With a vast scouting network and international ties all throughout the front office (and now coaching staff), Charlotte FC have long planned to be a club where player recruitment reaches all corners of the globe.
As the 2022 MLS expansion club ramps up their roster build two months before their inaugural preseason begins, they sit at eight players from seven different countries and four continents.
There are building blocks from defense through central midfield, most notably midfielders Sergio Ruiz, Riley McGree and Jordy Alcivar. Ruiz has been among the top midfielders in Spain's second tier, McGree a regular with Australia's national team and Alcivar a three-year veteran of the Copa Libertadores at just 22 years old.
“As you can see, we’ve built through the spine,” sporting director Zoran Krneta told MLSsoccer.com at the beginning of November. "That was always our intention – we believe that’s the most important part of the team – and now we have our whole coaching staff on board. It’s much easier than the beginning when we started.”
One potential problem, though, is that MLS clubs are restricted in the number of international slots they start with. It’s not an easy lift to make up ground, particularly when clubs know you’re in need of those valuable spots. Five of Charlotte’s six internationals require an international slot (Christian Fuchs has a green card), comprising a sizable chunk of the eight slots they start with.
“The key word here is flexibility and having options,” Krneta said. “The same as any other club in MLS, we’ll be working hard at obtaining green cards. It’s not in our hands always, but we do everything we can possibly do. We obviously started for the three players we signed early, we’ll be starting the process for the players who came recently. It’s a process that every club does, some have more success than others. We hope to do it as quickly as possible.”
Charlotte are already working toward solving that.
Per sources, Charlotte have agreed to acquire two 2022 international roster spots from Nashville SC for a new league record of allocation money exchanged just for a roster spot. The previous record was $225,000 GAM, set last year. The deal will become official during the half-day trade window on December 12.
As well as acquiring international spots, Charlotte are also working to get green cards for their players to free up those valuable slots. Starting next season, a new rule goes into effect that a player’s status as domestic or international locks at the roster compliance date (just before opening weekend).
Flexibility is a buzzword around Charlotte's front office; Krneta routinely kept returning to that theme across different topics and questions. With extra allocation money provided to expansion teams to give them a roster-building boost, extracting value isn’t easy when teams know you have excess cash.
“The extra money is great, but it’s also a challenge. Everyone else knows you have more money, so the prices keep rising," Krneta said. "We want to keep flexibility for this reason so we can say no when we think offers aren’t acceptable, or in some cases ridiculous. I don’t want to go into details, but some of the numbers thrown around are wild.”
Like their international plans, they have plenty of flexibility at the top of the roster.
Currently, none of the eight players acquired are slotted as Designated Players (though that could still change, perhaps after Alcivar was acquired for a reported $3 million transfer fee. He could be a young DP). Theoretically, they still could add three DPs to go with the core currently assembled.
“We have our strategy outlined,” Krneta said. “We have everything prepared like we’re starting tomorrow. We’ll have DPs, we’ll have U22 Initiative players. I can’t really specify [right now].”
They aren’t disregarding MLS-based players, of course.
After head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez was named to the position at the end of July, he's been in constant contact with Krneta and director of scouting Thomas Schaling about player profiles and recruitment. Ramirez, Krneta and others have routinely been on scouting trips around MLS for the past few months.
“We feel we know the MLS market very well, also USL,” Krneta said. “We have open eyes. We really like quite a few players. But liking is one thing because whether you can get them or not is totally different. The limitations of the salary cap and fitting them in, we just have to be careful. There is a lot of time.”
Charlotte are also approaching their Expansion Draft this winter, where they can add up to five players. There will be plenty to choose from.
Last year, MLS clubs protected 12 players, with homegrown players under 25 and Generation Adidas signings automatically protected. With the U22 Initiative adding more intriguing young players into MLS, clubs will have to preserve some of those spots to not lose their potentially multi-million investments.
“We’re analyzing every club, try to figure out which players will be available [for the Expansion Draft],” Krneta said. “I think this year will be the most interesting Expansion Draft in the history of MLS.”
Before long, Charlotte will have the full makings of an inaugural roster in place.
“We do have eyes on a couple more [players], it looks very promising,” Krneta said. “I think we’ll have some news very soon.”