Game on: What to watch for in Charlotte FC's debut on Saturday
Charlotte's soccer franchise kicks off Saturday at 6 p.m. in D.C.: On-field strategy by Coach Ramirez — Who's out for the game — Who's broadcasting the game — Where to find a local watch party
It’s time for Fútbol Friday, The Charlotte Ledger’s weekly newsletter getting you up to speed on Charlotte FC, the city’s new pro soccer team.
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Breaking down all you need to know ahead of Saturday’s inaugural game in Washington
Charlotte FC coach Miguel Angel Ramirez will be short a few pieces Saturday (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC)
Who (not) to watch for: Lineup still in flux
Swiderski likely out: First, let’s get the rough news out of the way. Striker Karol Swiderski, the Charlotte FC’s top player, has been home in Poland this week waiting for a visa and is unlikely to get back in time to play on Saturday night in D.C. The team was holding out hope he could still secure a visa and catch a flight Friday or Saturday, but odds aren’t great he’ll make it by game time.
As crazy as it is to say a team will be without its star player in its inaugural game, players having visa issues early in the season is normal in the MLS.
Swiderski, the team’s only “designated player” — which means he can be paid without salary cap restrictions — didn’t sign with Charlotte until late January. He was able to train with the CLT FC during the preseason on a temporary visa. He’s stayed in touch with the coaching staff over the past week, after missing the final preseason game in Charleston, and is continuing to work out. He’s expected to be ready to play as soon as he returns, which the team is hopeful will be in time for the home opener March 5 vs. the L.A. Galaxy. With war breaking out in neighboring Ukraine, though, the sooner Swiderski can get back from Poland, the better.
Walkes hurt: Defender Anton Walkes is out with a lower leg injury and will not play in D.C. Coach Miguel Angel Ramirez said Thursday he expected Walkes to be back against the Galaxy.
Forward Daniel Rios, the soon-to-be newest member of Charlotte FC (Photo by MLSsoccer.com)
Rios trade: A source confirmed Thursday that the Charlotte FC has acquired striker Daniel Rios in a trade from Nashville SC. An official announcement could come as soon as today, which would put Rios in line to be available Saturday night in D.C.
Charlotte acquired Rios in a deal first reported by MLSsoccer.com that sent $350,000 to Nashville, with an additional $150,000 to come if certain incentives are met. The Mexico native gives Ramirez another option at center forward, where the team is thin behind Swiderski. Rios, 27, scored five goals in 30 appearances (13 starts) over the past two season in Nashville, where he got limited action because of injuries.
What to look for: behind the coach’s unorthodox strategy
Unique System: Think Tony Bennett and his pack-line defense in college hoops at the University of Virginia, or Kevin Kelley, the high school football coach in Arkansas who never punted. Their coaching philosophies take unorthodox to a new level.
How unique is Charlotte FC coach Miguel Angel Ramirez’s game model, or system of play? Nobody else in MLS will be doing it. Even his players are still adjusting after a four-week preseason crash course, so fans shouldn’t expect to understand or appreciate it right away. But here’s a little preview.
First off, do not be surprised to see this team spend a lot of time in its own defensive third of the field. It might be hard to watch at times, but Ramirez has his reasons, and it’s an interesting take.
Against a traditional 4-4-2 lineup, for example, the Charlotte FC’s defensive third would include as many as six players, with a defensive midfielder, two fullbacks, two center backs and the goalkeeper. That gives them an obvious numerical advantage in that space against only two pressing forwards in the opponent’s front line. The idea is to use that advantage to control the ball, find openings, and then push forward into the middle third and try to gain an advantage there. The more advantages they create, the faster they’ll play and the more chances they’ll have upfield.
The goalkeeper acts more like an 11th position player in this model, controlling action with short outlet passes (and keeping composure under pressure!) rather than booming low-percentage punts.
When asked this week what Ramirez’s system requires of its keepers, Croatian goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina smiled and said, “The goalkeepers must be like midfield players.”
He went on to explain it’s not just how they play with the ball, but recognizing situations downfield, identifying who is free and communicating that to teammates.
Judging by the preseason, and the fact that Charlotte still doesn’t have the talent on the wing it wants, the scoring chances will be hard to come by for a while. But Ramirez has proven himself with a South American championship coaching Independiente del Valle of Ecuador this way, and he’s got Alan Franco and Titi Ortiz, two players who played under him previously, to vouch for him.
How (and who) to watch on TV
Charlotte FC’s first-ever TV broadcast team of Lloyd Sam (left) and Eric Krakauer doing their “homework” at a recent preseason practice (Photo by Kevin Young of the 5 and 2 Project.)
The live broadcast of Charlotte FC’s game Saturday against D.C. United begins at 5:30 p.m. on WSOC and Telemundo Charlotte. First kick is at 6 p.m. This will be the debut of Charlotte FC broadcast teams Eric Krakauer, Lloyd Sam and Katie Witham on the English side, and Jaime Moreno and Antonio Ramos on the call in Spanish.
Regional games will air in Charlotte on three local stations owned by Cox Media Group: WSOC-TV (ABC Charlotte), WAXN (TV64) and Telemundo Charlotte. Seven CLTFC games will be carried nationally, including the home-opener March 5 against the L.A. Galaxy on FOX. The full Charlotte FC TV schedule is available here.
