Charlotte FC locks in two key players
Fan-favorite forward Shinyashiki and the 'rock' in midfield, Bronico, sign multi-year contracts; Jozwiak goes for bicycle kick and more playing time; plus another 'must-win' game vs. Toronto
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Shinyashiki signed amid lapse in playing time; Bronico rewarded as fixture in the midfield
Brandt Bronico (left) and Andre Shinyashiki both have reasons to celebrate. (Photos courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
You’ve got to hand it to the front office of Charlotte FC. Just days after a demoralizing last-minute loss at home to Orlando, the club gave fans something to celebrate by inking a couple of fan favorites and key players to long-term contracts. The club announced Thursday it had signed both forward Andre Shinyashiki and midfielder Brandt Bronico to three-year deals with an option for a fourth, which could keep both in the Queen City through 2026. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Shinyashiki endeared himself to Charlotte fans by scoring a game-winning goal against Inter Miami in his first action at Bank of America Stadium after arriving in a trade from Colorado. He’s second on the team with five goals behind Karol Swiderski’s eight. Ironically, the long-term deal comes at a time when Shinyashiki has been relegated to the bench. He hasn’t started a game since July 23 in Toronto and has played only 13 minutes in the last three games combined.
“I know that I get a lot of criticism because I don’t play him as much as some people think (I should),” Coach Christian Lattanzio said. “He has been good with us. I think he has to improve in that consistency, but I love his personality. I love the way that he is within the team.”
Lattanzio has been saying publicly how much he values Shinyashiki when questioned about his lack of playing time. The club has been showing a commitment to Shinyashiki privately during that same time by negotiating with him over the past several weeks.
“You obviously want to be on the field every minute possible, but sometimes things don’t go your way,” Shinyashiki told the Charlotte Observer. “I just put my head down, keep working, because my time is going to come. Obviously, it’s not great timing when you’re negotiating your contract and not playing, but at the end of the day, I feel like I had done good enough to show that I deserved to get an increase in my salary and things like that. And the club agreed.”
Shinyashiki arrived in Charlotte at a time when the team was desperate for an injection of offensive talent. But lately, he’s found playing time tougher to get as other wingers have come into their own. Charlotte FC can go two deep at both wings without him, between Jordy Reyna, McKinze Gaines, Kerwin Vargas and Kamil Jozwiak. Shinyashiki also plays center forward. He came up playing striker and might be more suited to center naturally, but he doesn’t figure to get many minutes there behind designated player Swiderski.
More minutes ahead: “It’s not easy to break into those positions, especially when the players in those areas are doing well for the club,” Lattanzio said. “… But I am confident in saying that Andre will get more minutes in the next few games.”
In the short term, more playing time might have something to do with McKinze Gaines being doubtful for Saturday’s game against Toronto with a high ankle sprain. In the long term though, Shinyashiki is an intriguing player for Charlotte to have in its arsenal.
“I think he can help us in different ways,” Lattanzio said. “And I want to explore his potential, but I also want to see him bringing that energy without the ball because we want to be a dynamic team, press from the front, and I think he’s got this quality of aggression and running ability.”
Shinyashiki celebrated the contract with a social media post:
Bronico back for more: Bronico, meanwhile, has been Charlotte’s steadiest player. The defensive midfielder has played in every game this season. He leads Charlotte FC’s position players in minutes played (2,344) and starts (27). Lately, he’s been given more offensive freedom on the field. With that opportunity, he scored his first goal of the season, good for the game-winner against defending MLS Cup champion New York FC. Bronico just missed tying up the Orlando game in the final minutes Sunday.
“Brandt has been a rock since the beginning of season in his attitude as well as in his performances,” Lattanzio said Thursday. “And he’s one of the most underrated players in my opinion of the MLS. I love his attitude and his consistency on a daily basis. This is a great quality for any professional player in every country, and we are happy and lucky to have Brandt with us.”
Bronico grew up in High Point and is a product of UNC Charlotte. Both he and his wife, Rebecca, starred on the 49ers soccer teams.
“I was really hoping for this,” Bronico told WFNZ on Thursday. “My wife and I wanted to be here. I’m grateful and glad Charlotte FC and I could make it work. … I’m very passionate about this club and building it from the ground up. I’m happy. I’m grateful. I can’t really put it into words. Let’s just say I look forward to winning an MLS Cup with Charlotte FC.”
What’s next? Charlotte FC has decisions to make on other players who are candidates to re-up, including veterans like Christian Fuchs, Harrison Afful, Derrick Jones and Danny Rios. That’s part of why sporting director Zoran Krneta told the Observer the deal with Shinyashiki was all but reached weeks ago. “The reason why this isn’t coming earlier is because I didn’t want to distract the team, because he’s not the only player who is uncertain about next season. So if you start doing one, then everybody comes, then everybody starts thinking not about playoffs but about their contracts.”
