering he spent his college days at Penn State, with some of the best facilities and competition in the country. Privett, who was the 69th pick in the 2022 SuperDraft, has become the team's anchor, who can easily control and repossess the ball before springing attacks with smart diagonal passes.
Malanda can also control the ball, but he specializes in clean but effective last-stitch tackles that have saved the crown from many goals in the last couple of games. He is more of a center back’s center back, with great instincts, knowing when to dive into blocks and position himself for tackles.
Against Nashville, Privett ended with 91.3% passing accuracy, with six progressive passes, alongside an interception, block, and 41 carries, Malanda ended with an assist, 86.3% passing accuracy with 10 progressive passes, two interceptions, and three blocks.
Between both games, the center backs had zero defensive errors, according to fbref.com, meaning mistakes leading to an opponent's shot; impressive numbers from the young duo.
Despite some harsh results this week, Charlotte fans can be happy that they get to watch this duo grow together for the foreseeable future and lead the team to a deep playoff run one day.
Creativity in attack
It seemed like Brecht Dejaegere might have been one of the solutions to the lack of creativity Charlotte has had in attack this year.
Playing on the left wing, he was effective versus LAFC, taking the ball and running at defenders, using his experience and ability to create chances.
Unfortunately, he picked up a hamstring injury and Charlotte could not replace that attacking ability this week.
Lattanzio’s pressing system has worked in these two games, Charlotte has played total football, possessing the ball and forcing turnovers without possession. Verus Orlando Charlotte had 63% possession and had 399 passes to Orlando’s 196. Against Nashville, Charlotte had 61% possession, and 486 passes to Nashville’s 263.
The problem is, when you possess the ball a large portion and stay in an attacking position for a majority of the game, it allows the other team to get nine or even 10 men behind the ball, setting up in a low block.
When you are tasked with trying to get through 10 defenders to score, especially against Nashville's league-leading defense, you need attacking players who can create something from nothing.
Charlotte and Lattanzio have figured out the first two-thirds of the field, what they need now is for their attackers to step up and show some creative spark. Guys like Karol Swiderski or Ben Bender need to be able to find that crucial pass, or take on a defender and take a strike at goal.
A lot of the team's offense right now is finding wingers on the flanks, and either sending in a weak cross or recycling the ball backward to the midfielders. Players need to take initiative and not be afraid to take on a man.
As I mentioned earlier, Charlotte would not have the chance to blow a lead like they have been if they are up two or three goals with a couple of minutes to play. The Crown can easily win games as this season comes towards a close if they can combine their possession and pressing play with creativity and good finishing.