'Gimme 5': What's ahead for Charlotte FC
Plus the best of 2022, We ask 5 burning questions for the offseason and pick 5 best goals of the year, 5 best fan traditions, 5 favorite Futbol Fridays and more
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.
➡️ Need to sign up for Fútbol Friday and other Charlotte-focused email newsletters from The Charlotte Ledger? You can do that here.
➡️ Ledger subscribers can add or drop individual newsletters on their “My Account” page.
5 burning questions for the offseason
Fuchs getting some fan love after Sunday’s season finale. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
Here we are, the 40th and final regularly scheduled Fútbol Friday of the inaugural 2022 season. (Not to worry, we will have more forthcoming in the offseason, just a little more sporadically!) We are so grateful for the ride this season and for the readership. Thank you for coming to us for weekly insight into all things Charlotte FC. I think it’s safe to say this franchise has made a clear mark on the city of Charlotte — and that a significant following of this soccer team is now invested in and interested in what comes next.
The normally measured coach Christian Lattanzio said in his on-field interview with Katie Witham after the 2-0 loss in the finale against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, “We need to improve the quality of players we have here.”
It wasn’t exactly on the level of the “we’re screwed” comment made by his predecessor, Miguel Angel Ramirez, last February, stoking the fires aimed at the front office that ultimately led to his dismissal. But it made you wonder what changes this offseason might bring. Given Charlotte’s 9th-place finish in the Eastern Conference — just six points (two wins) out of a playoff position — and a 13-18-3 record, Charlotte FC is looking more to augment the roster than make wholesale changes, but where do they look to upgrade?
We’ll kick off this “Gimme 5” newsletter with 5 burning questions for the offseason, and follow it up with a look back on the season with 5 Best Goals, 5 Best Fan traditions and the 5 best editions of Futbol Friday.
Does Charlotte FC add a new attacking midfielder? Charlotte FC never did add that piece this season, so Lattanzio ultimately moved star striker Karol Swiderski there. The move paid immediate dividends and allowed both Swiderski and Daniel Rios to be on the field at the same time, but is that a “permanent” solution? Premium attacking midfielders, we’re learning, are not easy to find.
As a follow to No. 1, an obvious question is does Swiderski return next season? Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta has all but said he will, calling Swiderski “untouchable” in a recent interview with WFNZ. (He did preface it with a “right now,” though, interestingly.) But all eyes will be on Swiderski in the World Cup this winter and how much attention he garners on the world stage playing for Poland. Charlotte fans want Swiderski to do well, but maybe not too well, right?
Have we seen the last of Christian Fuchs? Charlotte FC could not have asked for a better captain, team spokesman and community liaison than Fuchs. The 36-year-old Austrian set just the right tone for this team. On the field, though, his role diminished as the season progressed, albeit, in fairness, in part because of red card suspensions. While the club has an option for Fuchs for next season, it’ll need to weigh whether a) Fuchs can find the rhythm he played with early this season again and b) if he would be happy in Charlotte in more of a reserve role.
How well does center back Guzman Corujo recover from knee surgery? By the time the 2023 season starts, Corujo will be right at six months into his recovery from an operation to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. While six months is a typical ACL recovery time for premium athletes, will it be enough for him to regain the form that made him arguably Charlotte FC’s most valuable player for the first 2/3 of the season, especially for a guy who plays his home games on turf? (And similarly will the back line get a boost from Adam Armour as he makes his return from major knee surgery? And how much if anything can Charlotte expect to get from young designated player Vinicius Mello, who missed the entire season with a foot injury?)
Does Charlotte FC fill the last young DP spot? Charlotte has the roster flexibility to sign a young designated player and still keep Jordy Alcivar on the roster if they so choose. From the sounds of it, Charlotte is prepared to spend the money this winter to do it. (Designated players can be signed without regard to the salary cap. Each team can have three designated players, including one under the age of 24. Charlotte FC has two designated players in Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak, both over age 24.) “The front office has been very clear in explaining how they want to improve,” Lattanzio said in a press conference leading up to the finale in New York. “I think there will be more resources available. The organization and (owner) Mr. (David) Tepper are very supportive.”
The 5 best goals of the year
Yes, it’s subjective and yes, you might disagree. But here are our five top goals of the year, based on style points, significance and sheer excitement. They’re listed chronologically, but we also think that works for their importance, so take No. 5 as the goal of the year!
The first one. Adam Armour’s goal in Atlanta on March 13 went down in history as the first goal for Charlotte FC. The rookie defender rose up on a corner kick from Ben Bender and connected with a header to the near post. Armour would miss much of the season with a knee injury but had this moment to savor. And what a classic call by WFNZ play-by-play man Will Palaszczuk and color analyst Jessica Charman.
Shinyashiki’s intro. Talk about making a splash. Andre Shinyashiki introduced himself to the Charlotte FC fanbase May 7 in his first action since coming in a trade from Colorado by punching in a pass from Yordy Reyna right in front of the supporters’ section for the only goal in a 1-0 win over Inter Miami. That goal, off the bench, set the tone for the impact he and other newcomers would have on Charlotte FC the rest of the way. (At about :40 mark of clip below)
The Swiderski drought-breaker. First there was the 25-pass buildup and afterward the throne-mauling celebration, but the goal itself — a Swiderski header toward the far post during a 4-1 win over Nashville July 9 — broke a streak of 11 games without a goal from Charlotte FC's star striker. It set him back on track to score six more goals on the season and finish with a team-high 10.
