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New practice facility feels like home
Plus keeping an eye on Messi in advance of two must-win games vs. Miami, what international break means for Charlotte, visit from Man U coach, Dejaegere's new addition 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.
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New practice facility and team headquarters features top-of-the-line equipment, personal touches and a place where players and staff can connect
Swiderski playing a recent game of Teqball at Charlotte FC’s new facility with teammate Jan Sobocinski. (Photo by Taylor Banner, Charlotte FC.)
In my former life, covering the Atlanta Braves, I remember standing in the locker room one Sunday morning with future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux when he perked up at the sight of first baseman Wally Joyner walking through the door, bearing boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts fresh from the shop.
Maddux had been lamenting the subpar donut selection the team had made available. “If they don’t feed us like champions, how do they expect us to play like champions?” he said.
He was kidding, mostly. But the sentiment rang true. And that was the line going through my head Tuesday evening as members of the media, supporters, staff and dignitaries got a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Charlotte FC’s new practice facility and team headquarters.
They’re getting fed like champions now.
This second-year Major League Soccer franchise has spent the past year and a half living a “nomadic” existence (Charlotte FC president Joe LaBue’s word). The team plays its games at Bank of America Stadium but had to bus 20 minutes each way from there each day to practice — first at the Matthews Sportsplex and later last season at the McAlpine Park Drive property in east Charlotte where the new facility has been under construction.
At the stadium before and after bus rides, players would take one elevator to the video room and another one to the gym, while coming and going from locker and training rooms on the main floor. The equipment and facilities were top-notch, but the setup was junior varsity.
Now Charlotte FC’s locker room, training room, weight room and recovery rooms all flow perfectly along a back hall in a newly renovated, state-of-the-art, 52,000 square foot facility. Gray walls, black ceilings and trim and solar blue accents give the building a modern industrial feel and a cohesiveness to go along with all the latest technology and amenities.
In and around the training room, players have access to hot and cold tubs, an above-ground underwater treadmill, ultrasound machines, a recovery “suite” with four recliners with corresponding compression boots and more. The weight room has cameras at each machine to measure the velocity with which players lift rather than just the weight. There’s even an “Altitude Room,” where players can simulate getting cardio work at higher altitudes, while rehabbing from injuries, or preparing for an upcoming game. All of it would make Drago from Rocky IV feel at home.
Captain Ashley Westwood got a kick out of the camera system that measures players’ motion for “musculoskeletal analysis.”
“That wasn’t very good for me because I learned that I got a lot wrong with my body,” joked the 33-year-old Westwood, whose ankle has been surgically repaired with a metal plate and pins.
A demonstration of the DARI Motion Capture camera system. (Photo by Carroll Walton.)
Westwood first toured the building when it was still an office complex. His impressions now?
“Incredible,” he said.
It’s a lot more than technology that pleases him.
The primary difference he sees with this facility compared with what he saw during his 10 years in the English Premier League is that it houses not just Charlotte FC but all of its feeder teams, from the Under-14 Academy team up to Crown Legacy FC of MLS Next Pro.
“It’s unique, everyone under one roof,” Westwood said. “But it’s nice.”
The facility also houses the business side of the club, which LaBue says is unique to Major League Soccer. So it was convenient for Westwood and teammate Brandt Bronico to stop by the ticket office recently to encourage staffers working the phones the morning after a disappointing draw against Philadelphia.
“I go into the ticket office quite a lot,” Westwood said. “I poke my head in and see what people are doing. It’s nice to see that part of it. You’re not just with the first team every day. You’re part of the club.”
Last week, Westwood sent an order of Bundt cakes to the staff as a way to say thanks for supporting the team. It’s not donuts, but hey.
If you ask Westwood his favorite part of the facility, he’ll tell you the cafeteria. The spacious eating area doubles as a lounge. It has TVs on the wall, a double-sided glass gas fireplace and a Ping-Pong table where Polish players Karol Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak expend a lot of their competitive energy.
The cafeteria is connected to a patio by three single-car garage doors, which on any given morning are open, with players and staff congregating both inside and out. Outside, there are tables, couches and a Teqball table, which is like Ping-Pong you play with your feet, kicking a ball over the net.
A view of the patio at Charlotte FC’s new practice facility. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
Early in the mornings, you’ll often find Westwood on the patio. Or “the outside bit” as he calls it.
“In England, you don’t get that,” he said. “It feels like you want to sit in there and relax. Me and a few of the other lads will sit in there for hours at breakfast talking. We’ll all sit outside and talk. It’s brought us together.”
A team that’s been on the go finally has a place to linger.
And when it’s time to head to the field for training, their walk is maybe 50 yards. The complex features six fields and two half-fields. An artificial turf field is under construction, which LaBue said the club will use to invite the local community for camps, clinics, adult leagues and the like.
