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- Derrick Jones: The Efficient Number Six
By Brian Maurer Image courtesy of Charlotte FC Derrick Jones has emerged as a pivotal piece of Charlotte FC’s midfield over their final stretch of games. Throughout the course of the season Charlotte have lost the midfield battle consistently. Charlotte’s head coach, Christian Lattanzio, opted to add Jones to play alongside Brandt Bronico seven games ago against NYCFC and he has not looked back. Jones has appeared to be a missing piece that has helped Charlotte actually take control in the middle of the park more regularly. In a few of Jones’ recent performances there are several traits he has that stand out as to why he has been such a key performer for the Black and Blues. Anticipation Jones’ ability to anticipate opposing teams’ movement both defensively and in possession is one of his skills that stands out the most. Against the Chicago Fire, Jones consistently had a read on where they were trying to move the ball, and used his positioning and long frame to intercept multiple passes and to poke heavy touches. He would do this by subtly shifting with the play and scanning for who the nearby passing options are and then waiting for the ball to be passed and then jumping in the passing lane to disrupt the attacking build up. Time and time again he did this against Chicago and against Toronto FC. Jones’ anticipation makes him a very efficient defender, which can be observed both when watching him play, and in several defensive statistics. Jones’ successful pressure rate is 38.2%*, which is the highest among all regularly contributing Charlotte FC midfielders. His ability to time his tackles against dribblers is also astoundingly high at 80%. His overall tackles won rate is 60.9%. Jones’ defensive efficiency has made him a regular standout performer since being added to the starting lineup. His efficiency does not stop with his defensive abilities. Jones also uses his anticipation when Charlotte FC are in possession as well. He scans well and notices how the opposition is marking and pressing to help him predict where the space is going to open up so that he can then shift his body into those spaces to make himself available for passes from his centerbacks. He does this with very little movement, often only needing to take a step or two, because he notices when and where the space is going to open up before it does so he can make his way over to it efficiently. Possession Skills When Jones is in possession of the ball he also has several skills that help him maintain possession and progress the ball forward. He uses his body extremely well to help him keep control of the ball, often shrugging off defenders when they attempt to press him when he’s dribbling. He uses a combination of his strength and ball handling skills to turn and carry the ball forward into attacking areas and away from the opposition’s press. While he does not take defenders on often, when he does he is very good at doing so, as he has a successful dribble rate of 80%, showing his efficiency on the ball. This rate leads all regularly contributing midfielders. He is also clever in receiving the ball. Part of this is his anticipation, as discussed earlier, as he is good at figuring out where the space is going to open up during build up play. He also uses his strength to shield defenders away from the ball and technique to keep his touches close, making it very difficult to take the ball off of him when he is receiving a pass. Jones’ receiving success rate is 97.2%, and is also the highest among regularly contributing midfielders**. Size and Strength It would be ridiculous to ignore the fact that Jones is a massive midfielder, and it is definitely an asset. However, this is the third trait on this list because it is his technique and awareness that are what make him so good. He uses his size and strength to then enhance his technique to make him even more difficult to play against. For example, his technique allows him to keep the ball close to his body and is able to help him maintain possession of the ball and to carry it forward. He then makes his possession of the ball stronger by using his frame to shield defenders away, and his longer legs to give himself a reach advantage over other smaller attacking midfielders, who are regularly the ones pressing him. The other asset with his size is that he is strong in the air both on long balls in the middle of the park, and on set pieces. Again, in aerial duels, it's not just his size that makes him an asset. On a corner kick against the Chicago Fire Jones put a header off the post, missing a goal by inches. He created the separation from his defender by alertly seeing the space open up on the back post. He then shook his defender with a shifty move. His size did not play a role until his diving lung towards the back post. Up until that point he had already anticipated the space that was opening up and craftily found a way to beat his defender to that space. His lunge and strength at the end of the play is where his size then comes into effect. The point again here is that he is big, and strong. That is obvious by just looking at him. But what is most important to understand is that he uses these physical attributes to enhance his other ball playing skills. What Has He Done For Charlotte Lately Since earning the starting job in New York, Jones has become a mainstay in Charlotte’s starting lineup. Here is a look at some of his underlying numbers in his past seven starts and a comparison of how he has done during that stretch of games compared to other Charlotte FC midfielders. Passing Possession Defensive If there is one trend that sticks out the most across all three of these categories it is that Jones is a very efficient player for Charlotte FC when in possession and defensively. My personal speculation as to why he is more efficient than any of Charlotte’s other midfielders is because of his anticipation and his ability to read the game. When watching Jones play he is constantly scanning for positions to set himself up to make a defensive play or to receive a pass. This attribute is, to me, what separates him from the rest of Charlotte’s current midfield options. He is an efficient ball player in both attacking and defensive phases of play, which is what Charlotte FC have lacked for most of their season until the last few weeks. Which is when Jones was given the starting position. Team Impact Another area that can be looked at to help understand Jones’ impact on the team is seeing how well the team has performed overall since he took over a regular starting role. In Charlotte FC’s past seven games that Jones has started, the team’s expected goal difference (xGD) is +2.3. In the previous 25 games the team’s xGD is -6.3. To put those numbers into a game-by-game perspective, when Jones became a starter, Charlotte’s xGD improved by more than half an xG per game (from -.25 to +.33). Obviously, Jones is not the only factor that has changed the results of Charlotte’s form, but it can definitely be considered one of them. A New Feel in Midfield For the past few games Charlotte’s midfield has looked quite different than it did early on in the season. Jones, Bronico, and Karol Świderski have been the midfield trio of late. This change has shown an improvement in technicality in the middle of the park, as well as an ability for Charlotte to impose their will centrally at times. Something they could not do for most of the season. Bronico and Świderski have both gotten a lot of respect and admiration for their work throughout the course of the season, as they should. But it should not go unnoticed how big of an impact Jones has been in several facets of the Black and Blues' recent games. He will most likely continue to play a major part in Charlotte’s last ditch playoff run, and could force the hand of the Charlotte FC front office to exercise the option in his contract through his exceptional play to end the season. * All stats found on FBref.com unless otherwise noted. ** Nuno Santos has a higher percentage than Jones, but as he has not started yet, I would not put him in the regularly contributing category quite yet. ***Found on MLSsoccer.com (Jones' turnover/90 stat is based on the entire season as the MLS website would not let me look at Jones' turnover stats in each of the games he played)
- Charlotte FC Closing In On A 3 Year Deal With Interim-manager Christian Lattanzio
By Tyler Trent Image courtesy of Charlotte FC Charlotte FC is finalizing a new 3-year deal with interim head coach Christian Lattanzio to become the permanent manager of the club. Christian Lattanzio was named as Interim-manger after the sacking of Charlotte FCs first official Head Coach Miguel Angel Ramirez at the end of May.Lattanzio has led the team to 7 wins, 1 draw, and 9 losses (22 points) since taking over as interim-manager with three games remaining and playoffs still possible, albeit unlikely. Lattanzio has proven once again his knack for helping to develop players, with McKinze Gaines, Brandt Bronico, and Ben Bender all praising the 1 on 1 work with Lattanzio and crediting him with helping their improvements. Nothing is official yet but negotiations are heading in the right direction and deal will soon strike.
