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It's time to get a little 'nasty'
Charlotte FC, reeling from an 0-3 start, needs ideas. Yes, there are tactical changes due — we suggest 3 of them — but the team needs to take a new and nastier mentality to Orlando.
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Charlotte FC, it’s time to get fired up
Swiderski and Charlotte giving much chase vs. Atlanta. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
That didn’t take long. Three games in and Charlotte FC already looks like it’s bound for a sophomore slump. The first two losses to New England and St. Louis could be explained away — the team played well enough but flinched in the last minute, or it gifted goals. But the third loss — a 3-0 stunner at the hands of rival Atlanta at home — was a collective blow to the gut. For the first time in this club’s young existence, you could actually hear boos from the home crowd, both at the end of the half and the end of the game.
One 7-year-old fan, who happens to be a friend of my sons, was so disappointed he was crying, before halftime. His mom texted me that he literally had tears streaming. Poor fella. If grown fans could have gotten away with it, they might have done the same.
My sister and I had taken my three young boys to the game, since it was the only afternoon game all year and the best opportunity to get them to a game without blowing bedtime. At halftime, we went to meet our friends, hang out a bit and try to cheer up the 7-year-old up. It just so happened their seats were on the front row right behind Charlotte’s bench. We had planned to say a quick hello and head back to our seats at the end of halftime, but a fan sitting nearby generously offered to let us have his seats. At first blush, I thought “how nice.” At second, I realized how bad a sign it was for somebody to pay for such premium seats and want to leave at halftime.
My 7-year-old son, Wade, showing off our second-half vantage point. (Photo by Mom.)
But I was glad for the chance to stay down so low to the field, because from there I could see many of the players up close, and I saw something I don’t think would have hit me the same way had I been higher up. Twenty minutes into the second half, there was a sequence when midfielder Ashley Westwood brushed — maybe — Atlanta midfielder Franco Ibarra, and Ibarra went down writhing. Westwood, looking back and seeing him on the ground, proceeded to walk over to where Ibarra was still down.
My first instinct was to expect him to extend a hand, maybe in a show of begrudging sportsmanship. Instead, Westwood reached down and started to lift Ibarra up from under his shoulders, as if to say “you’re not hurt, get the heck up.” Immediately, Ibarra’s teammates converged, Westwood spewed some choice words, and finally — even though order was restored quickly — the game had a little spice.
Play resumed and not much changed, unfortunately, for Charlotte FC. But the moment stuck in my head. I remembered something Westwood had said at his first press conference after arriving in Charlotte. “We want to have a nasty side,” he said. “We want to bring that English grit to MLS.” Yes! A nasty side. I liked the quote then, and on Saturday, it resonated even more.
The way that game, this season, is going, just seeing some feistiness, some energy, some emotion, anything — and I don’t mean complaints leveled at the referee — seemed like a breath of fresh air. I know I go way too often to the baseball analogies, but indulge me for a second: Westwood’s reaction seemed, almost, contrived enough to remind me of Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox when he used to run (or hobble fast) out of the dugout to go nose-to-nose with an umpire. More often than not, his argument wasn’t as important as it was a) to protect a player who was about to get tossed or b) to pump some badly needed life into his team. Could Westwood have been trying a little of that?
I went back and watched the replay of the game on MLS Season Pass (yes, it’s possible, if you’re like me you’ll have to read up on the directions, though) to double check who the Atlanta player was and at what point in the game. The announcers chalked up the exchange to Westwood’s frustration of the day. Maybe they weren’t wrong, or maybe that’s how it seemed watching from the press box. But from the second row? I saw somebody trying to do something to light a spark, to change the flow, to show some fight this team and fanbase has yet to see this season. There were still almost 30 minutes to play. Time to do something.
Alas, it didn’t happen. Two goals down 12 minutes into the game is a lot to come back from, and some decisions Coach Christian Lattanzio made in the starting lineup — and didn’t change at halftime — were an easy target.
I know some soccer tacticians are yelling at this screen right now telling me the issues are strategic. Believe me, I see problems there, too. But after what I saw in one feisty moment on Saturday, it felt right to start here. It’s about time to show some grit. Even if this team doesn’t have it all figured out yet, and players aren’t connecting on picturesque plays, somebody chase somebody down, make a big tackle, stick a nose in there, make a crazy and passionate run, fire a laser beam at goal, then do it again. The team, and these fans, will get behind you.
As for Lattanzio? And tactics? Read on.
3 changes to make ASAP
Bronico struggled defensively at left back vs. Atlanta. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
1. Shore up the defense.
I understood Lattanzio’s explanation for trying Brandt Bronico at left back: that he could act as another midfielder in the buildup and get other midfielders in the game. Problem is, buildup is uphill when you’re giving up goals entirely too easy. And all three Atlanta goals came up the right side of the field, with Bronico in the vicinity. Not to place blame on one player — ever — but he didn’t look comfortable defending that deep. Even if you put Joseph Mora or Harrison Afful at left back, maybe they aren’t the shiniest tools in the box, but they can defend. If this team is going to rebuild its confidence, it’s got to start locking people down. It’s something we took for granted early last season, when Guzman Corujo was healthy, Christian Fuchs was playing young and Anton Walkes was here.
This one falls to sporting director Zoran Krneta, too, and maybe he pushes the fast forward button on finding a left back. Perhaps center back Corujo (knee surgery) or goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina (back surgery) can return to give a lift before long. They’ve both started some light work in practice. But in the meantime, stout defense, any way any how, needs to be the order of the day.