What about Lattanzio’s future as coach?
Interim coach Christian Lattanzio is 5-7-1 since taking over the team in early June. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
Of course, the decision whether or not to remove the “interim” from Lattanzio’s title looms large as well. He is now 5-7-1 since his promotion from assistant coach when Miguel Angel Ramirez was fired in early June.
When asked if he’s had any discussions with the team about his future, Lattanzio said Thursday: “A little. But honestly, I’m really focused on working with the boys. As I said many times, I really love to work with this group of players. … I want to do well, and then the club will decide what they think is right for the club.”
Jozwiak nearly dazzled, finally contributing
Jozwiak taking a corner kick Saturday vs. Orlando (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
For those who might have rubbed their eyes and wondered if they really saw Kamil Jozwiak go airborne, feet flying overhead in a Pele-esque move in last Sunday’s game against Orlando, we asked: Did you try a bicycle kick?
“Yeah, I did,” Jozwiak said with a smile. “We were laughing, the boys, because I did it in training.”
In practice last week, he connected. In the game, he didn’t. And there, in one potentially jaw-dropping moment, Jozwiak’s season was summed up. Charlotte FC’s second designated player (a star signed without regard to a salary cap) showed flashes of what he’s capable of, a willingness to go for it when given the chance, and still came up short.
What Jozwiak lacked in style, though, he had going in substance. He walked away with his first assist of the season in just 27 minutes off the bench. He lofted a perfect strike to Gaines for a game-tying header in the eventual, last-minute 2-1 loss. Broadcaster Eric Krakauer called the pass “silver platter service.”
It was a fitting way, perhaps, for Jozwiak to make his first big mark in a season that has kept him primarily in a supporting role.
Jozwiak suffered an ankle injury playing with Derby County in the English Championship League that delayed his signing with Charlotte FC in the first place. He was in and out of the lineup under previous coach Miguel Angel Ramirez. Under Lattanzio, after a bout with COVID, he was given a chance to start four games in a row, only to find himself back on the bench in five of the past seven games.
“I’m a professional guy, so always when I was on the bench, I was ready to help the team,” Jozwiak said. “Of course everyone wants to play in the first 11, and I know I can do that. Now I think I’m playing better, so I am also happy. This year was tough for me. I was injured. I had to get some oxygen when I had COVID, a lot of different different things. And now finally, I hope I will be in good shape and I can help the team. I think I’m (moving) in the right direction.”
Jozwiak showed his willingness to adapt for the team, when Lattanzio asked him to try two games at midfield. He played there in the exhibition against Chelsea, and he started at midfield in the following game against Toronto. That experiment ended with a 4-0 loss and Jozwiak leaving the game after taking a hard foul.
Now, with Toronto coming to town Saturday, Jozwiak is back at his familiar position on the wing and playing on his more natural left side.
And yes, he’s feeling good enough now that he might just get his bicycle kick yet.
“If I get another ball like that,” Jozwiak said, “I’ll try again.”
Up Next: Charlotte FC (10-15-2) vs. Toronto FC (8-13-6)
When/Where: 7 p.m. Saturday, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
How to watch: WAXN (Channel 64), Telemundo, or live stream at www.charlottefootballclub/live or on the Charlotte FC app. Local restrictions apply.
With seven games to play and six teams within five points of seventh place Columbus in the Eastern Conference, Charlotte FC needs wins. Lattanzio stopped short of calling this a “must-win.” He thinks his team has put undue pressure on itself to please home fans and played too conservatively as a result.
Charlotte FC has lost back-to-back games at Bank of America Stadium for the first time, falling to 8-5 at “The Fortress” this season.
Toronto stunned Charlotte FC 4-0 July 23 while playing in front of a frenzied crowd, excited about the debuts of recent acquisitions Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne.
Winger McKinze Gaines is doubtful for Charlotte FC with a high ankle sprain.
New CLTFC acquisitions, defender Nathan Byrne and midfielder Nuno Santos, were both in Europe this week acquiring their visas and are at least possibilities to play if travel plans allow.
As part of the game’s Kick Childhood Cancer theme, fans are asked to stand and clap at the start of the game’s 42nd minute in acknowledgement that every day, 42 families have a child diagnosed with cancer.
Carroll Walton is a longtime baseball writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution now cutting her teeth on soccer and the Charlotte FC just as fans in Charlotte do. She would love to hear from you. E-mail her with questions, suggestions, story ideas and comments!
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