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Copetti taking some heat
Newest Charlotte FC star has become a favorite target for fan criticism; Guzman returns to action; previewing road swing starting with L.A. Galaxy
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Copetti under the microscope: Charlotte’s newest ‘DP’ the latest lightning rod for criticism
Enzo Copetti jockeying for position during his two-goal effort against NYCFC. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
In three short months of playing for Charlotte FC, Argentinian striker Enzo Copetti has already found his way in and out of favor with many among the fanbase. The criticism started with his demonstrative interactions with the officials and a propensity for flopping — which he has toned considerably down, by the way. Lately, he’s come under fire by those who question his on-the-ball skills and whether they are worthy of a No. 9 — or center forward position — and the money Copetti is making.
Welcome to the role of Charlotte FC designated player.
Just ask the Polish duo Karol Swiderski (who is making $2.2 million in base salary this year) and Kamil Jozwiak ($1.1 million). Those two and Copetti, who is making $1 million in base salary this season, are Charlotte’s three designated players, or stars paid without regard to the salary cap. (Translation: highest paid players on the team.) Swiderski felt the heat last year while enduring an 11-game scoring drought. Jozwiak drew steady criticism as he suffered through a season-long scoring drought. Only this year has Jozwiak become a dangerous producer (two goals and four assists), and now he’s out with a thigh injury.
Copetti has scored goals. In fact, he’s leading the team with four of them, plus another one in U.S. Open Cup play. But those don’t seem to diminish the criticism he takes on social media over his demeanor and, lately, his body language. One fan called Copetti out on Twitter for slouching on the bench during Charlotte’s 2-1 loss to Nashville. Little did the fan know, until Copetti himself responded in a Tweet, the reason Copetti was crouched down in his seat dejected, and why he had come out in the game’s 59th minute, was because he had injured his hamstring.
According to Twitter’s “translate” function, Copetti’s response was: “Brother, I had an injury to my hamstring, and my body language is from someone who felt bad about the injury, no one was frustrated with the referee, it’s normal that they don't charge me anything for the entire game…”
That exchange was a pretty good representation of what might be part of the problem: the language barrier and a general lack of information. Copetti’s English is limited, and his point of view is often lost in translation.
In a recent postgame interview, Copetti made no apologies for his interactions with officials, saying through a translator: “If you were from Argentina, you would know this is my game. I always do this. … I look out for my teammates to make sure we get equal calls.”
He had just picked up his fifth yellow card against New York City FC that night while also scoring two goals. He was suspended for the next game for yellow card accumulation. In his first game back from suspension, against Chicago, veteran teammates Ashley Westwood and Justin Meram had to get in Copetti’s face to diffuse more ranting directed toward the referee.
(In fairness to Copetti, though, it’s not like he didn’t have a point: He took a shove to the back and later a jersey grab in the 18-yard box, and neither drew a penalty kick.)
Coach Christian Lattanzio has said it before and reiterated it again this week that he wants Copetti to “be more disciplined on the pitch. Not to lose what gives him the edge, to be a fighter, but to channel it and become more composed.”
Tactically, Lattanzio said he’d like to see Copetti improve his play with his back to the goal, to “be more tidy” in the buildup toward goals, not just the finishing of them.
For now, that will have to wait. Copetti re-aggravated his hamstring injury in practice Tuesday and missed Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup loss to Birmingham. He is out for the L.A. Galaxy game on Saturday as well.
Perhaps his absence will better reveal what Copetti already brings to Charlotte’s front line: the ability to punish balls in front of the goal. Winger Kerwin Vargas placed a free kick perfectly at the feet of Swiderski on Wednesday night, but he flubbed it from point-blank range.
Each of Charlotte’s three designated players has his own unique set of skills. As we’ve seen from Swiderski and Jozwiak, it can take time to adjust — to a new league, new playing surface (Lattanzio and Copetti acknowledge it’s taken him time to get used to artificial turf, though some fans view that as an excuse), new team, new coach and, yes, a new fanbase. If Copetti follows the trajectory of the other two, he’ll be hitting his stride in due time.
“I believe in these guys,” Lattanzio said. “These guys are very, very important to us. I know people like to put them under pressure, like to give them a hard time, but (those players) just have to focus on what we do on a daily basis and then trust the process, trust the way we work, because we take into consideration all the things that (fans) think and more, and we can see them on a daily basis.”