- Ben Bender: Making The 22 Under 22 List, His Olympic Aspiration, And Life In Charlotte
By Brian Maurer Image courtesy of Charlotte FC Ben Bender’s first professional season is almost done. After a successful year, which was capped with being awarded a place on the MLS’ 22 under 22 list this past week, I decided to talk with Bender about his season in Charlotte. The 22 Under 22 List A few weeks ago Bender would not have known what the 22 under 22 list meant in MLS. When asked about what it meant about being added to this list as a player from the college ranks Bender said, “Well to be honest, I didn’t even know what it was. Someone texted me a picture and I was like ‘what is this?’ and then I looked it up. And yeah, now I’m super thankful and grateful to be honored in that list. Like some of those players are top, top players. So it is just cool to see my name on that list. But I have so much work. And yeah, it's, it's cool to represent NCAA too.” Bender is clearly not focused on receiving accolades or praise, but rather he chooses to focus on working and getting better. “I don't really focus on my accomplishments, I just focus on how I can help the team and how I fit in with the system and how consistent I am with working hard every day” Bender said when asked what he felt was his biggest accomplishment of the season. Learning how to fit into a system is difficult for most rookies, but it can be even more difficult if that system changes as it did when Charlotte FC made a coaching change midseason. “Probably the difference in practice, and training, I think the trainings are very, very intense. My body has not recovered as well as the beginning of the season. And I think that's one of the reasons why I haven't been as consistent. And it's good that it's super intense. Because at the next level, everyone's faster, stronger, and they play at a higher tempo.” Bender says on adjusting to interim coach Christian Lattanzio’s coaching philosophy. While his accomplishments on the field have been noticed by media pundits and MLS staff, what could easily go unnoticed is the respect and care he shows for his teammates. When discussing the most recent Charlotte FC win he makes sure to mention how nice it was to see his teammate, Karol Świderski, score a brace and get to do it in front of his family. When asked about his most memorable moments of the season Bender mentions his first career goal, but he also makes sure to mention how special a moment it was to see Sergio Ruiz score a goal against Nashville before he was transferred back to Spain. “I always liked Sergio, he was a super funny guy, but helped me on and off the field,” Bender said of his former teammate. Teammates come and go at the professional level quite often, it's one of the many differences between the college level and the pros. "It's definitely been interesting, because that's just how cutthroat the business is, like people come and go and now, it's definitely been difficult at times because you know, you try and make connections with the teammates and then they leave and then it's like, you might not ever play with them again. But yeah, that's what the tough part about it is" Bender says about dealing with turnover at the professional level. It's another human part of the game that often goes overlooked. Players like Ruiz and Bender can become well connected teammates one day and then play on different continents the next. But what remains, regardless of the coming and going of players, is the moments that these teammates share. And for Bender, when presented with opportunities to discuss his own accomplishments, he instead brings up the accomplishments of his teammates and how special it was to share those moments with them. The Offseason Continuing to work on his skillset is one of Bender’s primary focuses both for the remainder of the season and through the offseason. “Probably getting shots off quicker and long range shooting” Bender says when asked about his skills that he will focus on during the offseason. “And then also I want to focus on when we’re in the building stage, the building out of the back…like if we just win the ball, and people are closing around [me], I want to be able to secure it and really keep possession”. Bender is aware that he is not the biggest or strongest player, but he is also aware that there are other ways to improve his skillset to help strengthen his ability to maintain possession when building out of the back. “I think a lot of people think that MLS is just a big, strong athletic league, but really using your body is a skill. That's what the best players have” Bender says about ways to improve his play while in possession and working on maintaining stronger positions with his body to help control the ball when in possession and when dealing with pressure. Besides the strong work rate and focus that Bender discusses, he also shows humility in acknowledging some of his shortcomings and willingness to improve them. Bender has struggled with his willingness to launch shots at the goal, averaging only 1.29* shots per 90 minutes. Out of his attacking stats, increasing his willingness to shoot as well as his accuracy would go a long way towards helping him become the attacking midfielder he wants to become. Bender’s willingness to discuss his need to become stronger in possession and maintaining possession when under pressure shows his character as this is definitely an area that has been one of his weaker points of his game. Bender leads Charlotte FC’s midfielders in turnovers with 57**. He also gets dispossessed 2.02 times per 90 and fails to gain possession when attempting to control the ball 2.53 times per 90. All three of these stats are the highest among Charlotte FC midfielders, and demonstrate Bender’s struggle with controlling possession and managing oppositional pressure. Addressing this flaw head on and talking about it shows both an awareness of his weaknesses and a goal oriented focus towards sharpening these skills if he can follow through with hard work in training and during the offseason. Bender’s offseason outside of soccer is simple and to the point “spending time with my family and my girlfriend” says Bender about his offseason plans off the field. The Olympics The US U-20 men’s team recently qualified for the 2024 Olympics. Bender had spent some of his youth training with a few of the players on the squad during camps in Philadelphia. “Paxton Aaronson actually trained up with my team when I was on the U14 team, he was with the Union Juniors and I played with him a little bit”. Bender recalls from his youth academy years. “I always knew Paxton was gonna be a pro…you could just see he has the game inside of him.” When asked about the possibility of getting a call up to represent the country for the 2024 Olympics alongside USMNT players, such as Aaronson, Bender said “That would be a huge honor. I mean, that's something that I want to try and work towards. It'd be amazing to represent the country. But for now, I want to just, you know, work on the things that I need to get better at, and maybe that'll happen one day.” Life In Charlotte Bender seems to have taken to life well in Charlotte “I mean, I love it here. I love the location of it. The weather's good. The city's not too big. It's relatively small. And I like the beach and the mountains. And it's right in between there. So I've been able to get to the Outer Banks and also been able to get out in the mountains…the Asheville, Pisgah, Cherokee area. So yeah, I really like the location of it and I've adapted really well” Bender says of his new life in Charlotte. Image courtesy of Charlotte FC “I actually did like two days ago and caught a handful of fish. It was an experience, smallmouth bass. It's my favorite type of fishing. I like trout fishing too, but smallmouth is my favorite” Bender said of a recent fishing trip to Western North Carolina. Bender’s transition to life in Charlotte seems to have been a smooth one off the field. Life for the rookie on the field has also been pretty good, which is how he received the accolade of being on the MLS 22 under 22 list. He would be the first to say that the work is far from over and that there is plenty of self improvement for him as a player, and that while there have been plenty of ups there have also been downs. Bender is quick to acknowledge that struggling is not always a bad thing “It's good to fail and to struggle sometimes. It allows you to get better, allows for improvement” he says about some of the difficulties he has faced throughout the season. The improvement is what many fans will be looking forward to seeing from the young midfielder as he transitions into his second season. While the improvement of any player can not be guaranteed from year-to-year, Bender’s work rate, focus and being a quality teammate is a guarantee. *All stats found on FBref.com unless otherwise mentioned **Found on MLSsoccer.com
- Should Charlotte Keep Lattanzio?
