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What issues must Dean Smith fix at Charlotte FC heading into year three

By Brian Maurer

Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC

Charlotte FC has finally checked off the first and most important box of the offseason; hiring a coach. Now that Dean Smith is at the helm it's time to take a look at the other important items that Charlotte needs to address before they take the field for their third-ever MLS season.

Being decisive about designated players

Karol Świderski has been extremely public about his interest in returning to Europe. Charlotte will need to decide on how to get him off the books. It would be a massive risk to the locker room to keep a player who has been as vocal as the Polish striker has been about leaving. The only potential reason to keep him around is if the Smith hiring were to convince him to sign a long-term contract extension. That would be the only action that would speak louder than words at this point and his words have been loudly heard around the fanbase.

If The Crown can transfer Świderski they would open up one of their coveted designated player (DP) slots which they will need to immediately fill again as their other two DPs (Enzo Copetti and Kamil Jóźwiak) underperformed in 2023. They could also aim to get Copetti or Jóźwiak off the roster as well, but their transfer situation is a bit different because of their underwhelming performances. Charlotte was decisive and hired their top choice as head coach. They will now need to do the same with their DPs.

Spending that TAM

Charlotte currently has only TAM-Level players (Brecht Dejaegere and Ashley Westwood) on their roster. Many of the teams above them in the Eastern Conference standings have more than two TAM-Level players. Charlotte will need to improve their roster by bringing in TAM-Level signings and using all available allocation money and resources. The time for roster flexibility is over, all remaining ammunition in the arsenal should be used as the current Front Office is now on to their third coach in three seasons. It’s all in time, and the roster moves this transfer window should reflect that mentality.

The majority of these resources will likely be spent on the midfield and attacking lines as they have underwhelmed in each of the club’s first two seasons. When the team philosophy is a progressive attacking-based style these two lines cannot underperform. With a new coach, upgrades in both areas will be needed.

Defensive reinforcements

Charlotte FC allowed a lot of goals last season (52 goals allowed in 2023). It should be said that after the Leagues Cup The Crown only allowed 12 goals in their final 11 games. This is a vast improvement over the final third of the season. Regardless, Charlotte’s starting center backs at the end of last season were both under 24 so adding experienced reinforcements is a direction Charlotte will likely be looking at this window.

There are several experienced center backs available in the MLS free-agent player pool such as Donovan Pines and Jonathan Mensah. The Crown should have several viable options to bring in defensive reinforcements without impeding their ability to upgrade the midfield and forward lines.

Promoting Crown Legacy FC players

Charlotte’s development team, Crown Legacy FC, had several stand-out performers who could be in line for a first-team contract. Defender João Pedro and midfielder Nikola Petkovic stand out as likely candidates but there could be more depending on how many roster slots are open as the window progresses.

One of the reasons for hiring Smith is his history of developing young players. One should expect Charlotte to keep the roster flush with several prospects that Smith can help guide to their potential.

Roster outlook

If Charlotte can complete the sale of Świderski they will have six roster spots open (five senior, one supplemental). The Crown might make more sales on top of this to try and free up additional resources. After it’s all said and done we could see a new DP, a couple of TAM-Level players, a new veteran defender, and some Crown Legacy FC promotions to help reinforce the roster for Smith’s first season with the club.