2. Put Swiderski back in the middle of the field.
Moving Swiderski to central attacking midfield last year was one thing. Moving him to wing is another. As picturesque as Charlotte’s lone goal so far was against St. Louis — Kamil Jozwiak out wide to Swiderski on the wing, then his lovely left foot to a diving Copetti for the header — Swiderski needs to be closer to the action, if for no other reason than to get him more touches. As it is, balls are getting crossed into the box, and other than Copetti diving for a header, there’s not much action. Charlotte played with both Swiderski and Rios at striker for a time last year. Maybe if Lattanzio goes that way, it’ll at least draw defenders away from one or the other and create a little space closer to the goal.
The pressure is on Lattanzio now to find a better mix. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
3. Find the X factor, Lattanzio.
Somebody who is showing you heart. Somebody who will bring the fire. Somebody who can do what Derrick Jones did late last season, or Rios. Maybe it’s Kerwin Vargas on the wing or Nuno Santos, who can play wing or midfield — maybe it’s both. Or maybe it’s someone we haven’t thought of. Even if it means giving designated player Jozwiak a day out of the lineup, it’s time to mix things up. Immediately after Saturday’s game, Lattanzio used words like “trust” and “patience.” With more time to mull it over, though, he might find inspiring someone to action by letting him watch it for a while isn’t always bad.
Quotable: Lattanzio not happy with Copetti’s body language
Copetti mid-complaint vs. Atlanta. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
No, we can’t say for sure if Lattanzio has been reading Futbol Friday — if I were him, I wouldn’t be reading much of anything right now. But after Saturday’s game, he sounded like he was in agreement with a point we raised in last week’s Futbol Friday, about how new striker Enzo Copetti needs to cool it in his complaints against the refs. His behavior seemed even more exaggerated during Saturday’s loss to Atlanta. Afterward, Lattanzio brought it up when asked an open-ended question about Copetti:
I told him that I’m not happy with a certain way (he’s behaving). I don’t condone him going to the ref all the time. If he goes to the ref and complains, OK, but then during the play, while he is still focused on that — this is not a behavior that I want from our leaders. Our DPs (designated players), they have to show with behavior, not in words. They have to lead in the right way. … Some of the behaviors maybe can work in other countries, but not here. And I don’t want that in the team, so we will talk more because I think he has got qualities that I really like, that I want in the team, but I also want different body language when he’s on the pitch.
By the way, I saw Lattanzio criticized by members of the Spanish media on social media for calling out Copetti, who is Argentinian, and suggesting Lattanzio didn’t treat Swiderski the same way when the Polish national put on a gripe show at the start of last season.
I can understand feeling defensive on behalf of Copetti, who is still trying to adjust to MLS, speaks a different league and comes from a different league and culture, but Lattanzio did point out that he wasn’t happy with Swiderski’s body language on the field last year — both in terms of complaints with officials and disappointment with his teammates when plays broke down. We don’t see Swiderski react to his teammates that way anymore, by the way, and not as often with the officials. Here’s a time last Aug. 18, when Lattanzio talked about it heading into a game against New York City FC:
I see Karol as not just a good player, but I want him to fulfill a leadership role. … We need him to be very important for us in being more involved in every aspect of the game because I think he can and because his performance is extremely important for us, not just on the football side, but also body language-wise. I expect a lot from Karol. I spoke with him about it.
Is it time for Charlotte FC license plates?
News and Notes: Walkes tifo, scarf sales
The part Charlotte FC, part Atlanta United Walkes jersey in tifo tribute to the late defender. (Photo by Kevin Young of The 5 and 2 Project.)
Joint effort on Walkes tifo: Kudos to supporter groups from both Atlanta and Charlotte for joining forces on the pre-game tifo to honor Anton Walkes. The pre-game tribute was expected to be poignant given the loss Atlanta United feels for Walkes as well. He played his first three MLS seasons with Atlanta before Charlotte FC picked him up in the expansion draft. Walkes was killed in a boating accident in Miami in January.
Scarf fundraiser: Mint City Collective announced it had donated $12,500 to Walkes’ family fundraiser from proceeds for the “Anton Forever Walkes with Us” scarf that includes colors from both Atlanta United and Charlotte FC. That number is expected to keep rising.
🎧 Podcast cameo: If you’re hard up for something to do — maybe sitting in traffic? — you might want to check out the latest edition of the Charlotte FC podcast. Nic Finelli was kind enough to invite me to participate in an effort he started last season to highlight people who work in and around Charlotte FC. While it was strange to be on the other end of the questions, it was fun, too. He made it easy with great preparation and interesting questions. Thanks, Nic!
Up Next: Charlotte FC (0-3-0) at Orlando City (1-0-2)
When/Where: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
How to listen: The English broadcast is on WFNZ 92.7 FM and in Spanish WOLS 106.1 FM.
Charlotte needs to win or tie to avoid its first 0-4 start. Even in last year’s inaugural season, the team recovered from an 0-3 start to defeat New England 3-1.
Charlotte FC lost to Orlando City 2-1 at Exploria Stadium last April 30 and again 2-1 on Aug. 21 at Bank of America Stadium.
Maybe Charlotte catches Orlando flat-footed because Orlando had a midweek game against Tigres UANL in Concacaf Champions League play.
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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