By Brian Maurer Image courtesy of Charlotte FC Since Christian Lattanzio replaced Miguel Ángel Ramírez (MAR) as the interim manager for Charlotte FC’s inaugural season, the questioning of whether Lattanzio should be given the full time job began. Of late, the Charlotte fanbase has been calling for Lattanzio’s head as they have only won three of their past ten games. In this article I take a look at why Lattanzio could actually be the right man for the job moving forward. Development of Players When a club is making a decision on who to have as their coach, there are two major factors that need to be looked at. First is how good a coach is at developing players that are on a team. Second is how good a coach is at recruiting new talent to the club. One of the biggest highlights of the inaugural season has been the season-long consistency of midfielder Brandt Bronico’s performances. When Bronico has been asked about the progressions that he has made as a player this season, he talks avidly about the time and effort that Lattanzio would put in to help him with his growth. While Bronico might be the biggest stand out performer and demonstration of Lattanzio’s ability to develop talent, there have been several others that have shown a benefit from Lattanzio’s tutelage. Winger McKinze Gaines has shown steady improvement throughout the course of the season. While, at first, he was regularly lacking composure in the final third, even if he was getting into the final third constantly, he has started to show an ability to slow the game down a bit and is able to make stronger decisions with the ball which has led him to getting a goal and a couple assists. Undrafted free agent midfielder Quinn McNeill is another player who has developed well under Lattanzio. McNeill would likely not be a name under any consideration as a depth midfielder at all if Lattanzio was not currently the coach. Lattanzio’s resume for developing players is world class. His ability to develop talent has continued both when he started at Charlotte as an assistant, and has continued in his time this season as the interim head coach. The likelihood of Charlotte FC finding a better coaching candidate to develop the talent on the roster is unlikely, which means one of the main things that Charlotte would have to be interested in if they decide to look for a new coach is if they can find one who is capable of attracting players to Charlotte. Similar to how Tata Martino attracted Miguel Almirón to Atlanta United. Familiarity With The Situation Lattanzio has been in this situation before, and has helped an MLS club improve in their second season after a difficult expansion campaign. Lattanzio was Patrick Vieira’s assistant when he took over the reins of NYCFC in their second season. In New York’s inaugural season, the club ended their campaign on 37 points and finished 17th out of 20 teams*. In New York’s second season when Vieira took over as the head coach, with Lattanzio as his assistant, the team improved to 54 points and finished 4th in MLS. Lattanzio has been involved in an MLS expansion project before and has had a direct hand in improving NYCFC into a playoff team from a team that was near the bottom of the table in their inaugural campaign. Out of the potential coaching candidates that Charlotte will likely be considering this winter, there will likely not be any who have actually been in the exact situation that Charlotte are going to be in heading into year two as a club. Lattanzio has been in Charlotte’s situation before with NYCFC, and helped them improve into a playoff team in their second season. Committed To The Club Lattanzio has expressed a commitment and passion to Charlotte FC. He has expressed this in recent press conferences, and also that he has an interest in helping the club longer term. Having a coach who already has a commitment and an attachment to the club could be a great asset, especially if Lattanzio demonstrates that he can help Charlotte achieve their goals long term. Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin started out as an academy coach who wound up getting an opportunity as an interim manager for the Union in 2014. He has since gone on to be a successful coach who has fully committed to the Union in the long term. While that commitment did not pay major dividends in the short term, the Union are now reaping their reward with several successful campaigns in a row. Sometimes committing to the coach who has already demonstrated a commitment to the club can be the right answer, even if the decision is not always the flashy one. Lattanzio was already committed to the project in Charlotte, even without being the coach. Keeping him in the coaching role for next season would ensure that the players are being coached by someone who is for sure committed to the club. Bringing in a new manager brings the chance that that manager may not be committed to the club or the fanbase. This was the issue that the team ran into with their initial hiring of MAR. Setting a Culture and Raising Expectations One of the reasons for MAR’s departure was the lack of intensity in training. The level of intensity in training is a cultural expectation that must be set by the coach. Which was Lattanzio’s responsibility to increase and to change when he was given responsibility for the team. In his time as the coach this season Lattanzio has shown a willingness to commit to a more intense culture and higher expectations in training, which has led him to making unpopular lineup decisions at times. However, having a manager who is willing to make unpopular decisions in order to stay committed to a philosophy and a gameplan is a quality that can be found in many successful managers at all levels of soccer, and in most other sports as well. Bringing in a new manager does not guarantee that that manager will be as committed to establishing a long term culture, or willing to look badly at times in order to help establish that cultural foundation. This is something that Charlotte FC has already seen evidence of from Lattanzio. Ability to Attract MLS Players to Charlotte Lattanzio has both experience in MLS and has spent over a decade developing players in Europe. He will likely be able to attract players both from within MLS and from abroad. Charlotte FC will likely be able to find other candidates who can also attract talented players to Charlotte, but the key will be if they can find a manager who can both attract new players and develop the players that are currently on the roster. These are both things that Charlotte FC’s front office will know Lattanzio can do, so if Charlotte FC decides to make a move away from Lattanzio they will need to be sure that their new manager has a strong track record of developing talent and attracting the needed talent to improve the team. Lattanzio’s Coaching Performance So Far Lattanzio’s coaching performance has been underrated by the fanbase. While MAR’s coaching performance was quite a bit overrated. A speculation to why that is could be how the two managers differ in their interactions with the fans and media in press conferences. MAR was always quick to highlight the flaws in the roster build and the lack of talent that was on the team as to the reasons for poor early season performances. Lattanzio, on the other hand, never brings up limitations in the same group of players and rather focuses on his belief in them and what they can focus on to do better. It should be acknowledged as a testament to Lattanzio’s character that he is not as willing to berate the abilities of the players he coaches as easily as MAR did, especially since Lattanzio was left with even fewer players on the roster than MAR was. When MAR was fired Charlotte FC had 16 points from 14 games. That is a 1.14 point per game (PPG) pace. Lattanzio put Charlotte FC back into the playoff hunt by earning 10 points from his first six games as interim manager. After this start the team’s performances began to slide. At the same time multiple players were sold, reducing Charlotte’s midfield greatly. During Lattanzio’s time as interim manager he has lost four players from the senior roster (Sergio Ruiz, Christian Makoun, Alan Franco and Cristian Ortíz), and the club was rumored to be trying to move on from Yordy Reyna as well. Even with the roster being reduced Lattanzio has still managed to help the team slightly improve on the team’s initial form. The heartbreak that many fans blame Lattanzio for causing is due to the team sliding away from a playoff position. A position that Lattanzio is also responsible for putting them in. A task Lattanzio was able to accomplish with fewer resources provided then MAR, who was given a multi-year deal when he was brought on as the coach. Final Thoughts Keeping Lattanzio for a full season in 2023 would give Charlotte FC a coach who the organization is familiar with, and can know they can count on when it comes to implementing a game plan and culture that the club desires to achieve. He would also provide the ability to continue developing the younger players on the squad who were brought into the club because one of Charlotte FC’s aims is to be known for developing talent. Lattanzio would also provide a plan for success in year two. One that he already has experience with implementing as he was involved in NYCFC’s 17 point jump in their second season. The one area where an argument can be made for a new coach being signed to replace Lattanzio is to have a coach who can attract higher quality talent. However, Lattanzio very well could attract players to the squad based on his previous experience in both MLS and his extensive experience working abroad in Europe. If the squad chooses to bring in a manager who can attract higher quality talent they run the risk of reducing the club’s ability to develop their own talent from within, which Lattanzio has a strong track record of doing. Charlotte FC have also set themselves up with a back up plan as well if they do give Lattanzio a shot next season and he does not work out. When Charlotte FC signed José Tavares as their MLS NEXT Pro coach they brought in a very highly touted coaching prospect. One who has even gotten an offer from a Premier League club. While it would be a very cumbersome situation for Charlotte to need to address a coaching change for twice in their first two seasons, Tavares would be another great prospective replacement for Lattanzio, or whoever else may be signed on as Charlotte FC’s coach for the 2023 season. *All stats found on FBref.com
- USMNT Fringe Players and Roster Prediction
