As the 2022 MLS season draws to a close, clubs trickle over the line of being mathematically eliminated from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Though games remain, focus shifts to the offseason and what's next.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (Charlotte FC version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
Charlotte FC’s expansion season certainly was not without intrigue and drama, both of the standard first-year variety and some internal strife that came with a coaching change.
All in all, the club had a respectable first campaign.
Charlotte remained in the playoff race until just before Decision Day, plus picked up some fun moments and huge crowds along the way. It was a competitive and fun year, with potential to build upon in year two. A crucial winter awaits.
Christian Lattanzio took over as interim head coach at the end of May for Miguel Angel Ramirez. Lattanzio was an in-demand assistant coach when he chose to come to Charlotte (instead of joining Patrick Vieira at Crystal Palace in the Premier League).
The question here was going to be about whether or not Lattanzio would get the job – and it seemed like he was going to – then reports came out that a deal is close. A source can confirm those reports: Lattanzio is expected back as full-time manager for 2023.
During his run as interim manager, there were some positive signs and there were some disappointing moments alike, but Lattanzio’s guidance represented a positive shift, though not seismic, on the field.
- 14 games, 16 points (1.16 PPG)
- 13 goals, 18 goals against, -5 GD
- 15.5 xG, 20.4 xGA (-4.9 xGD)
- 14 big chances created (1 per game)
- 19 games, 26 points (1.37 PPG)
- 31 goals, 32 goals against, -1 GD
- 25.42 xG, 24 xGA (+1.42 xGD)
- 28 big chances created (1.47 per game)
All of those numbers are per Opta. Per Second Spectrum, Charlotte went from dead last in xG per game to 21st, which isn’t great but it’s an improvement. They’re pressing a bit more (seventh most team pressures per game in MLS) under Lattanzio than Ramirez (ninth most) and playing long more (15th in long passes per game under Ramirez, seventh under Lattanzio).
Charlotte are picking up more points while scoring (and conceding) a bit more, but have been slightly unlucky in terms of expected goals (which was worse before the four-goal outburst against Philly at the beginning of the month). 1.37 PPG would be right on the playoff line in the Eastern Conference this year. Sample size warning of course, and weird things happen over stretches of a season, but it feels like they figured something out at the end of the year here.
Those are just the numbers. They don’t tell the full story. A key reason why Ramirez was let go was the relationships he kept around the club (or lack thereof in many instances), as well as the direction the culture was going. Things have been much better under Lattanzio behind the scenes.
Ramirez had a big hand in numerous signings, as is the case for head coaches at most clubs. It's normal for the coaching staff to be in those discussions, so what will we see in terms of additions for Lattanzio?
Charlotte made quick work to move on from signings who were clearly influenced heavily by Ramirez – Titi Ortiz (waived), Alan Franco (loaned) and Christian Makoun (traded) – showing good roster flexibility this summer, something sporting director Zoran Krneta has said they would value all along.
Before cashing in some of that flexibility (more on that later), Charlotte need to identify the players to build around for the short- and mid-term future.
DP striker Karol Swiderski clearly is a building block, as the Poland international has become increasingly influential as the season goes on, even picking up more creative duties over the last month as a second striker/No. 10. He’s been really good. Krneta called him "absolutely untouchable" amid headlines of Swiderski's agent talking about all the teams interested in Europe.
Guzman Corujo was good before undergoing ACL surgery in early August, but he’ll be back at some point next year. Rising 20-year-old Adilson Malanda has looked really good in early minutes after arriving from the French second tier. They’re two strong center backs.
Nuno Santos was signed with the view of being a key starter, a TAM-level attacking midfielder from Benfica, and Andre Shinyashiki played himself into a new, long-term contract in Charlotte, even if he hasn't played a major role in this recent run of form. Kristijan Kahlina, Anton Walkes, Christian Fuchs and Brandt Bronico are further veterans that will likely play regular roles moving forward, while Ben Bender and Kerwin Vargas are two rising talents in the group.
That last paragraph of questions (plus if Santos will indeed stack up as creator-in-chief over a full season) influences the answer to where Charlotte will best use their final DP spot.
The DP spot can be opened by buying down Alcivar’s budget hit, but that means they’ll need to sign a Young DP to continue to use three U22 Initiative slots as planned. Young DPs can be inconsistent, so perhaps somewhere in the attacking third with some flexibility to play attacking midfield or on the wing would make sense. Or for another option at No. 6 with Jones, too.
It’s a long-winded way of saying: Charlotte have options for where to target that spot. It may just be a case of “best player available” in attacking areas outside of center forward, where they’re well-stocked with Swiderski, Daniel Rios, Shinyashiki and U22 Initiative signing Vinicius Mello, who hasn’t made his debut due to injuries.
A couple more thoughts:
- The formation is fluid given the different looks Lattanzio has used, including a lot of 4-4-2 lately with Swiderski playing a bit more free underneath. But a 4-3-3 feels like a safe starting point for next year, with flexibility to swap back to the 4-4-2, of course.
- Swiderski in a No. 10/second striker role over the last month has been fun as hell, but I expect the plan is for others (Santos? A new DP?) to take the creative burden.
- What other contracts can they get out of for further additions in year two?
- How many minutes will Fuchs (turning 37 in April) get next year?
- On top of that final DP spot, Charlotte still have another U22 Initiative slot open, too.