The Bronico Beauty. The rock of the Charlotte FC midfield, Brandt Bronico, finally scored his first goal 26 games into the season. The wait was worth it for a game-winner, on the road, in a 3-1 win over defending MLS Cup Champion New York FC. It came on a picturesque pass into the box from Fuchs and a back-heel bullseye from Swiderski. Bronico finished the chance with a low liner to the back of the net, then broke out a “Superman” celebration in homage to Cam Newton, which almost made us want to do a Top 5 celebrations of the year. (Superman had to be Top 2.)
Swiderski’s game-winner vs. Chicago. This one was equal parts impressive in terms of both skill and game situation. With a playoff berth on the line, Charlotte in the midst of a comeback from two goals down in Chicago and six minutes already extinguished in stoppage time, Swiderski pulled out all the stops — and eventually a savvy move — to get the ball into the goal. In our estimate, it was the biggest and best goal of the year.
You can vote for one of those five (or leave your nominee for top goal in the comments):
The 5 best Charlotte FC fan traditions
National Anthem. The most organic of the fan traditions has got to be the best. Charlotte FC fans have been singing the national anthem since the record-setting crowd of 74,479 at Charlotte FC’s home opener picked up where the anthem singer’s microphone left off.
The Poznan. Adopting the Poznan — the back-turned fan-jumping, high-energy cheer, which originated with the Polish club Lech Poznan — was not only fitting tribute to the three Polish players in Swiderski, Jozwiak and defender Jan Sobocinski but a lot of fun, too.
Supporters march. Charlotte isn’t the first city to do this, but it might be the best. Where fans from other teams might march from a local pub, Charlotte’s supporters groups congregate at one big tailgate together, adding some unity and a Southern flair to the boisterous, smoke-filled cacophony.
Pre-game coronation. Sure, it’s a product of the marketing department, but crowning people became a way to honor celebrities and regular fans alike. Charlotte FC has singled out fans like Heidi Underhill for overcoming personal tragedy and Brandon Lewis for all his work creating tifos (pregame artwork), along with legendaryPanthers receiver Steve Smith and U.S. Men’s National Team star Clint Dempsey.
Players rushing the fans. Acknowledging how big a part fans play in their success at Bank of America Stadium, the players took to collectively sprinting toward the supporters section in the East Goal after wins. It’s worth sticking around a few minutes after the game to see.
My 5 favorite 'Fútbol Fridays’
Charlotte FC honored fan Heidi Underhill by “coronating” her before a game in May. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
As much as I enjoyed getting to know the players, coaches and staff with Charlotte FC this season, some of the most fun and meaningful conversations I had were with Charlotte FC fans. Covering my first Major League Soccer season, I learned just how unique the relationship is between a professional soccer team and its fans, which seems so much more intimate than what I’ve seen with the traditional “Big 3” sports football, basketball and baseball. That interaction is reflected in this list of my 5 favorite Fútbol Friday newsletters of the year; two of them are about fans!
Getting to know broadcaster Jessica Charman. This was my first ever podcast, and I have to say, it was a wise choice to go with a professional broadcaster on the other end! The lovely and talented radio color commentator Jessica Charman was patient enough to endure my 20-minute attempt to send her the proper Zoom credentials, so recording the interview was a breeze! Between her mad broadcasting skills, her colorful personality and our connection as sports media moms, Jessica is so much fun to talk to, with or without the recorder rolling.
Chico unmasked: Meet Charlotte FC’s Super Fan. This one was self-indulgent. I wanted to find out more about the guy dressed up in an amazingly intricate costume, who showed up at every Charlotte FC event and game — home and away. Chico, whose given name is Antonio Sanchez, was nice enough to meet me for lunch. What I found was a guy as laid back and soft-spoken as he was passionate and energetic on game days. I think Chico is going to need this offseason as much as any player will, just to give his poor hoarse voice a chance to recover from cheering non-stop at games.
Making sense of Miguel Angel Ramirez firing. I’ll admit to being as baffled as anybody when the team announced it was firing Miguel Angel Ramirez after just 14 games and a decent start to the season. One thing the flexibility of a weekly newsletter gives you is a chance to gain some perspective on breaking news because you often have a couple of days to digest it. Because of that and the generosity of sources, I was able to paint a clearer picture of what happened.
Swiderski opens up. It didn’t take long on this beat to figure out that the biggest star of the team also seemed the most elusive. Swiderski was not big on making himself available to the media. That felt like a challenge. I found a way to break through in the most unusual of places — First Ward Park and a playdate between 4-year-olds. There, I discovered a preschool mom friend of mine was fluent in Polish and willing to help translate for me. The result was Swiderski’s first extensive 1-on-1 interview with a local media member this season.
After a deadly shooting, she’s finding solace in soccer. Meeting Heidi Underhill and hearing her story changed the way I looked at what it meant to have an MLS team in Charlotte. It was incredibly moving to hear how her boyfriend was murdered trying to protect her family during a home invasion and how she emerged from the darkness of that tragedy to adopt his passion for soccer and the anticipation of cheering on Charlotte FC. Underhill is a dedicated and passionate example of how soccer — and this first MLS season in Charlotte history — is about much more than what happens on the field. And it’s what inspires me to keep coming back for more!
If you’d like to reminisce on Charlotte FC’s inaugural season, or catch up on what you might have missed, you can access the full archive of Futbol Fridays here.
What are your favorite moments from the team’s first season? Feel free to leave a note in the comments:
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!
Need to sign up for this e-newsletter? We offer a free version, as well as paid memberships for full access to all 4 of our local newsletters:
➡️ Learn more about The Charlotte Ledger
The Charlotte Ledger is a locally owned media company that delivers smart and essential news through e-newsletters and on a website. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.
Like what we are doing? Feel free to forward this along and to tell a friend.
Sponsorship information/customer service: email email@example.com.