By Brian Maurer Image courtesy of Getty Images The final international break before the 2022 World Cup is fast approaching. While the majority of the USMNT roster is locked in, these September friendlies will be a final opportunity for several players to try and book their ticket to Qatar. I compiled a list of players who are on the bubble of making the USMNT World Cup roster. This list includes these players’ recent form, and then I included a roster prediction after going through the list. Attackers The striker position, specifically, is going to continue to garner the most interest for most USMNT fans. This is because only one player out of a likely three could be considered a safe bet to make the USMNT roster. Jesús Ferreira, at this point, is close to a lock for the World Cup roster, but there are at least two other striker positions open that will be based on both form and performances during the September camp. Several USMNT strikers have come out of the gate firing during the start of their European seasons, while a couple MLS strikers have also continued to maintain solid runs of form late into their MLS campaigns. On the wings, Christian Pulišić and Tim Weah are both locked in. Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna can both be used as depth wingers as well. However, there could still be another wing spot open for a fringe player to make a push. Jordan Pefok - Union Berlin - Pefok is off to a flying start with his new club Union Berlin. He has notched three goals and three assists* in six starts in all competitions. This start has put himself firmly back into the striker conversation for the World Cup. Josh Sargent - Norwich City - Sargent has also forced himself back into the roster conversation with a solid start. He has been given the opportunity as Norwich City’s starting center forward for five straight games. He has five goals and an assist in those five games, and Norwich has won all five of those games. Haji Wright - Antalyaspor - Wright has continued his blistering club form with five goals in his first six starts for Antalyaspor. Whether this is enough to give him another look after failing to impress with the national team over the summer will be known once the September camp roster is announced. Brandon Vazquez - FC Cincinnati - Vazquez has been playing at an MLS all-star level all season. Over the summer he has been in particularly great form scoring eight goals and one assist in his past twelve games. Paul Arriola - FC Dallas - Arriola’s form has begun to dip. He has only one goal and two assists since the beginning of July. Jordan Morris - Seattle Sounders - Morris, and the Sounders as a whole, have struggled to maintain form all season. He does have seven goals on the season, but overall his form has been inconsistent. Malik Tillman - Rangers - Tillman has made noise since joining the Rangers. Especially in their Champions League qualifiers where he has a goal and an assist in three qualifiers. He has also firmly cemented himself in the Rangers starting line-up in the Scottish Premiership. Berhalter could definitely be giving Tillman another look in the September camp. Midfielders The USMNT midfield is just about locked in. Weston McKinnie, Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta, and Reyna (if he stays healthy) are all locks. Aaronson is also a lock but he has just recently been added to more of a midfield role from where he was initially used as a winger, so he is likely to be implemented as depth in both the midfield and on the wing. Reyna is another player who is likely to fill a depth role in both the midfield and on the wing, as long as he can stay healthy. There are still a few players who could challenge for a spot as depth midfielders, especially since the roster size was increased from the standard 23 up to 26. Djordje Mihailovic - CF Montreal - Mihailovic has returned from his injury and should likely get a call into the September camp as he missed out on the summer camp due to his injury. Since Mihailovic returned in July he has only scored one goal in nine games. However, he is averaging four shot creating actions (SCA) per game** and has 2.5 xA in that time, so the creativity has continued to be there, the final product has not. Montreal continues to be one of the stronger teams in MLS having only lost once since Mihailovic’s return. Luca de la Torre - Celta Vigo - De la Torre has only made two appearances for 12 minutes this season. His club situation continues to drag his potential down. However, Berhalter definitely seems to appreciate his talent in the midfield so he could still get a look in the September camp. Cristian Roldán - Seattle Sounders - Roldán and the Sounders continue to struggle this season and have only won three of their past nine games. He has one goal in that time, granted he has also missed the past few games due to injury. He, like Morris, are struggling to get results for their team, and are in jeopardy of being a part of the first Seattle team to not make the playoffs. Defenders This is another important position to keep an eye on as one of the locked in starting center backs, Miles Robinson, has gone down with an injury which will keep him off the plane. The other big question, outside of the USMNT’s striker situation, will be who is the starting center back alongside Walker Zimmerman. Sergiño Dest and Antonee (Jedi) Robinson are also locked into the roster. However, Jedi Robinson’s injury will need to be monitored and the adjustment to the roster if he indeed can not go will be a massive swing. DeAndre Yedlin’s experience also makes him a likely lock for the World Cup. However other depth fullback positions are likely up for grabs if someone can get on a heater going into the final months before the team is selected. Cameron Carter-Vickers - Celtic - Carter-Vickers continues to be a regular in the Celtic backline. The biggest performance so far this season was a 4-0 clean sheet that was kept against the other Scottish powerhouse, Rangers, in the beginning of September. Aaron Long - RB New York - Long has had a pretty strong resurgence this season since recovering from his injury. Of late, the results have not been as strong as they were earlier in the season. Long does continue to be a strong presence in the RBNY back line and has actually found the net four times as well. He is very likely to get a call up in September and could easily be on the plane for Qatar with the unfortunate Robinson injury. Chris Richards - Crystal Palace - Richards made a big move to Crystal Palace this summer. Although, it could take him some time to work his way into Patrick Vieira’s starting lineup. He is getting a few sub appearances, and got the start for the club’s first EFL Cup match against third tier side Oxford United, where he helped keep the clean sheet. A call up for the September camp is likely and his skills and ability even without regular club contributions likely gets him on the plane, especially with the loss of Robinson. Erik Palmer-Brown - Troyes - Palmer-Brown has been a regular starter so far this season for Troyes as they are in another relegation battle trying to stay Ligue 1. This past weekend he was subbed off a bit earlier than usual, but that was likely to try and push for a much needed draw. His passing percentage has not been superb this season (82%) but that is also because he is being asked to launch a lot of long balls forward as Troyes are forced to absorb pressure and defend. His short and medium passing accuracy has been great. It will be interesting to see if he gets another look in September. George Bello - Arminia Bielefeld - Bello continues to struggle to get minutes at Arminia Bielefield. The move to Europe has not been good so far for Bello and has likely hurt his chances of making the plane. If he gets an opportunity in September he will really have to showcase something special. Joe Scally - Borussia Mönchengladbach - Unlike Bello, Scally’s move to the Bundesliga has gone fantastically well. He has solidified himself as the starting right back at Borussia Mönchengladbach, and also scored a goal in their German Cup 9-1 blowout win. Scally has a great opportunity if he can make an impression in September, that is if he can shake off the rough performances he had for the USMNT over the summer. Although, his performances then might have already sealed his fate on missing out in this World Cup campaign as his summer performance was really really poor. Reggie Cannon - Boavista - Cannon continues to be a mainstay in Boavista’s backline. The difference between this season and his past couple seasons is the team is starting to get some results. It will be interesting to see if Cannon can continue to help Boavista if they can actually make a bit of a jump from where they have been in the past couple of seasons. Regardless, Cannon will likely be given a look in September, and unless something drastically changes he is also likely to be able to ink his place on the roster as he has been able to maintain a regular rotational spot on the USMNT for several years now. Sam Vines - Antwerp - Vines has been on an absolute tear this season for Antwerp. With the recent Jedi Robinson injury scare, Vines could easily be given another look in the September camp. Vines’ good performance in the 2021 Gold Cup tournament will likely be in the back of Berhalter’s mind as well. Keepers The keeper situation is close to locked in. Matt Turner and Zach Steffen are both locks for the World Cup. The third keeper slot is still up for grabs. Ethan Horvath - Luton Town - Horvath has finally found himself a starting job at Luton Town this season. So far he has two clean sheets and has been able to hold onto a decent save percentage (61.9%). If he can maintain his role and put up a few more solid performances he could likely stamp his place as the third keeper on the plane, although he does face some stiff competition from Sean Johnson. Sean Johnson - NYCFC - Johnson, who started out the season so well, is starting to feel what it's like to be a part of a team that is in really poor form. NYCFC went through the ringer this summer losing striker Taty Castellanos and their coach Ronny Deila. This has led to some really poor team performances, including some poor results from Johnson. While he has 13 clean sheets this year, he has only one from his past nine games. During that nine game stretch he has also given up 18 goals which is 4.5 more than the post shot expected goals (PSxG) he has faced in that time. If this poor run of form continues he will likely lose out to Horvath for the third keeper spot. World Cup Roster Prediction 1.0 With all these fringe players’ form in mind, here is my first prediction for the USMNT World Cup roster. I will likely update it with a 2.0 closer to the November roster release. *All stats found on FBref.com **These calculations do not include Mihailovic’s 45 minutes against Chicago Fire on 9/13/22
- Charlotte FC's Queen's Gambit
