Like any other expansion season, Charlotte FC’s maiden voyage in MLS came with its share of highs and lows.
All in all, 2022 was a solid year for them – one that put the club on a positive path forward and one that was never short of intrigue. There was an early managerial change, mid-summer additions, big crowds and an exciting late-season push toward the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs that ultimately fell just short.
Charlotte’s inaugural season objectives were always to be competitive and set a strong foundation for the future. During year two, however, the goal is binary.
“It’s playoffs,” sporting director Zoran Krneta told MLSsoccer.com when asked about the club’s 2023 expectations. “We want to be in the playoffs. For us, it’s playoffs and nothing less.”
What Copetti brings
CLTFC have made a few significant additions this offseason to reload for 2023, namely forward Enzo Copetti.
Copetti, who turns 27 early next week, was officially acquired on Wednesday from Argentine Primera División side Racing Club. The fee is around $6 million, per sources, which is a similar figure from when Charlotte acquired Poland international Karol Świderski last year from Greece’s PAOK. Copetti had a career year in 2022, contributing 21 goals and six assists across 47 appearances in all competitions for Racing, one of Argentina’s biggest clubs.
It’s a significant outlay for a player who the club believes fits perfectly and can help lift them to new heights. With their final open DP spot – alongside Świderski and winger Kamil Jozwiak – Charlotte identified center forward as the position most useful for the investment. Last year, Świderski was their leading scorer with 10g/6a in 30 games.
“We thought adding a proper striker was an area we could improve,” Krneta said. “We have Karol, who [head coach Christian] Lattanzio likes a lot, but he thinks he’s not a typical striker. Maybe he wouldn’t necessarily die for a goal, because he’s a good passer of the ball who likes to assist. [Copetti] is more of a fox in the box. We thought we were lacking a 15-goal-type striker.”
After a shortlist was narrowed down to a handful of players – “Enzo was always No. 1,” Krneta said – Charlotte pursued their top target, making a handful of visits to Argentina not just to scout, but to meet the player and his family. By the winter, Charlotte got a deal done.
Copetti’s fit alongside Świderski will be crucial to the club’s success in 2023.
Charlotte had loose plans to use their final DP spot on a No. 10 last summer, but put those ideas on hold. Lattanzio even tried Świderski as more of a second forward/No. 10 hybrid, a role in which the 25-year-old thrived. They also added creative midfielder Nuno Santos from Portugal’s Benfica last August, a deal that fell just below the DP threshold to help preserve this slot for the winter.
“The pair will work well,” Krneta said. “Copetti likes to run; it’s a nightmare for defenders. Defenders hate forwards who run a lot. Karol is a really good creator; he loves assisting. I think the two of them will work well. Karol is very versatile.”
Before Copetti’s breakout with Racing Club, he was playing in the Argentine second tier with Atlético de Rafaela. It wasn’t until 2021 – his age-25 season – that Copetti truly blossomed.
“He’s a late bloomer who went through the second division,” Krneta said. “He’s a player who runs all the time, he doesn’t stop. He attacks spaces all the time, which is exactly the type of player we want. He’s also hungry. We want hungry players, players who have something to prove and want to do more.”
Copetti joins an attacking group headlined by the three DPs, but also includes a few MLS veterans (Andre Shinyashiki and Yordy Reyna) as well a pair of U22 Initiative signings: Kerwin Vargas and Vinicius Mello. That helped inform the club to aim for an in-prime DP forward rather than a Young DP, having also sold striker Daniel Rios to Liga MX’s Chivas last month.
“Vini Mello is a talented young Brazilian who’s only 20,” Krneta said. “We wanted someone a little bit older. We didn’t want to go for someone who was 21 or 22. We wanted more experience in this team. Last year we lacked a little experience, proper pros who are not fazed by anything.”
Charlotte’s other key senior signing this offseason came by way of veteran midfielder Ashley Westwood, arriving on a free transfer from now-English Championship (second tier) club Burnley. Experience is something he has plenty of.
The 32-year-old made 286 appearances in the Premier League, including 28 during the 2021-22 campaign until a broken ankle ended his season. Westwood was back at training in December with Burnley, played in a pair of closed-door friendlies, and is a full participant at the onset of Charlotte’s preseason camp.
“In addition to young players, you need to have leaders,” Krneta said. “We lost one on the pitch with Christian Fuchs – though we kept him as a coach – but we needed to reinforce leadership in the player pool. Ashley is that. He had almost 300 games in the Premier League and is a universally loved player. Since he joined us, I’ve received a large number of calls from players about him.”
“[Westwood] is versatile,” Krneta said. “He can play No. 6 or No. 8 and he’s a set-piece specialist; that’s something we needed as well. He has a fantastic understanding of the game.”