As guests drove past the practice fields Tuesday night, they could see a couple of youth “Discovery” teams still practicing. Kids 13-and-under are too young for the Academy team but good enough for an invitation to practice at the complex. If guests looked closely, they might have recognized that one of the people coaching was Westwood, who accepted an invitation to help Discovery coach Patrick Daka.
“This facility provides us that environment to cheer each other on,” LaBue said. “To be better at what we do.”
The new weight room and a glimpse at the mural painted by local artist Matt Moore, who took his inspiration from the club’s pre-game video and input from Jaylin Lindsey and Brandt Bronico.
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Former Manchester United coach visits facility
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a famed striker and more recently coach for English Premier League powerhouse Manchester United, paid a visit to the Charlotte FC practice facility Oct. 4 during a tour of what is believed to be a half-dozen MLS cities along the East Coast.
Solskjær had told The Athletic last month that he was “going to the east coast of the United States in a few weeks to see Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, see a few games and see what’s what.”
Two of the stops he made were with clubs that could have potential coaching vacancies, starting in Washington, where Wayne Rooney’s future was in flux. Rooney announced just days after Solskjær’s visit, after DC United was eliminated from playoff contention Saturday, that he and the club were parting ways. Charlotte FC coach Christian Lattanzio has come under fire for a disappointing run of results and could find himself out of a job if Charlotte fails to make the playoffs.
Both of those visits sparked some questions as to Solskjær’s intent, and TopBin90.com reported Wednesday that Solskjær “has inquired about a coaching role with Charlotte FC.” The Norwegian has not coached since leaving Manchester United in 2021. LaBue responded to that report on X, formerly known as Twitter, by saying, “To be very clear, Ole visited our facility along with many other MLS facilities last week. It’s common and best practice to host people from across the globe, and we’ll continue to do so. We’re proud of what we’ve built. End of story here.”
The implication is that the visit was not made in an official job-seeking capacity. Given that Charlotte FC is still in the playoff hunt, with a coach still in place, the timing would have been highly questionable.
Messi and Miami watch intensifies
Charlotte FC has two games left against Inter Miami — Oct. 18 in Miami and Oct. 21 at Bank of America Stadium — for a shot at making its inaugural appearance in the MLS playoffs. If Charlotte wins both games, the team is guaranteed a spot in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game. If they lose or draw Oct. 18, they have to win the final game and need help from multiple other teams to qualify.
Most of MLS is out of action this weekend for an international break, which will have a big impact on how Wednesday’s game in Miami plays out. Superstar Lionel Messi is expected to miss it after joining Argentina for World Cup qualifying matches against Paraguay last night and Tuesday night against Peru. Messi is one of seven Miami players expected to be absent Wednesday because of international duty, which will change the complexion of the game.
Will Messi play Oct. 21? Messi came off the bench against Paraguay to play 40 minutes, not showing any problems with the unspecified leg injury that has limited him over the past few weeks. Even if he’s healthy, it’s questionable whether he will play Oct. 21 in Charlotte, given that Miami has been eliminated from playoff contention. Would Miami risk further injury for a game that means nothing but the potential to play spoiler?
Messi has scored 11 goals in 13 matches after he joined Inter Miami midsummer. Miami went 8-1-4 in games he played, but only 1-3-2 in the six matches he missed with the injury.
LaBue said Tuesday night that Charlotte had sold close to 60,000 tickets for the Oct. 21 game and that he expects a full stadium. If Messi has shown he’s healthy enough to play for Argentina, at the very least, it seems, he’d be on the bench when Miami plays in Charlotte.
Swiderski watch: Charlotte FC, meanwhile, has three players on international duty this week, with leading scorer Karol Swiderski (12 goals) playing for Poland, defender Jere Uronen for Finland and Bill Tuiloma playing for New Zealand. Swiderski’s last game of the break is Sunday against Moldova, so he can get back in time for Charlotte’s game in Miami on Wednesday. But given the travel and short turnaround of two games in four days against Miami, Lattanzio will have a decision to make about how much he plays.
Uronen, who has hit his stride playing a solid left back for Charlotte FC, is expected to miss Wednesday’s game in Miami because he’ll be playing for Finland on Wednesday against Kazakhstan.
Watch party: Charlotte FC announced it will host a watch party at Bank of America Stadium for Charlotte FC’s game in Miami on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Doors will open at 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. kickoff. Tickets are free to sit in either the lower bowl or on the field, but registration is required (maximum of four tickets per order).
The newest Dejaegere: Brecht and wife welcome daughter
Congratulations to Brecht Dejaegere, his wife, Jana, and big brother, Noah, on the birth of Marie Dejaegere! The veteran winger returned home to Belgium for the birth and missed Charlotte FC’s 2-0 victory in Chicago. He’s expected back in action for the final two games against Miami.
Up Next: Bye
Charlotte FC (9-11-12) is off for the international break until Wednesday, Oct. 18 when the team travels to Miami. Bank of America Stadium is hosting an international game this weekend, though, when the Mexican National team plays a “friendly” exhibition against Ghana. The game kicks off at 8:30 p.m.
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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