By Brian Maurer and Tyler Trent Image courtesy of Charlotte FC One of the oldest chess openings is the queen’s gambit. The idea behind it is that you sacrifice one of your pawns in order to gain an early advantage over the center of the board. By making one sacrifice, one can potentially gain control of the rest of the game. Charlotte FC may have made their own version of the queen’s gambit. After Charlotte FC’s dominant 4-1 win over Nashville SC in July, Charlotte had 26 points and were right in the mix to make a playoff spot in their inaugural season. Since that game Charlotte FC have been on a major skid winning only two of their last nine MLS games. With only five matches remaining, Charlotte FC are all but out of the playoffs. During the current poor run of form, the team have also sold multiple players and were rumored to be shopping winger Yordy Reyna. Reyna is one of the more technically gifted players on the roster, and has also been one of the better goal creators on the team. The rumors and sales during the summer transfer window could be taken as a team that was willing to sacrifice the hopes of the playoffs in 2022 in order to set up the roster for the 2023 season and beyond. The question remains, is that type of decision making worth it? Especially when making the playoffs appeared to be well in reach back in July. The MAR Midfielders and Makoun Upon being hired as Charlotte FC’s inaugural manager, Miguel Angel Ramirez (MAR) had several players who he was interested in being a part of the initial project. After MAR was fired several of these players no longer seemed to fit into the team. Midfielders Christian Ortiz and Alan Franco both appeared to be on the outs once interim head coach Christian Lattanzio took over. Franco seemed to want out, as he refused to travel with the team to an away match in Montreal. Ortiz was considered to be a key player by Lattanzio, but after giving him multiple starts the new culture and intensity in training set by Lattanzio did not seem to gel with Ortiz and his playing time started to dwindle until he was eventually transferred out. Makoun had been a regular starter under MAR, but when Lattanzio took over he showed an immediate preference for Anton Walkes at center back. With the reduction in minutes Makoun was traded to the New England Revolution for general allocation money (GAM). All three of these moves seemed inevitable once the decision was made by the front office to switch directions with their coach. Ortiz and Franco were brought in specifically because MAR wanted them, and once he was fired their interest in the expansion team appeared to also diminish. Makoun was likely expecting to have regular playing time which he was getting under MAR. Without MAR the desire to find a new opportunity where more minutes were available seems like the key to his departure. While all three of these moves hurt Charlotte FC’s depth in their inaugural season, the inevitable nature of these moves, and the need to set a standard of a new direction and culture makes them appear to be a necessary sacrifice for the progression of the club. Especially since the team received a substantial amount of GAM for Makoun which can be utilized during the winter transfer window. However, making that sacrifice during the summer window may be one of the reasons that Charlotte FC lost out on the playoffs as midfield depth is where the team has been lacking the most. Sergio Ruiz Leaving The departure of Charlotte FC’s first ever signing, Sergio Ruiz, came as an unexpected midseason blow. Rumors of Ruiz wanting to go back to his home country had swept through the news prior to his departure, but signs seemed to point to the Spanish midfielder staying with the team for the rest of the season. Ruiz’s homesickness seemed to make a move back to Spain his mission. The Charlotte FC Front Office was ultimately put into an awkward situation with an already depleted midfield. They could either deny Sergio Ruiz and force him to stay with the team when he wasn’t mentally up for it, or they could allow him to leave and deal with an even more depleted midfield for the rest of the season. Charlotte made the decision to allow Sergio Ruiz to return home. Despite the backlash, Charlotte ultimately made a profit on Sergio Ruiz after selling him to Granada in La Liga 2. This was another profitable move made by the club, but again, it sacrificed their current midfield depth and could easily be another move that led to the downward spiral the team is currently on. Yordy Reyna Rumors The Sign of a Restructuring Season Image courtesy of Getty Images A recent rumor reported by Manuel Vaquero stated that Charlotte FC were actively shopping their winger, Yordy Reyna, during the summer transfer window. This rumor is a strong example of the sacrifice to the current season the club was willing to make in order to try and restructure the roster for the following season. This is because Reyna is one of the clubs most technically gifted players and who is one of the better goal contributors on the current roster. A willingness to sell him shows the team was willing to sacrifice goals this season in order to change the culture and roster with the belief that the team would have a chance to be set up for greater success in 2023. A culture change is likely one of the main reasons that Reyna was being shopped around. Since Lattanzio has taken over as interim head coach one of the main philosophy changes has been an increase in intensity in training. Since the coaching change, gifted technical players like Reyna and Jordy Alcívar have struggled to maintain regular minutes. Looking to shop Reyna during the summer is a strong sign that the front office evaluated the 2022 season as lost in terms of playoff hopes and were willing to make some salary cap cuts and change direction midseason with the hopes that that change would pay off in 2023. These types of decisions will not be fully realized until the start of 2023 as to whether they are the right ones or not. However, it does seem to be something worth addressing now as many of the moves, and rumored moves, show a very strong restructuring that could have cost the team points in 2022. Others Who Could Follow Image courtesy of Charlotte FC With the departures previously discussed, who else could be on their way out at Charlotte FC as we move toward year two? Players such as Daniel Ríos, Alcívar, Christian Fuchs, and Harrison Afful are all possibilities for different reasons. Ríos' departure seemed all but imminent with the Mexican forward seeing very little playtime in the second half of the season. However, an unexpected start against Cincinnati may provide some hope to fans of the Mexican striker that he may stay. With a contract expiring in December, it is likely that Charlotte will move forward with Świderski, Shinyashiki, and hopefully a healthy Vinicius Mello for next season. Alcívar has been a mystery for Charlotte FC all season. Signed as a Young Designated Player (YDP), expectations were high for him coming in, but signs seem to point to the young Ecuadorian leaving the team as well. In the second half of the season, Alcívar has missed the bench often and received very few minutes when he has made the bench. His time on the pitch has been hit or miss. At times, he has looked like a very technically gifted player and at others a passenger. Charlotte may take a chance on the high potential of Alcívar in year two and buy down his contract, or they may decide to move in a different direction by bringing in more midfielders to supplement the roster alongside new signing Nuno Santos. Christian Fuchs and Harrison Afful have provided veteran experience for the team this season. Each 36 years old with their current contract expiring in December, their remaining time as starting options are limited. The signing of Nathan Byrne seems to indicate that Afful’s time may be done with Charlotte. Fuchs' time could also be limited as the off-season approaches with the emergence of Malanda, and if Charlotte decide to sign a new left back in the winter. Fuchs could provide an interesting potential as a coach, member of the front office, or potential partner to Charlotte FC with his Fox Soccer Academy. With so many players potentially leaving at the end of the season, Charlotte FC's front office could be in the middle of a major reconstruction of the roster. By having that reconstruction begin in the summer, in retrospect it appears that the playoff goals for the 2022 season became lost. The Points That Were Lost Throughout the season Charlotte FC have had several games where they missed out on points due to mental lapses on defense or lack of composure in attack. Charlotte left a point on the field in their home opener when they could not find a goal and allowed a late golazo to finish them off. This match was the first of several games where points were lost due to lack of composure late in games. In Atlanta, Charlotte lost out on a point when they gave up a last kick goal. Against Colorado, Charlotte had a break away to end the game but McKinze Gaines did not make the open pass to Świderski, leading to Charlotte only earning a draw. Charlotte also blew a 1-0 lead in Seattle and wound up losing 2-1. In Columbus, Shinyashiki had a 1 v 1 on the last kick but missed putting his shot wide, leaving a win on the field. Świderski missed a chance late for a draw in Montreal. Charlotte also collapsed in Miami giving up a 2-0 lead and wound up losing 3-2. And gave away points to both Chicago and Orlando City at home. In total, Charlotte left around ten points on the table due to missed opportunities and lack of defensive composure in key moments. The amount of close points that were lost, especially near the end of the season shows that Charlotte was very near the capability making the playoffs. Unfortunately they have appeared to lack the depth necessary to keep themselves a float. A lot of that depth was sold during the summer. The Progression That Needs to Be Made As Charlotte heads into year two, progression has to be made. The Front Office needs to sign players with intention and purpose. At times in the inaugural season, they have done that well. However, as this article makes clear a large portion of the roster didn’t work out. While many of the players Charlotte signed were high-upside players, attitude and competitive issues hindered those individuals and the team as a whole. The summer window signings signal good intentions with progression. Adilson Malanda has already proven a valuable asset with lots of upside. Nuno Santos is a midfielder capable of playing multiple positions with a lot of years ahead. Nathan Byrne is a highly attacking modern style right back option with veteran experience and plenty of quality years ahead of him. Further identifying quality players that will work hard for the team is the main goal heading into year two. Getting business completed as soon as possible should be another goal toward that progress as well. Can’t Be Fooled Again During the winter transfer window before the inaugural season began Charlotte FC made several decisions that proved costly to their season and playoff hopes. Not signing more distinguished high quality designated players is one. Losing out on signing designated players at all is another. These missteps led the team to signing lower caliber players by resorting to their plan B or C options at multiple positions. While finding good value deals was a benefit in finding certain players; Brandt Bronico stands out as one example. It also cost them in instances where a willingness to pay a higher premium may have changed the outcome of the season. Specifically, if they had been more willing to spend bigger in attacking creativity out of the gate, the end result of their inaugural season may have been different, especially once you look at all the points that Charlotte almost had. Charlotte FC’s front office made a gamble as well in hiring MAR as the coach. That gamble did not pay off. Instead of keeping the pieces from the inaugural roster together to try and push for a playoff spot, they opted to start moving on from several of their initial signings during the summer. Potentially sacrificing the teams playoff hopes in the inaugural season to try and speed up the restructuring process so that the following season and future seasons can have a brighter outlook. Going into this upcoming winter window, Charlotte FC will need to show an ability to make the right decision when hiring their coach for the 2023 season, as well as an ability to get more of their first choice target options, and a willingness to pay the premium in order to not let those options slip away. Getting these two things right will make it far more likely that the sacrifices made during the inaugural season will end up paying off for the team next year.
