Ashley Westwood Charlotte preseason

Just a week into his Charlotte FC career, Ashley Westwood already feels right at home.

Understandably, much of that has to do with how new teammates have welcomed the veteran English midfielder, who earlier this month joined the second-year MLS club on a free transfer from Championship side Burnley.

But the 32-year-old, who arrives with a decade of Premier League experience, also sees sporting similarities between Charlotte and his previous club stops from across the pond, which also includes Aston Villa.

"The professionalism, the way they work, the way they train and the hard work we’ve done so far this first week has been incredible," Westwood told the media Tuesday from the club's preseason training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Westwood added: "The work that the staff have done – for me, the way the set-up is here, it’s a proper Premier League club. It's something the club should be very, very proud of."

In fact, some of the work he's put in under head coach Christian Lattanzio so far this winter surpasses anything Westwood has ever experienced as a pro.

"The running we’ve done, it’s been harder than an English preseason," said Westwood, who's under contract through the 2024 season with a club option for 2025.

The comparisons don't end there for Westwood, who believes that Charlotte would not only compete, but thrive in the English second tier.

"From what I’ve seen with this group, I think it’s probably top Championship-level," he said. "That’s what I’ve been told and that’s what I expect."

English grit

All these factors make the Crown practically the perfect MLS landing spot for Westwood, the club's biggest offseason signing so far behind Enzo Copetti.

The 27-year-old Argentine forward signed as a Designated Player after a breakout 2022 with Primera División side Racing Club, scoring 21 goals and six assists in 47 appearances across all competitions. Copetti joins Poland international forwards Karol Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak as Charlotte's three DPs.

On paper, Westwood – who tallied 12 goals and 32 assists over 286 career Premier League appearances with Burnley and Villa – will play midfield provider for his DP teammates, as well as U22 Initiative attackers Vinicius Mello and Kerwin Vargas. However, he's hoping not just creating chances in 2023.

"I think I want to play a bit further forward to try and create things and score a few more goals. ... I didn’t do that in England," Westwood said.

"Christian has stressed to me that I’m going to be important in the top-end of the pitch. So it’s something that’s really exciting for me. I’m really looking forward to it."

Whatever role Westwood takes on, he wants to help turn the team with the seventh-lowest goals scored total last season (44) into an offensive juggernaut. He'll bring a chip on his shoulder, too.

"We want to have a nasty side," the veteran Englishman said, referring to Charlotte's inability to close out some games during their inaugural 2022 campaign.

That innocence likely cost the then-expansion club a trip to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, as they finished in ninth place, six points off the final Eastern Conference postseason spot.

"We want to bring that English grit to MLS," Westwood said.