By Brian Maurer
To the surprise of many, last Wednesday morning Charlotte FC announced the sacking of head coach Christian Lattanzio. After a rocky season which saw The Crown finish ninth and make a wild card match, Charlotte FC decided to move on from Lattanzio.
Charlotte FC spent most of this season out of playoff position. Despite improvements in the squad with the additions of veteran players like Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield, Brecht Dejaegere, and Designated Player Enzo Copetti, Charlotte was only able to accumulate 10 MLS wins this season, three fewer than its inaugural season. The inability to close out games was also an issue this season which saw Charlotte FC drop 25 points from winning positions.
Tactically the team struggled for large parts of the season and at one point they led the MLS in goals conceded. Players were also played out of position this season and many were left pondering some of the tactical decisions made by Lattanzio. A source close to the club mentioned Charlotte believes that there is untapped potential within this team and to reach the goals the club aspires to reach this particular change was needed.
The search begins
A coaching search has two key elements. First, the coach has to be available. This can get dicey because frequently a coach is available because their previous gig ended poorly. Second, the available coach needs to meet the club’s desired philosophy and has the tools to implement it.
Through two seasons, we can see some philosophical trends of what Charlotte is trying to accomplish as a club. Charlotte has invested heavily in looking for under-the-radar prospects. These prospects have generally come domestically from the draft and through international transfers. Several of them are going to need playing time to develop their potential. This is an important part of the philosophy that Head Scout, Thomas Schaling, stated over two years ago. “We want to create our own stars”. Charlotte will likely be looking for a coach willing to take risks and “play the kids”.
The top 10 teams in the 2023 MLS standings have a coach who was hired with previous MLS experience (either as an assistant or head coach) except for Steven Cherundolo at LAFC. Currently, many of the most successful coaches in MLS had previous coaching experience in the US, or are affiliated with the league and the North American continent in some way (e.g., playing career, citizenship, etc.).
Charlotte has hired a coach with an MLS background (Lattanzio) and a coach without one (Miguel Ángel Ramírez). Previous head coaching experience likely plays a factor in their next coaching hire as Lattanzio and Ramírez were both inexperienced.
With all of this in mind here is a list of different coaches who are available and who could fit in Charlotte based on some of these parameters:
MLS experienced coaches
Giovanni Savarese - Savarese will likely be one of the more sought-after MLS coaches during the winter based on what he helped build in Portland. Over five and a half seasons as the Portland Timbers coach Savarese won the MLS is Back tournament and led them to the MLS Cup Final twice. Performances turned south in 2022 after having just made a run to the MLS Cup Final in 2021. This led to him being let go midway through the 2023 season.
Even with Savarese’s time ending poorly in Portland the work he did to elevate the team early in his tenure will likely make him a potential candidate for many teams in MLS who are looking for a new coach. Charlotte FC could easily be one of them.
Freddy Juarez - Juarez is currently an assistant coach for the Seattle Sounders. Before he was hired by Seattle in 2021, he worked for Real Salt Lake where he had been since 2010. The majority of Juarez’s time at RSL was working with their academy and development team. However, he was RSL’s head coach for two calendar years starting in 2019 before he moved on to Seattle. His head coaching stint at RSL included playoff qualification in 2019 and a playoff win during that campaign.
Juarez has extensive experience at all levels in MLS and currently works for one of the most successful teams in MLS history. Hiring a coach like Juarez would be a similar strategy to that of Charlotte’s southern rivals, Atlanta United. They hired Gonzalo Pineda who was an assistant coach for the Sounders at the time.
Dominic Kinnear - Kinnear has been coaching in MLS since 2001. According to Transfermarkt, he has been an MLS head coach for 526 games. He also has nearly a decade of experience as an assistant coach in MLS. Kinnear is likely one of, if not the most, MLS experienced manager available.
An argument against the hiring of Kinnear is that most of his success as an MLS head coach was between 2005-2007. The league has changed a whole lot in that time. However, he also clearly garners a lot of respect around the league as he was hired by Pat Noonan in 2022 to help right the ship in Cincinnati. Noonan, Kinnear, and Co. turned the worst expansion team in MLS history into a Supporters’ Shield-winning team in two seasons.
Charlotte FC will be hard-pressed to find a manager who has won a Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, Manager of the Year, and has experience course correcting an expansion team besides Kinnear, making him an intriguing candidate.
Bigger-name coaches from abroad
Ole Gunnar Solskjær - The likelihood of Charlotte FC landing a manager with the name recognition of Solskjær is slim. However, the same was said about Lionel Messi up until the official announcement, and MLS went full Messi Mania.