- Charlotte FC to Play NYCFC Match With Football Lines
By Tyler Trent Image courtesy of Charlotte FC Charlotte FC is set to play Saturday's match against New York City FC with football lines on the pitch at Bank of America Stadium. The club has announced that due to forecasted weather this weekend, all the lines will need to be painted before rain hits to ensure that the lines will be able to be properly placed on the field for both games. MLS lines will be painted in yellow, with NFL lines painted in white. After Charlotte FC's match on Saturday, the soccer lines will be removed from the pitch for the Carolina Panthers opening home game Sunday. In the past Charlotte have been able to switch from soccer matches, football matches, and concerts with a quick turnaround time but this will not be the case this time. A Tepper Sports & Entertainment spokesperson shared the following statement: This is not ideal but is unavoidable given the weather forecast. We never want our soccer field to have football lines, but we are thankful that we will be able to play both games this weekend. Charlotte FC games are scheduled on Saturday because they are more convenient for our fans and we’ve shown we can transition the field for multiple events in a short period of time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the weather will cooperate this weekend. In particular, we are grateful for our grounds crew who will literally be working around-the-clock to deliver both of these games to our fans. These are the occasional challenges that come with hosting an increased number of events at Bank of America Stadium.
- Feeling The Byrne
By Brian Maurer and Tyler Trent Image courtesy of Charlotte FC With Nathan Byrne receiving his Visa this week, what better time to dive into a closer look of Charlotte FC’s new veteran right back? Byrne (30) is an exciting addition to the Charlotte FC defense – a capable defender and a relentless attacking threat capable of providing service into the attack like no one else on the roster. The Englishman arrives off a fantastic season for an over-performing Derby County side that was ultimately relegated due to a 21-point deduction for entering administration and breaching accounting rules. Even with the massive deduction, Derby County still only finished 7 points off safety in the Championship. Byrne was a force all season and was voted as the Players’ Player of the Season. Byrne has spent 6 of his last 8 seasons in the Championship playing with Derby County, Wigan Athletic, and Wolves during that time. While his stats don’t pop off the page screaming that he is an incredible signing for Charlotte, opinions from Derby County supporters along with his teammates and coaches are through the roof. Byrne is the teammate that everyone wants. A teammate that is reliable and intelligent with the ball and raises the level for everyone around him. Byrne is a teammate who gives his all in each training session and is constantly striving to keep his fitness at peak levels. Byrne was able to start 41 of 46 Championship matches last season. The Aggressive Worker Bee The two aspects of Byrne’s game that stick out after watching some of his games is that he has an extremely high workrate and that he is relentlessly aggressive. His work rate can also be seen in his career stats as he has played over 3000 minutes in four of the last five seasons*. He is aggressive in every aspect of his game. Byrne likes to take aggressive risks by jumping passing lanes to make interceptions, which then gives him the opportunity to carry the ball forward quickly and help transition into the attack. He also likes to be aggressive in one versus one situations, which is one area where he can get beat if he faces a patient dribbler. While his aggressive approach to his game can occasionally lead to missteps defensively, the reward is an extra attacker in the attacking phase. When in possession Byrne acts as both a center midfielder or as a right winger depending on where the space opens up. At Derby County, Byrne is seen multiple times creeping centrally from the right, especially when the ball is being possessed on the left wing. He then waits for space to open up between the two defensive lines before making a cut into the open space between the lines looking for the ball near the top of the box (space C). Below is a diagram of the variety of different inside and outside runs that Byrne likes to make from the right side. In an FA cup match against West Ham United, Byrne can be seen making a variety of different runs along the right wing. Cutting into the box to get open to take a shot, as well as overlapping to the outside to send in crosses. The Wigan Athletic versus West Ham United game, specifically, was an excellent example of when Byrne’s aggression and speed can overwhelm defenses that play at the highest level. He would sit back in space along the right side and fire crosses in (A), this is where he got his assist in the game from. He also would wait for space to open up and then make aggressive cuts towards the six (B), or make overlapping runs to the outside (D). This variety of movement and aggression caused West Ham fits for much of the match. While Byrne’s aggressive attacking movement without the ball truly flashes the dynamism he can bring to Charlotte FC in possession, he also is aggressive when he has the ball. When Byrne intercepts a pass or receives the ball deep, he is quick to scan the field and if the space is open he often makes the decision to charge up the field into the attacking third himself. With his acceleration he is able to make his aggressive carries transition standard possession into aggressive attacking phases of play quickly. How His Positioning and Play Style May Look in Charlotte What Byrne will provide Charlotte is more of the same aggression and work rate. The main difference that he is likely to make is his attacking aggressive style, something that has been lacking in Charlotte for most of the season. His positioning and approach to attacking space could open things up for many of his Charlotte FC teammates. Charlotte forward Andre Shinyashiki could get a boost in both performance and minutes with a player like Byrne added to the roster. This is because Byrne plays more like an attacking right winger when in possession. This could mean that Byrne occupies the right wing and a player like Shinyashiki is given the agency to spend more time occupying space inside the box. Central attacking spaces is where Shinyashiki prefers to operate. A player with Byrne’s playing style allows for this change to happen more fluidly and could give Charlotte more of an aggressive two striker look out of their typical 4-3-3 formation when in possession. Below is a diagram of this attacking shape. Byrne’s flexibility would also allow for different attacking looks if Charlotte were to play a more natural wide winger on the right, such as McKinze Gaines. If a right winger who prefers to stay out wide is on the pitch, Byrne allows another connecting central option with his cutting runs in the box. Final Thoughts At the age of 30, he still has plenty of seasons ahead and should be able to come in and make an instant impact in a team that has struggled with chance creation for most of the season. Byrne will likely become the fourth or fifth attacking option in most of Charlotte FC's attacking possessions. Byrne will also be able to serve as a mentor for Charlotte’s own Jaylin Lindsey to help him continue to reach his full potential. Specifically, Byrne will be able to demonstrate through his work rate and aggressive style that there is another level that Lindsey can aspire towards. By making a signing like Byrne, Charlotte have pushed the competition of their right back position higher. This forces Lindsey to reach for a new level long-term, which could significantly benefit his career. Byrne will also provide the right back depth moving forward that Charlotte FC lacked, as Lindsey was the only right back currently under contract going into 2023.
