Karol Swiderski

SAN JOSE, Calif. – There’s been some uneasiness about Karol Swiderski among sectors of the Charlotte FC fanbase this winter, and not without reason.

The Polish international scored a hatful of goals for his national team last year, made their World Cup roster and got to face off against Lionel Messi & Co. in their group-stage meeting with eventual champions Argentina, in addition to leading CLTFC in scoring with 10g/6a during their inaugural season.

That’s the kind of résumé that earned former New England Revolution frontrunner Adam Buksa, who presently sits below Swiderski on Poland’s depth chart, a reported $10 million move to Ligue 1 side RC Lens last summer. So transfer chatter inevitably ebbed and flowed as a result – some of it, it should be said stoked by the words of Swiderski’s agent.

It reached the point Charlotte sporting director Zoran Krneta called Swiderski an “absolutely untouchable” asset and, if some reports are to be believed, affixed a €15 million (US $16.3 million) price tag on the versatile attacker.

The ambitious striker’s horizons appear to be expanding in real time: He feels both blessed to have reached the sport’s pinnacle and frustrated not to have played more there, as Poland advanced to the World Cup knockout stages for the first time since 1986.

“Last season, I play a lot in the national team. Just in World Cup, I expected more [playing time] before I go. But also I understand, because I finished the [MLS] season one and half months before World Cup, so this was a difficult time for me, because I needed to train strong without games,” Swiderski told MLSsoccer.com at MLS’s media day in San Jose earlier this month.

“But I'm happy too, because I was in a World Cup and I played against Argentina, in the first 11, against the champions, against Messi. So this was my dream and I'm so happy too, and proud.”

Swiderski World Cup
Karol Swiderski has eight goals in 19 appearances for Poland.

Europe can wait

As inspiring as the adventure in Qatar was, Swiderski does harbor ambitions of trying his hand at one of Europe’s elite leagues someday. Supporters of The Crown can relax for at least a little while, though: The soon-to-be-26-year-old wants to leave a legacy in the Carolinas first, having joined as their first Designated Player last year on a reported $5 million deal from Greek side PAOK.

“The World Cup, I think it's something special, because not every player can go there,” he said. “I'm so happy because in one year, I play in [UEFA Nations League] and I play World Cup, so in the national team, I do everything. So now just I need to play in [UEFA] Champions League.

“Yes, maybe some clubs want to take me back to Europe. But I don't think about this now. First I want to win something with Charlotte,” Swiderski explained, matter-of-factly noting he also took part in Europa League and Europa Conference League before crossing the Atlantic to MLS. “Maybe not champion, but we have cups of both the [Leagues and US Open variety] in summer or we can play in playoffs, so this is my target now. I think I will not move now from Charlotte.”

If he can get a taste of Concacaf’s top club competition before experiencing the European version, all the better. It has not escaped Swiderski’s notice the newly expanded Leagues Cup, which kicks off in late July, offers a fast track into CCL for the top three finishers.

“It’s the most easy way to get qualification to Champions League. So I think for every team this tournament will be so important,” Swiderski said of the monthlong cross-border event now featuring all 47 clubs in MLS and Liga MX.

“So it's something new, I think, for me, and yeah, it will be a nice tournament.”

Karol Swiderski was Charlotte's leading scorer last year with 10g/6a in 30 games.

Lewandowski to MLS?

Swiderski, his wife Martyna and their young son Antoni have settled comfortably in a neighborhood close to CLT’s Bank of America Stadium. He appreciates the new club’s gameday atmosphere and blossoming supporter culture, which last season fueled the league’s second-best home attendance numbers.

After missing out on the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in year one, his employers underlined their commitment by signing new DP Enzo Copetti, an Argentine who’ll most likely be Swiderski’s next strike partner, and central midfielder Ashley Westwood from England's Burnley FC.

Swiderski also says he was impressed with the level of play in MLS right from the jump, and has fielded several inquiries from his Polish countrymen – most prominently, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny (Juventus) and superstar scorer Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona).

“Yes, he asked me sometimes,” said Swiderski of ‘Lewa'. “I'm not sure, but what I can see when I spoke with him, maybe he will want to go one day to MLS to finish his career here. I'm waiting for this moment, so I hope he will come here, because he's really a legend, [not only] in Poland but even I think in Europe. He’s scored many, many goals, so it would be nice to meet him in MLS.”

Crucially, the league’s rising profile in the sport’s traditional hotbeds has made such conversations less about MLS’s respectability and viability, and more a matter of players sharing their individual experiences around their respective clubs and communities.

“Even I don't need to say, like, ‘ah guys, this league every year goes forward.’ They see this and then they come and they say MLS, it's not like five, six years ago, when only old players come to finish [their] career,” said Swiderski. “Of course it's a really good league and really strong league, and they can see this as well.”

Swiderski and his Charlotte teammates know their goal of playoffs qualification could hinge on a better start to the new season than their stumbles out of the gate last year, which played a big part in the precipitous departure of former manager Miguel Angel Ramirez.

Now under the leadership of head coach Christian Lattanzio, CLT kick off 2023 at home vs. the New England Revolution on Feb. 25 (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), then a week later visit expansion side St. Louis City SC for that club's first-ever home MLS match.

Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the tragic news that Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes passed away at age 25.