No French fry binges for Charlotte FC
Offseason briefing: How Charlotte's pro soccer players are staying fit; World Cup primer breaking down where, who and what to watch for; A rundown of Charlotte FC's latest roster moves
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This offseason, Charlotte FC players plan to keep fit — after breaks to indulge in cheese, cured ham delicacies and R&R
Nuno Santos setting up a play in one of the final workouts of the season with Charlotte FC. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
Apparently, when you’re a professional soccer player — and your fitness is your livelihood — you don’t exactly let loose in the offseason. That’s the impression I got after talking to a handful of Charlotte FC players as they wrapped up practice and headed home for the winter.
I could get only one to admit there might be fries in his future.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” English defender Anton Walkes said. “I have a favorite restaurant back home called Nando’s. There’s a few here in America but only in selected states and nowhere close to here. When I go back, I’ll be having Nando’s. Grilled chicken, fries, Halloumi cheese, garlic bread.”
“I don’t know what type of cheese it is,” he said. “But it’s fantastic.”
A quick look at the website for Nando’s revealed that:
The restaurant is an international fast food chicken chain founded in Johannesburg, South Africa. It has franchises in 30 countries, but the only ones in the U.S. are in and around Washington D.C., Chicago and Houston.
Halloumi is a mild feta-like cheese that comes sliced and grilled and is now available in grilled cheese sticks with a side of sweet and spicy chili jam for dipping. Yum.
Walkes said he would allow himself total rest and some Nando indulgence for 10 days and then he’d get back on a training program. For him, that meant hooking up with friends in South London for pickup games — one of the perks of living in a soccer hotbed.
Anton Walkes says he might gain a few pounds after a week or so of indulging, but he’ll get right back into shape soon thereafter. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte FC.)
You’ll find Andre Shinyashiki doing some of the same, at home in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
“There are a lot of pickup games that I can play in,” Shinyashiki said. “Even though it’s not professional soccer, it’s a chance to stay in touch with the ball.”
Since it’s summer this time of year in Brazil, Shinyashiki planned to get his running in in the evenings, on the streets of Sao Paulo.
“I don’t like to wake up at 5 or 6 a.m., and it gets pretty hot by 8 or 9,” Shinyashiki said.
Each Charlotte FC player was sent home with instructions to rest for a week or two and a workout program, with individual workouts, including interval training for cardio and weight lifting for strength.
For a disciplined and routine-oriented guy like Nuno Santos, that means he’ll be doing those workouts with the same personal trainer he’s used for five years at home in Portugal. He did concede there will be the occasional indulgence for Francesinha, a specialty in his hometown of Porto.
The travel magazine Afar described the Portuguese dish this way:
A heart-stopping stack of wet cured ham, linguiça sausage, steak or roast beef, and melted cheese (sometimes a fried egg as well) on thick bread drowned in a hot tomato and beer sauce … It is the pride of Porto, at once both a hangover cure and a ticket to the emergency room, a one-and-done culinary caravan of everything that is terrible and phenomenal about a regional food specialty. Obviously, it’s fantastic.
While he plans to work out with a personal trainer in the offseason, Charlotte FC midfielder Nuno Santos admits he will probably enjoy at least a few meals of Francesinha — a specialty in his hometown of Porto, Portugal. (Shutterstock photo) [corrected spelling of Santos’ name]
But Santos, like his Charlotte teammates, never likes to let himself get too far out of shape.
“It’s a lot easier if you remained focused all the time,” he said.
McKinze Gaines planned to get his workouts in in relative obscurity in his hometown of Austin, Texas. That means a five-minute run to Chisholm Trail Middle School near his family’s home in Round Rock, and a track workout there. Or he might run through the neighborhood for distance work. He’ll get his lifting done at a recreational gym nearby.
“You have to live in the area to get a pass,” he said. “I’ll just hop in, do my thing, be out a couple hours later.”
Gaines planned to relax on a Mexican vacation with his girlfriend for five days, enjoy Thanksgiving with his family, then get back to work.
“I don’t like to eat too bad for too long, just because I do feel the effects on my body,” he said. “We’re always staying in shape for the most part. It’s always nice to complete the workouts and feel good afterward.”
World Cup 2022: What you need to know
The easiest way to find out how different it feels to watch a World Cup now that we have our own Major League Soccer team in Charlotte is to go to the team’s watch party!
What a great time to play hooky or start Thanksgiving vacation early on Monday, when the U.S. National Team opens World Cup play against Wales at 2 p.m. For details on all the festivities at Romare Bearden Park, including food trucks, available parking decks and special guests, click here. The 2022 World Cup officially kicks off Sunday when host country Qatar plays Ecuador at 11 a.m. Eastern.