- Brandt Bronico Extends His Contract With Charlotte FC
By Brian Maurer Image courtesy of Charlotte FC Midfielder Brandt Bronico has signed an extension with Charlotte FC. This is a big reward for a hardworking player who just opened his goal account for the club against NYCFC last Wednesday. Bronico has played more outfield minutes than any other player for Charlotte FC in their inaugural season. Not only has Bronico played the most, but he has arguably been Charlotte FC's best player thus far. Extending his contract is a move for the team that locks in another fan favorite along with forward Andre Shinyashiki. Bronico's extension has him committed to Charlotte FC through the 2025 season, with an option for the 2026 campaign.
- Andre Shinyashiki Signs 3 year Deal With Charlotte FC
By Tyler Trent Image courtesy of Charlotte FC First reported by Tom Bogert - Andre Shinyashiki has agreed a new contract with Charlotte FC. Shinyashiki has scored 5 goals in 657 minutes in MLS with Charlotte FC and quickly became a fan favorite. Although he has not been seeing much playtime as of late, this move indicates that Charlotte FC does see him involved in the future of the club past their inaugural season. Shinyashiki recently mentioned the monetary distance between him and the club on the podcast Sam’s Army. “I have not received an offer that is acceptable…I think there is a big disconnect between what they are offering me and what I feel and what the league has said the players that are getting the types of goals and numbers that I have are receiving”. Shinyashiki mentioned he had been receiving offers from other teams, especially in Brazil, but confirmed his intent to stay in Charlotte if an appropriate deal could be reached. The front office and Shinyashiki were able to come to an agreement that will hopefully prove to be a key move looking into season two. Shinyashiki's new contract will have him committed to Charlotte through the 2025 season, with an option for the 2026 campaign.
- The Shinyashiki Situation
By Brian Maurer One of the many discussions over the last month among Charlotte FC fans and local Charlotte media pundits has been regarding Charlotte FC forward Andre Shinyashiki. Since joining the team in early May, Shinyashiki made himself an instant fan favorite by coming off the bench in his Charlotte debut and scoring the winner in a 1-0 win against Inter Miami. Shinyashiki went on to have several more important moments where he would score to help Charlotte salvage points. Recently, Shinyashiki’s minutes have been declining, which has outraged many in the Charlotte FC fanbase. Charlotte’s front office (FO), and head coach, Christian Lattanzio, are responsible for both the present state of the club and the future potential of the club. Looking at the current state of Charlotte’s roster and what the future holds for many of its players can help us better understand what is going on in regards to why Shinyashiki’s minutes have been on the decline. The Present State Of Charlotte’s Attack At times, and especially against strong opposition, Charlotte’s attack has looked toothless. However, many of Charlotte’s forwards are starting to improve on their form and in their final end product. Striker Karol Swiderski, who was on an 11-game scoring drought, has started to get hot. Swiderski has six goal contributions (4g/2a) in his past eight games. Winger Yordy Reyna, has three goals and an assist since he has become a regular starter on the left wing (eight games started since July). McKinze Gaines has also begun to show improvement with some final third production, nabbing assists in two of his past three starts. With these players starting to round into decent form, minutes have gotten harder to come by for Shinyashiki since he first joined the club. When Shinyashiki first joined the team, Charlotte had very few scoring options, and none that were in form. Which opened the door significantly for Shinyashiki. Other attackers beginning to hit solid spurts of form has made competition more intense which means minutes harder to earn for everyone, not just Shinyashiki. Predictive Values While the end product is crucial for the results, there is a benefit in keeping an eye on some of the more advanced predictive value statistics to see who has been dangerous in the final third even when the final moment of a goal does not come. Here is a ranked list of Charlotte’s regularly playing attackers and their expected goal contributions (xGC) per 90 minutes*. Shinyashiki currently leads the team in xGC/90. However, the difference between a .4 and a .45 xGC is very small, as that means Shinyashiki is contributing one more goal than Swiderski every twenty games. This puts Shinyashiki, Gaines, Reyna, and Swiderski all around the same in terms of the expected goals contributed. Why then does Shinyashiki appear to be getting the biggest reduction in minutes? One other statistic that sticks out of the predictive values is expected assists (xA). Shinyashiki has the lowest xA/90 out of any of the Charlotte attackers. This could mean that either, Shinyashiki is not very good at distributing the ball to his teammates to set them up for shots, or that his teammates are poor at receiving his passes and thus not able to take the shot after he has passed it to them. I would suggest that the former is the more likely for two reasons. First, Shinyashiki has the highest xG/90 out of the attackers, which means when he is getting the ball in dangerous situations he is electing to shoot rather than pass. Second, the other attackers all have higher xA/90, which suggests that teammates on Charlotte FC are able to receive passes and take shots after doing so. These predictive values provide us some information into the specifics of Charlotte’s attacking core. For Shinyashiki, specifically, these values show a player that prefers to drive towards goal for shots rather than to distribute the ball to teammates who are in dangerous areas. Positions Available Another way to look at the current state of Charlotte’s attack is the way they lineup and how many attacking positions are available. With the 4-3-3 set up Charlotte has three starting positions in the attack and five attackers who are getting regular playing time. Although, Kerwin Vargas did just get his first start for the club against NYCFC, so he may be added to this list by season’s end. The striker position can be ruled out as an option for Shinyashiki to be a starter simply because Swiderski is the player who the team has invested in the most. The entire club is essentially betting on him being able to be at the core of Charlotte’s attack for at least the next couple of years. It would take a calamity far worse than his 11-game scoring drought for Swiderski to lose his role. This leaves the two wing positions for Shinyashiki to earn his starting minutes. Based on Shinyashiki’s predictive stats the left wing would be by far his most preferred position, since he is a right footed shooter and setting up on the left is easier for him to get his shot off. Putting him on the right wing would simply make his life as a shooter more difficult, and that cost would not come with a reward of more distribution. The reason for having Shinyashiki on the field is for him to be able to drive towards the box to take shots, which is easier for him to do from the left. Having narrowed down Shinyashiki’s possible starting positions in Charlotte to the left wing we can now look at the most regular starter at that position of late, Reyna. Reyna has been able to provide attacking creativity in multiple ways. His xGC/90 stats illustrate a more balanced approach to his game, as he is both taking and distributing shots. This could mean that the reason Shinyashiki has been getting a reduction in minutes is because Lattanzio has had a preference for wingers whose style of play involves more shot distribution. Shinyashiki’s Future At The Club The other question that has come up regarding Shinyashiki is his contract situation. Shinyashiki mentioned the monetary distance between him and the club recently on the podcast Sam’s Army “I have not received an offer that is acceptable…I think there is a big disconnect between what they are offering me and what I feel and what the league has said the players that are getting the types of goals and numbers that I have are receiving”. These comments have led to many complaints from the fanbase regarding the club being too tight with their money, because they will not pay a player who is currently the team’s second leading goalscorer. While it is fair for fans to question the club’s reluctance to pay a player who has been a fan favorite, and has contributed goals, it being due to a lack of willingness to spend is a tad farfetched. Charlotte FC currently have half of their total wages of the team tied up in attacking players (roughly 48%**). Not only are their wages tied up in the attack, but most of the roster incentives that the MLS provides are also tied up in the attacking portion of the roster (two DPs and two U-22 Initiatives). With this much money, and this many players who are signed using MLS incentives on the roster that play Shinyashiki’s position, it becomes way harder to justify paying Shinyashiki significantly more. This is not to say that Shinyashiki does not deserve a significant pay raise or that he does not deserve starting minutes. It is, for better or for worse, not likely to happen in Charlotte. This is because the club has spent a massive amount of investment in the attack on other players. Swiderski is a DP and has a two million plus salary. Jozwiak is also a DP and has a salary over a million. Reyna is a TAM player, and Vargas and Vinicius Mello are U-22 Initiative signings. These players are all going to be at the core of next season's attack. Paying extra to keep a player who wants to start, but who likely will not, does not seem like an ideal long term fit for either party. It should also be said that this core group of players were signed around the same time or before Shinyashiki, so this is Charlotte FC sticking to the plan that they have already laid out for themselves. What happened along the way was Shinyashiki started scoring at a time when very few other attackers on the roster were. Which has led to much of the controversy surrounding this situation. The hope is, and should always be, that both parties, player and club, find a solution that ends up being mutually beneficial. If Shinyashiki is looking for both a starting striker salary and role, ideally he finds it. If Charlotte FC is not capable of providing what Shinyashiki is likely looking for, then trying to sign him or cut corners on a deal to keep him would not be a realistic solution either. Sometimes good players, who fans like, do not fit into what a club is trying to accomplish long term. This appears to be the Shinyashiki situation. * Statistics were found on fbref.com; these statistics do not include Charlotte’s most recent game against NYCFC, but most of these stats would not likely have changed significantly. **Salary information was found at MLSPA.com and capology.com; it is also worth noting that Vargas and Malanda’s salary information has not been included in my calculations. Although neither of these players would change the percentages of total salary too much, and if anything they might actually increase the percentage of salary that has been put towards attackers.