Solskjær reportedly visited DC United and stopped in Charlotte to check out the new facilities. At the time Charlotte FC President Joe LaBue posted that this was a standard procedure and that visits like this take place. The stance at the time was that a visit by Solskjær had nothing to do with a potential management hiring. This of course was likely done to protect Lattanzio who was still in the middle of making a playoff push. It would be interesting to hear if that tune has changed now with Lattanzio being let go and the club needing a new manager.
If Charlotte FC were able to land a manager like Solskjær their international recruiting would hit a new peak immediately.
Hugo Peréz - Peréz has been discussed as an MLS coaching option almost immediately after taking over as El Salvador’s national team coach. His ability to get the most out of the El Salvadorians and keep them competing against almost anyone they play has impressed many regional pundits. Peréz has also expressed interest in joining MLS.
With his recent rise in popularity and the quantity of MLS clubs needing a new coach, one would think Peréz is going to get several calls this winter if he hasn’t already started receiving them. A manager like Peréz could interest Charlotte FC because he has shown an ability to maximize the potential of his squad. Since Charlotte FC’s roster is full of less-proven potential, he could see this as an opportunity to demonstrate these abilities in MLS.
Diego Cocca - Cocca may not come to mind for some as a potential option because of his extremely short stint as the manager of El Tri. But just two years before that he led Atlas to multiple trophies. Cocca would be a tremendous hiring for both name recognition in the region and recruiting. The Argentine manager has strong ties to both South America and Mexico, which are two of the most important regions for player recruitment in MLS (more than 34% of all foreign players in MLS come from either South America or Mexico).
One downside to Cocca’s resume is that he has not stayed at any club long. However, his two longest tenures (Atlas 2020-22 and Racing 2014-15) both enjoyed trophies. If the relationship works, success could follow.
Ante Razov - Razov has been discussed as a managerial candidate by The Athletic’s Tom Bogert for a while now. He was hired as an assistant to Bob Bradley during LAFC’s expansion and never left. The fact he was kept during the transition from Bradley to Steven Cherundolo speaks volumes about his value. And if he is deemed that valuable to one of the greatest MLS expansions in the modern era then there could easily be several courters this winter.
If Charlotte FC is interested in taking another shot at promoting an assistant, there aren’t many up-and-coming assistants with a stronger resume right now than Razov. One of LAFC’s many strengths is its ability to develop high-value U-22 Initiative prospects (e.g., José Cifuentes). Players like Kerwin Vargas could enjoy an added boost from a manager such as Razov, who would likely implement a formation that heavily utilizes wingers; similar to LAFC.
Pa-Modou Kah - Kah was an underrated coaching hire by Charlotte FC this past year. This is highlighted by how quickly his name has been discussed as a potential manager for other MLS clubs (most recently with the Colorado Rapids).
While it would be a bit strange for Charlotte to wait till the end of the season to fire Lattanzio and then promote his assistant, Kah is worth a discussion to make that peculiar decision. He is familiar with the club, he is familiar with the league, and he has a strong resume for developing talent.
BJ Callaghan - Callaghan got his first look at the Charlotte fanbase when he was the USMNT interim manager during the Gold Cup. He specifically noted the soccer IQ of the fanbase in the post-match presser after the US beat Trinidad and Tobago at Bank of America Stadium. He has since reverted to an assistant coach position to make room for Gregg Berhalter’s return at the helm of the USMNT.
Interest might have increased during his short caretaker role for the USMNT, but that honestly wouldn’t have been necessary for him to be a strong MLS coaching candidate. Before his time with the USMNT, he was an assistant under Jim Curtin from 2014-19 helping build the foundations of what the Philadelphia Union has become today. This is recency bias but Noonan’s hiring at FC Cincinnati shows the speedy potential of what can be accomplished when hiring from the Curtin coaching tree.
Yoann Damet - If you looked only at Damet’s age (33) this would appear like an extremely risky hiring. However, even though he is younger than many active MLS players he already has five years of coaching experience in MLS. If you include his time coaching at the academy level he has been coaching for over a decade. He has experienced some significant highs (currently an assistant for the Columbus Crew) and lows (was an assistant for FC Cincinnati’s three wooden spoon seasons). Coaching in that type of performance roller coaster will likely bring some significant experience with it.
The Columbus Crew under Wilfried Nancy has shown a strong willingness to "play the kids". The club has been significantly rewarded for this. Homegrown Aidan Morris has reached another level in his game, U-22 Initiative prospect Alexandru Mățan has found new life, and several other MLS Next Pro prospects have also earned significant minutes this season.
Charlotte FC has several prospects who are looking to have their potential unleashed. The Crew’s culture under Nancy, Damet, and Co. has shown an ability to enhance player potential. If Charlotte is interested in taking another shot in the dark they could do far worse than the up-and-coming Damet.