Who to watch on English broadcasts
Eric Krakauer, play-by-play: The former N.Y. public school English teacher brings a broad vocabulary to match a smooth delivery that comes from significant international experience calling soccer. While working for global sports network beIN, Krakauer has called games in Spain’s La Liga, France’s Ligue 1, the European Champions League and three Copa Libertadores finals in South America. The native of Portugal is fluent in Portuguese and “pretty good,” he says, in Spanish too. He just happened to be on the call when Miguel Angel Ramirez led Independiente del Valle of Ecuador to the Copa Sudamericana title. Krakauer also brings experience as an MLS writer, covering both the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.
Lloyd Sam, color analyst: You’ll love his easy-going manner and his English accent, not to mention the knowledge he brings as a two-time Supporters Shield winner (as regular season champion) during his six years as a player in MLS with the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United. Sam, 37, was born in Leeds and raised in London by Ghanaian parents and has one cap with Ghana’s national team. He spent nine years playing in England, including a 2005-07 stint in the Premier League with Charlton Athletic. He’s only a year into his broadcasting career but proved his potential with calls in the USL (United Soccer League) and MLS Next as well as Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers.
Katie Witham, sideline reporter. Witham brings 10 years of experience patrolling MLS sidelines, including stints as a sideline reporter for the Columbus Crew, Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN. You might also recognize her from her coverage of ACC men’s and women’s soccer for Fox Sports South or as host of ACC Network’s ACC Blitz and Halftime Report.
Who to watch on Spanish broadcasts
Jamie Moreno: It’s only fitting that the Spanish voice of the Panthers since 2010 — who entertained fans across the NFL calling games with his nephew Luis Moreno, Jr. — will add soccer broadcasting to his resume. Moreno, originally from Mexico City, has been a force in Charlotte’s soccer community for years, between his sports radio show, coaching gigs at North Mecklenburg High and Catawba College, and his influence in helping bring Necaxa of Liga MX to play the Guatemalan National Team at Memorial Stadium in 2002.
You might recall him from some of his more excited Spanish-language calls from Panthers games that broke through to the English-speaking world, like this Graham Gano field goal to beat the New York Giants in 2018 (“¡Gano lo ganó!” which translates to “Gano won it”):
Antonio Ramos: Moreno’s new broadcast partner has been with the Panthers’ Spanish radio network since 2015, and in the booth with Moreno since 2020. A native of Veracruz, Mexico, Ramos brings soccer play-by-play experience from Liga MX. He’s also a good follow on Twitter (@Ramos019) in any language as social media manager for @lospanthers.
How to listen: CLT FC games will be also broadcast on the radio in Charlotte on WFNZ 610 AM and 102.5 FM, with Will Palaszczuk and Jessica Charman on the call. Fans in Charlotte FC’s market will be able to stream home games for free on CharlotteFootballClub.com and the official mobile app. Road games will be available on ESPN+.
Where to watch
Watch parties: While 300 or so fans from Charlotte FC’s supporters groups will be traveling to D.C. for Saturday’s game, fans will also be well-represented at watch parties in and around Charlotte! Check out some of the biggest hotspots to join in on the fun. Members and non-members are welcome.
The Queen’s Firm is hosting a watch party at the Dilworth Grille at 911 E. Morehead St., starting at 5 p.m.
The Mint St. Mafia are hosting a watch party at Big Ben Pub at 1535 Elizabeth Ave. at 6 p.m.
The Uptown Ultras are holding a watch party at The Union in South End, with taps flowing well before 6 p.m. kickoff.
Southbound & Crown is hosting a watch party in uptown Charlotte at Graham Street Pub at 400 S. Graham St. and in Fort Mill at Towne Tavern at 235 Main Street.
The NoDa chapter of Mint City Collective is gathering at Salud Beer Shop at 3306 N. Davidson Saturday starting at 5 p.m.
The Belmont chapter of Mint City Collective is hosting a watch party at the Glenway Premium Pub at 55 Glenway St., Suite 300 at 6 p.m.
The Matthews Mint City Collective chapter is gathering at the Carolina Beer Temple Saturday at 195 N. Trade St. in Matthews, which will also have a BBQ Food Truck, starting at 5 p.m.
The Lake Norman Chapter of Mint City Collective is hosting a watch party at The Harp & Crown at 19930 W. Catawba Ave. in Cornelius at 6 p.m.
In case you missed it: Fuchs on the BBC, ‘chief fan officer’
There’s been a barrage of great Charlotte FC content building up to Saturday’s inaugural game. Here are some of our favorites, in case you haven’t had time to take it all in:
Fuchs and the Fairy Tale: This is veteran defender Christian Fuchs keeping it real for the BBC when asked about his expectations for this inaugural season.
Spotlight on Chief Fan Officer: Sports Business Journal did a great piece on CLT FC’s “Chief Fan Officer,” Shawn McIntosh. His position is believed to be the first of its kind in the American professional sports landscape, and McIntosh has been tearing it up these past few weeks preparing fans — and the team — for the season. Basically, McIntosh serves as a liaison between the team and its fanbase. He’s already proving he can pave the way for significant changes the fans want. A prime example was moving the supporters group tailgate lot to a bigger location on McNinch Street and West Morehead Street.
Previous editions of Fútbol Friday
You can find previous issues of The Charlotte Ledger’s Fútbol Friday newsletter online, including:
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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