- What Nuno Santos Can Bring To Charlotte
By Brian Maurer and Tyler Trent Image Courtesy of Charlotte FC The arrival of Nuno Santos to Charlotte has the fanbase who has been screaming for an attacking midfield signing all season excited. The Portuguese midfielder has arrived in Charlotte, but is currently awaiting approval of his Visa. Hopefully Nuno Santos, along with our other two signings, will be available for the Orlando City or Toronto FC matches, but in the meantime the TopBin90 team has taken a dive into the film of our new attacking midfielder. Positions And Roles Nuno Santos has been asked to play in a variety of different midfield roles in his young career. This past season, for Pacos de Ferreira, Santos played in a more advanced midfield role, as a deeper lying midfielder, and as a wide midfielder. His heat map for the 2021/22 season shows that he has positioned himself frequently all over the field. Image courtesy of SofaScore When you take a look at a few of Santos’ individual performances his positioning heat maps show that he is being given a variety of different assignments and roles depending on the opponent and situation. This variety in his positioning shows that Santos should bring some flexibility to the midfield both at the end of this season and next year. With limited options in Charlotte FC’s midfield, Santos will likely play a more advanced attacking role. Depending on how the winter transfer window shapes up his role and positioning in the squad could change to a more deep lying “8”. Santos has shown glimpses of real potential at both of these positions. These glimpses are shown in both attacking and defensive phases of the game. Defensive Phase Physicality - Santos has spent the past three years on different loan spells to mid-bottom of the table teams in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. He has had to play in very defensive minded systems against world class teams such as Sporting Lisbon and Tottenham Hotspur. In these games he has shown an ability to make strong challenges in ground duels and fight to regain possession. Once gaining possession he also shows the strength to maintain possession in tight spaces and when dealing with physical challenges. Work Rate - While at Boavista for the 2020/21 season, and this past year at Pacos de Ferreira, Santos shows a fairly high work rate and willingness to track back and support the other midfielders and the center backs in defense. He shows a willingness to challenge opponents who are on the ball by making timely presses, and also works to position himself to make interceptions and to strike quickly on counter attacks. Attacking Phase Progressive Passing - Santos has been asked to play multiple different midfield roles in the attack. One of the skills that stands out regardless of where on the pitch Santos plays is his ability to find teammates in more advanced positions. He is able to do this regardless if he is playing in a deeper lying “8” position or if he is in a more advanced attacking “10” position. Off Ball Runs - Another trait that Santos possesses is the ability to make strong off ball runs. What stands out specifically is his ability to make a pass and then quickly advance into open space so he can receive the ball again or pull defenders with him to open up space for his teammates. When Santos is able to combine his ability to quickly progress the ball forward with his passing and his ability to recognize and move into open space he is able to help his team unlock opposing defenses and get goalscoring opportunities. Below is an example of his passing and movement that led to a goal in the U-20 World Cup group stage against South Africa. Santos is on the ball and then finds a teammate with a through ball on the byline. After passing the ball through, Santos immediately notices the open space near the top of the box and takes it. In that process, he pulls multiple defenders with him who try to cover him in the open space. This opens up the wing for a teammate who runs up to receive the ball for a cross. With the crosser having space and time, he puts in a dangerous ball to the striker who finishes off the play for a goal. This play was started with a progressive through ball pass by Santos, who then opened up space with his movement after making the initial pass. Positioning In The Box - Another skill that ties in with his off ball runs is his ability to put himself into dangerous positions in the box to find shots. He is clever at finding space both near the six and at the top of the box. His ability to find pockets of space around the box allows him to get scoring chances and allows space to open up for his teammates so that they also get scoring opportunities. How He Fits In Charlotte After watching film of his matches with Paços de Ferreira, Boavista, and the U-20 Portugal National Team, it’s clear Santos has technical skill with the ball that far exceeds most of the current Charlotte FC squad. He seems to operate with the ball in a similar manner to Swiderski where you can tell he processes the information around him quicker than most other players on the field. He has physical attributes as well and is regularly prepared to go shoulder to shoulder with other players when needed. Playing for mid/lower table teams in Portugal has not allowed Santos to show his full offensive potential. However, it has made him more battle ready. While Charlotte fans should expect to see him in an attacking midfield role, at Pacos he often was playing deeper. Defending in the box, pinging balls from the center circle out to the wings with six players playing ahead of him. For Pacos, he was often the player taking free kicks and corners looking for ways to assist his teammates. With the wingers currently at Charlotte FC, adding Santos seems ideal. His passing range and work rate should exceed what was seen from Titi Ortiz, and he should be able to progress the ball effectively to wingers like Reyna and Gaines. After releasing the wingers, he’s often driving toward the box that opens up space for his team as well. While playing from a deeper position, he has the ability to play incredible balls from the center circle into offensive positions on the wing. He likes to follow this by positioning himself near the edge of the box as you can see on his wonder strike against Vizela last season. As for Swiderski, he should benefit as well. Often this season Swiderski has dropped into positions that Nuno Santos will be taking up which should allow lots of interplay between the Polish striker and the new Portuguese midfielder. This should also allow Swiderski to play further forward and not have to drop as deep to be the only outlet moving the ball forward. What To Expect For What’s Left Of This Season With the amount of inexperience currently in Charlotte FC’s midfield, Santos likely becomes starter to finish the season once he is match fit. For the remainder of this season, Santos will likely play in a more advanced attacking midfield role as the fourth attacking option behind Swiderski and the wings. Charlotte FC will likely be hoping to see him progress the ball forward to the wings in the attacking third, and then use his movement to help open up space in dangerous areas for other attackers, especially Swiderski. Ideally, Santos will also be able to build a little rapport with Swiderski through what remains of the season, and the two of them are able to connect with some quick combination passes through the middle. This too should help open up space for both Santos and Swiderski, as well as other attackers. What To Expect For Next Season Charlotte FC being able to secure the transfer of Santos at a lower cost than a young designated player (YDP) gives them a lot of flexibility going into the winter window. This also means that there is a decent chance that Santos’ position and role in the club is likely going to change, unless he absolutely tears it up in the last month of the season. What this roster flexibility should provide for Charlotte is the ability to spend big at the midfield position. If Charlotte FC do end up signing a DP-level attacking midfielder during the winter, then Santos will likely switch to the deeper lying “8” position. If Santos shows out this season as an attacking midfielder (which is not likely given the limited amount of playing time left), then Charlotte would also have the flexibility to spend big on other attacking options or in other midfield roles. Regardless of the outcome of the season, Santos will likely provide some excitement both by the end of this season, and heading into the winter transfer window, when the team is looking to evaluate other signings who could fit in the midfield, and in the attack, around Santos. *Images and heatmap data was all found on SofaScore.