Charlotte FC's inaugural MLS season has been pushed from 2021 to 2022, but their roster-building process isn't slowing down.
The club still have big plans for the summer transfer window, which opens on August 12th. Sporting director Zoran Krneta expects to make a handful of key signings, continuing to shape the club's first-ever roster as they wait to hire a head coach. They've already got one player signed, with Spanish midfielder Sergio Ruiz the first name on their whiteboard as the roster slowly falls into place, piece by piece.
Expect more announcements in the coming weeks and months.
“We’ll be looking for players that will be building blocks," Krneta told reporters on a video conference call Wednesday. "Like Sergio is, he’s the first building block of our team. We’ll also try to build our spine first: Central defender, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder and a striker. This is what potentially we could be looking at adding this coming window.”
Charlotte, and the other three expansion clubs set to enter MLS in the coming years, find themselves in an interesting position in the global soccer market. Most general managers, agents and others well-connected to the transfer market expect there to be less money moving around, due to the financial downturns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. More teams willing to sell, fewer able to buy.
But for clubs that are financially stable, and with the need to fill 30 roster spots, there are deals to be had.
“COVID-19, in addition to making life difficult for all of us and complicated, it presents us with interesting opportunities," Krneta said. "If we get the chance to get a player on a discounted price, both transfer fee and salary, we’ll look at that.”
Ruiz is an example of that.
Charlotte were one of around six clubs seriously interested in signing the Spanish midfielder before the pandemic gripped the globe, then teams started falling out of the race to sign Ruiz as budgets tightened. That factored into his signing, as well as the excitement to make history with a new club and experience a new league.
“When Zoran and [director of scouting] Thomas [Schaling] spoke to me about the project, it was important for me," Ruiz said. "To start from moment zero with the club, it was incredible and exciting.”
Ruiz will have to wait longer than expected for his debut in Charlotte colors, so the club are exploring a loan. He's not short of suitors.
"We’re focusing on Spain and England to send Sergio on loan," Krenta said. "A lot of clubs in Spain know him and like him, a lot of clubs are interested. In England a lot are too. We’re just waiting to find the best club, in terms of a coach that wants him the most and a style that will suit him. If we wanted to explore other leagues, I’m pretty sure we’d have no problem finding a loan for Sergio. Like Portugal, Belgium or Holland. but we don’t want to go to those leagues, we want to focus on England and Spain.”
Ruiz is a central midfielder who can play defensive, box-to-box or attacking roles. The 25-year-old was acquired from Racing Club in Spain, where he helped guide the club to promotion to the Segunda Division and made 31 appearances this past season.
“We scouted Sergio for a long time, we knew of him very early on," Krneta said. "We decided to go for Sergio because he fits our profile as a leader on and off the pitch — we did a lot of homework about who Sergio Ruiz is, his character — and as a player, he’s very interesting. He has a lot of room to improve and is versatile. That gives us options. On top of all that, he’s already an experienced player who comes from a very strong league.”
With Ruiz as the first building block, Charlotte are starting to put the pieces together.