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Winning and learning: Charlotte FC's first three games

By Brian Maurer


Photos courtesy of Cisco's Art/TopBin90 and CJ Hellner/TopBin90


In MMA Coach John Kavanaugh’s book, Win or Learn, he states that there are two available options in competition; “winning or learning” stated clearly in the title. Here is an assessment of Charlotte FC’s season so far describing the things that are going well as areas they are “winning” in and the areas that the team is struggling in as “learning”:


Winning


Ashley Westwood


Westwood has stood out early as the key progressor of the ball in Charlotte. Most of the club’s attacks are starting down the right-hand side and Westwood lining up on the right side of a double pivot is a big reason for that.


According to American Soccer Analysis, Westwood is the best DM passer in the attacking third when looking at their expected pass (xPass) metric*. Using data from FBRef, the Englishman is leading the team in key passes (5), passes completed into the final third (15), and progressive passes (22)**. He is also tied for the team lead in shot-creating actions with Enzo Copetti.


Compactness defensively


Dean Smith has provided the team with a far more compact and organized defensive structure through his first three games in charge. This has led to Charlotte holding their opponents to far fewer quality chances.


According to American Soccer Analysis, Charlotte has only 2.38 xGA through their first three games. When you compare that number to their previous seasons (2023 = 3.92, 2022 = 4.82) there has been a massive improvement. The consistency of the entire backline deserves a shout-out for their performances thus far (and wine, according to Smith).


Iuri Tavares


At the start of the preseason, Tavares was likely a far cry from being named the starting left-winger. However, after multiple injuries and last-minute outgoing transfers, Tavares has come in as the next man up. So far, he has started the season admirably being involved in both of Charlotte’s goals.


His traits as a winger are far different from his counterpart Kerwin Vargas so he could provide good competition for the left-wing position as well as a change-of-pace option once new DP signing, Liel Abada, is available to play.


The Cape Verdean attacker at the very least has demonstrated that Charlotte may not be as short on attacking depth as was initially perceived at the start of the campaign.


Learning


Finishing


Charlotte FC is currently eighth in MLS in xG (5.14). They are creating chances including several high-quality chances through their first three weeks, but the finishes have not been there. 


Charlotte FC has the eighth most xG in MLS

Charlotte's attackers have left goals on the table, and while it is easy to point out Copetti as the primary culprit because of a few of his recent misses the chances have been spread out to others as well.


The Crown will need to be more clinical in the final third as the season progresses as it will be difficult to always count on defensive compactness, especially on the road. They will need to be able to demonstrate that they can score goals.


Brecht Dejaegere


While Westwood’s progressive and attacking third passing has been good, Dejaegere’s quality has been limited so far. It will always be a concern when a deeper-lying midfielder has more shot-creating actions, key passes, and passes into the final third and the penalty box than the attacking midfielder.


Dejaegere is going to need to stand out as a playmaker to get the volume of shots up. As you can see in the image above, Charlotte has created quality looks based on their xG but they are creating far fewer overall shots than the other teams who are stacking up xG early on. Key passes and passes into the penalty box will need to go up from Dejaegere to help increase shot quantity.


Second half struggles


Smith addressed the second half as an area he planned on looking into in his post-match presser after losing in Toronto. The team has yet to find a goal in the second half this season, and the team has also looked less energetic overall than the opposition after the break.


Part of this could be due to them having back-to-back road matches in Canada and playing against big road crowds. The bigger concern is not putting the game away at home against NYCFC. There were chances for them in the second half against New York which they did not take (including a missed penalty).


If the team continues to push hard and get out to early leads (which has been the trend so far), they will need to work out killing games off without letting teams back into games. That second wind was also needed when they didn’t find the early goal against Toronto and then got hit with a late goal from Insigne to drop them.




*American Soccer Analysis' xPass score measures the amount of passes over expected. The stat used for this article referenced the number of passes (5.46) Westwood completed over expected in the attacking third.


**Progressive passes are defined as completed passes that move the ball 10 yards towards goal, or completed passes into the penalty area.

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