Guzman nearing return from knee surgery
Veteran center back Guzman Corujo took a significant step forward in his return from knee surgery Wednesday night when he took the field for Crown Legacy FC, Charlotte’s Next Pro team (think Triple-A baseball). Corujo started the game and played 60 minutes, saying afterward through a translator: “I felt good physically. For my first game back, I felt comfortable, and I can start preparing for the first team.”
It was Corujo’s first game action since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last Aug. 7 against the Chicago Fire.
Corujo might have been Charlotte FC’s most valuable player last year when he got hurt. His healthy return will be a big boost to a defense that has been plagued by injuries, turnover and the death of center back Anton Walkes in a preseason boating accident.
Corujo, one of the veteran leaders on Charlotte’s roster, was not listed on the injury report prior to Saturday’s L.A. Galaxy game. Last week, he was listed as questionable against Nashville. Lattanzio said after Wednesday’s game in Birmingham that he would speak with Corujo and the medical team and “have a conversation about him joining the team.”
News and notes
◼️ VAR clarification: For those of us who are still new to soccer, and even some of those who aren’t, trying to understand the video replay rules can leave us head-scratching. Take the end of the Nashville game, when Charlotte FC defender Nathan Byrne was called for a foul in the box that led to a go-ahead penalty kick in a 2-1 loss in stoppage time. Even the Apple TV announcer questioned whether it was worthy of a penalty, but the head referee never went to the video monitor to review the play, even though it was clearly critical to the outcome of the game.
Here’s why: According to the rules regarding VAR, or video assistant referee, which is an official reviewing video replays off site: “The VAR will communicate with the on-field referee whenever a play may merit review, but may only be used for ‘clear and obvious errors’ in four match-changing situations: goals, penalty decisions, direct red-card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.” So the VAR offsite didn’t see anything “clear and obvious” to allow the head referee to review the play.
◼️ Upper deck open July 8: Charlotte FC will open the upper deck at Bank of America Stadium for the July 8 game against FC Cincinnati on military appreciation night. It will be “Marvel Hero Night” and will feature a Captain America-themed “Challenge Coin” giveaway at the gate, a Captain America photo op and a post-match fireworks show. The team will wear new Adidas Americana training shirts before the game.
Tickets in the upper deck start at $15. There are also ticket packs available, in which fans can receive a CLTFC Captain America scarf, starting at $40.
The club opened the upper deck in similar fashion last July 9 for its game against Nashville — and had 36,244 fans in attendance. It was one of four times the team opened the upper deck last year. (The others were the opener vs. L.A. Galaxy, the Chelsea exhibition and the makeup game against Columbus.) This will be the second time this season the upper deck has been opened. It was open on Feb. 25 for the opener against New England. Charlotte FC played in front of 69,345 fans that night, its largest crowd since breaking the MLS record in its first-ever home game in 2022 with 74,479.
◼️ Bender jersey sales booming: Amid all the big-named DPs and MVPs around Major League Soccer, the affable Ben Bender made the MLS’s Top 25 list in jersey sales so far this year. Bender, the No. 1 overall pick of last year’s SuperDraft out of Maryland, is the only Charlotte FC player to crack the Top 25. He came in at No. 11, showing just how far it can go to be well-liked, soft-spoken and humble. He’s also a talented midfielder who is slowly and surely raising his game, though he’s currently on the shelf with an ankle sprain. Charlotte FC, as a whole, ranks third in jersey sales among all MLS teams. The rankings are based on sales of Adidas MLS jerseys on MLSstore.com from Jan. 1 through May 1. Here’s a look at the full list.
Up Next: Charlotte FC (5-6-3) at L.A. Galaxy (2-8-3)
When/Where: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, Calif.
How to listen: WFNZ 92.7 FM in English. WOLS 106.1 FM in Spanish.
This is Charlotte’s first visit to play the Galaxy in Los Angeles. Charlotte lost 5-0 to Los Angeles FC in BMO Stadium in L.A. last August. Charlotte lost 1-0 to the L.A. Galaxy in the franchise’s inaugural home game on March 5, 2022.
This is the first of three consecutive road MLS games for Charlotte, with trips to follow to Philadelphia on Wednesday and to Columbus Saturday, June 3.
The L.A. Galaxy is in last place in the Western Conference and has an MLS-worst nine points to its name this season. But the Galaxy is also coming off a 2-0 upset win over LAFC — the top team in the West — in U.S. Open Cup play Wednesday.
Newly-acquired veteran winger Justin Meram has contributed to a goal in each of his first four starts for Charlotte FC (totaling two goals and three assists), the first player to do that for Charlotte in any four consecutive games, much less his first four.
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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