The basics: For the newbies, and anyone who could use a refresher, the World Cup format features 32 teams divided into eight groups of four. Each group plays a round robin format in which each team plays the other three, accumulating three points for a victory and one for a tie. Using point totals and a series of tiebreakers if necessary, two teams advance from each group to the knockout round. At that point, 16 teams play in a single-elimination tournament, culminating in the final match Dec. 18.
The U.S. is in the same group with Wales, England and Iran, which should make for some interesting banter among Charlotte FC teammates. Many of them stay in regular touch through video games and the instant messaging service WhatsApp.
“I’m specifically waiting for USA-England, just so I can have some bragging rights,” said Charlotte FC defender Anton Walkes, who is from South London, England. “I’ve got one guy in particular, and that’s Jaylin (Lindsey, Charlotte FC defender from Charlotte).”
McKinze Gaines is excited to see some of his former teammates from the U.S. Under-17 national team, including star midfielder Christian Pulisic, as well Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Luca de la Torre.
“It’ll be cool watching them and following them,” Gaines said.
U.S. National Team schedule: The U.S. plays Wales on Monday at 2 p.m., England on Friday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. and Iran on Tuesday Nov. 29 at 2 p.m.
After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup for the first time in 27 years, the U.S. is back in the field with what is its youngest and possibly its most talented World Cup team. The concern is how inexperienced the U.S. is, with only one player — Deandre Yedlin — having appeared in a World Cup. Charlotte FC writer Caleb Adams talks U.S. National team and breaks down every group in the field in this must-read analysis.
Eye on Swiderski: Striker Karol Swiderski is the lone Charlotte FC player to make a World Cup roster. He’s playing for his native Poland after scoring five goals and adding an assist in nine games during qualifying. Mark your calendars to see Swiderski in action against Mexico on Nov. 22, Saudi Arabia on Nov. 26, and Argentina on Nov. 30. His Charlotte FC teammates will.
“It'll be cool to watch Karol play,” Gaines said. “I hope Poland beats Mexico. That would be cool if Mexico crashed out. As an American, if Poland went through instead of Mexico, I wouldn’t be too upset.”
Another Charlotte FC teammate is hoping for a chance to see Swiderski play in person. Andre Shinyashiki and his brother Ricardo are traveling to Qatar for five days to see the World Cup. They’re planning to watch their native Brazil play two games and hoped to catch Swiderski playing for Poland, too.
“I asked him for some tickets,” Shinyashiki said.
Beckham controversy, commercial: English soccer legend David Beckham has come under fire in recent days for his decision to serve as World Cup ambassador in Qatar, a traditional Muslim country where homosexuality is considered illegal. Beckham defended his position on Thursday, saying “The pitch would be a platform for progress.” All the while, making the rounds on social media leading up to the World Cup, was a commercial Beckham made for Frito-Lay with Peyton Manning and Mia Hamm.
Quick hits: Charlotte FC’s offseason so far
It’s been pretty quiet, as expected, given that the free agency period just started Wednesday, but here’s a rundown on Charlotte FC’s offseason so far:
The “interim” was dropped from Christian Lattanzio’s title, as the club gave him a two-year contract extension with an option for a third year, as expected. At the press conference announcing the decision, sporting director Zoran Krneta said Lattanzio had been his Plan B, when hired as an assistant to original head coach Miguel Angel Ramirez, but he should have been Plan A. Lattanzio went 8-10-2 after taking over for the fired Ramirez and brought Charlotte FC to the brink of the playoffs. Some telling reaction from two key players:
Swiderski: “Everyone likes him, even fans, I think. He’s a fantastic coach. What he did with our group — it’s crazy because how we played before and how we play now. We improved a lot, and I think next season we can be much, much better if we give him time to prepare the team and time for preseason.”
Shinyashiki: “He did a good job. He helped build a winning culture here. He deserves it more than anyone else, so I’m happy for him.”
Nobody taken in expansion draft. Charlotte FC did not have a player chosen in this year’s expansion draft, as St. Louis City SC elected to go with five players from other MLS squads. Charlotte FC did raise some eyebrows by leaving Shinyashiki unprotected, as well as veteran defender Guzman Corujo, though that was likely a calculated risk with him coming off major knee surgery.
Homegrown signing: Charlotte FC announced Thursday that it had signed 14-year-old Nimfasha Berchimas to a homegrown contract, making him the second home-grown player to sign out of Charlotte’s Academy after Brian Romero. Berchimas, who signed at 14 years, 268 days, becomes the sixth-youngest signing in MLS history. Berchimas, a winger, was just called into the U.S. Under-16 Men’s Youth National team to play in the Football Federations Cup.
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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