By Jacob Sokol
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Charlotte FC have been meticulously assembling a roster for their second season in MLS. Besides the addition of Enzo Copetti and several promising MLS Superdraft selections, Ashley Westwood from Burnley FC becomes the newest addition in Queen City. The English defensive midfielder is coming off a serious ankle injury he acquired in a draw against West Ham in April of 2022. Prior to this injury Westwood was a staple for Burnley, playing nearly every match for them since 2018.
Westwood will be a potential starter for Charlotte FC, competing with Derrick Jones and Brandt Bronico for playing time. A long ball specialist, Westwood could also take corner kicks and other dead ball opportunities in the middle of the pitch. Beyond dead balls, Westwood is highly capable of the long ball in open play. Depending on fitness levels related to his ankle injury, we could see Westwood on the field when the first whistle blows on February 25th.
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On April 17, 2022, Ashley Westwood went into a 50-50 challenge against West Ham’s Nikola Vlasic. Westwood wouldn’t get back up, causing an 8 minute delay in action before being stretchered off with a severe ankle injury.
By April 21st, Westwood had received surgery and released a message about the incident. His parting message read “To my teammates, I will be kicking that ball with every single one of you. I have had the honour to share the pitch with you for some years and I know the spirit, strength, and determination of the group. My surgery went very well and I can’t wait to be back on the pitch soon! #UTC”.
Westwood, while still at Burnley this Fall, stated that he was hoping for an October 31st comeback. He had rejoined training sessions during the first week of October with no player contact, phasing in contact over the next couple weeks. His comeback ultimately never came under Vincent Kompany, but that could be summed up to Burnley’s success in the English Championship. Kompany recently took over Burnley after their relegation from the Premier League. With only 2 losses in 26 matches, it is understandable Kompany wouldn’t want to shake up a formidable lineup.
While Westwood hasn’t received minutes since his injury, he has been in full training amongst players set for a return to the Premier League. There shouldn’t be too much doubt in his ability to strengthen Charlotte FC, even coming off this injury.
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Experimentation was a big theme in Charlotte FC’s inaugural season. Świderski found his way from striker to a holding forward position. Malanda joined the squad in time to replace the injured Guzmán Corujo. Jordy Alcívar and Titi Ortiz left the squad after being regulars early in the season. Nuno Santos joined the squad late, adding another attacking option.
The position that Westwood will battle for has been held by a player who has been Charlotte’s most consistent by far- Brandt Bronico. Bronico found himself constantly moving in 2022, playing over 50 passes a game with an 85% success rate. What Bronico was lacking were lethal passes. While he managed to move the ball around, he wasn’t playing passes into the final third and the penalty area. On the alternate end, Westwood excels at long balls and passes into dangerous areas.
Defensively, Bronico had more success than Westwood, with nearly three times more tackles per game. It is important to note that the quality of play in the Premier League for Westwood could have a part in that though.
The other option for defensive midfielder is Derrick Jones. The player Eric Krakauer often referred to as the Velvet Tank, had an even better defensive presence than Bronico, but his lethal passes were worse than both Bronico and Westwood.
With Bronico and Jones having similar styles that would compliment Westwood, and Bronico having been the more consistent between him and Jones, a pairing between Bronico and Westwood would seem the most likely tactically. Bronico could continue to be an engine, receiving and distributing passes to keep the game flowing. Westwood on the other hand could slot the final pass when play opened up. Head Coach, Christian Lattanzio, should be happy with his options and newfound depth from bringing the Burnley man on board.
Westwood should raise the floor, in terms of ability, in the defensive midfield. The signing establishes a new standard that will be expected from Charlotte FC’s midfield group, especially with his passing.
Besides his play, style, and quality, Westwood should also bring a vocal leadership role on the field. This will be a role that is desperately needed after the team declined the option of former captain Christian Fuchs. Westwood reportedly has an aspiration to transition to coaching after his playing career. Having that sort of veteran influence and leadership on the field will be greatly beneficial on an otherwise very young team.
Between Westwood’s leadership potential and providing new skill sets that Charlotte FC currently lacks, there will be multiple benefits to bringing the Burnley man on board. We can expect Westwood’s impact to come swiftly for Queen City.