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MLS Awards Inspire Reflection on 2023 Charlotte FC Season

Key Charlotte players leave it all on the pitch, and in the community

A group of Charlotte FC players, many of whom nominated for MLS Awards, pose together in a laundromat
Charlotte FC players, many of whom nominated for MLS Awards, pose during a Laundry Project event (left to right): Andrew Privett, Patrick Ageymang, Hamady Diop, George Marks and Brandt Bronico. (Photo by Megan Easterday/Easterday Creative)

For the first time in its young history, Charlotte FC made the playoffs this season, becoming the first major league club in Charlotte to do so since 2017. Though the team fell in a disappointing loss to the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 25, to make it to that stage in their second season of play — a season marked with tragedy and hardship — was a feat in itself. 

Earlier this month, the team announced its nominees for Major League Soccer’s yearly awards, and though none of Charlotte FC’s players made it to the round of finalists announced on Oct. 26, they’re worth the recognition they got from the club’s leaders. 

“The end of season awards are always highly talked about in league circles, and this year is no different. It’s important that we recognize our players that have represented the club at a high standard both on and off the pitch,” said Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta in a statement to Queen City Nerve.

As Charlotte turns its attention to Panthers football and Hornets basketball, the end of Charlotte FC’s sophomore season and the announcement of the award nominees give us a chance to look back on some bright spots from a year of struggle.

Making his Marks

Last year, as Charlotte FC and its players became a part of the community, Nerve asked them about their favorite spots in Charlotte, as well as their favorite things about the city. 

While some players struggled with the questions, goalkeeper George Marks responded immediately to the question about his favorite spot to eat, naming Rhino Market, then listing their breakfast burrito as one of his favorite foods. His favorite thing about Charlotte at the time — aside from Rhino Market, of course — was the passion of the fans.

A year later, Marks still loves the Rhino, describing himself as a “big breakfast guy,” but his relationship with the community has deepened to include significant service work. 

“I dabble in a lot of things,” said Marks, whose community activities include the Laundry Project, a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “assists lower-income families with meeting a basic need — washing clothes and linens … Laundry fees are paid for while volunteers assist with laundry services, entertain children, and create a caring space at the laundromat.”

While the Laundry Project is “the main thing [he’s] done,” Marks has been an active participant in Charlotte FC’s programs, including work with the Special Olympics and the club’s Greater Goals program, which focuses on both after-school soccer and literacy programs for Title I elementary schools.

He’s also a frequent fixture at other players’ events, including Brandt Bronico’s fundraisers for Beds for Kids, a local nonprofit furniture bank that serves families in need. “I want to not only support [my teammates], but also the causes … we have a platform, so we have a responsibility,” Marks told Nerve in an October interview.

George Marks gives a pound to a young fan in full uniform on the pitch
MLS Awards nominee George Marks interacts with a fan during a community event at Bank of America Stadium. (Photo by Alana McCallion)

For his work in the community, Marks was nominated by the club for the “Audi Goals Drive Progress Impact Award presented by MLS WORKS,” which Major League Soccer describes as an award that “recognizes an MLS player who demonstrates excellence in driving progress in their communities,” with a focus on charitable efforts and social impact work.

Marks told Nerve “it means a lot” to be nominated by the team, describing how his time at Clemson University prepared him to give back. “Clemson had a platform that listed volunteer opportunities for student-athletes, which made it easy to find my niche.”

To the young goalkeeper, his work with the Laundry Project is about much more than checking boxes. “I was lucky enough to have an in-house washer and dryer … [The Laundry Project] is a really good way to restore dignity” to families struggling with basic needs,” he said.

George Marks pushes some buttons on a washing machine
Charlotte FC goalkeeper George Marks does a load of laundry during a Laundry Project event. (Photo by Megan Easterday/Easterday Creative)

Marks’ last rounds of laundry covered two different locations, serving 80 families and completing 1,040 loads of laundry. In the two years the Laundry Project has been active in Charlotte, they’ve served 247 families and washed over 25,000 pounds of laundry.

“We refer to our volunteers as ‘Hope Dealers’, and George Marks has been an incredible representation of what it means to give hope to families and individuals in Charlotte,” said Corey Easterday, national director of the nonprofit Current Initiatives, which runs the Laundry Project.

“Working alongside George and the broader Charlotte FC community has empowered us to turn laundromats into community centers of hope, to meet the tangible need of clean laundry, and to affirm the dignity of every person that attends the Laundry Project.”

George Marks holding autographed match-worn gloves
George Marks holding match-worn gloves he donated to Brandt Bronico’s charity auction benefiting Beds for Kids. (Photo by Sam Spencer)

While Marks says the marketing for these events is deliberately subtle — saying it’s “not a glitzy event” while explaining that they try to keep attendance reasonable so they can serve every family — he told of how inspiring it is to the participants and passersby.

“[Participants] have come up to me and said, ‘My washer was just broken today, can I donate?’”

When Nerve asked Marks who from the team was coming out to support him at events, many of the players he mentioned are nominated for MLS awards as well, including Adilson Malanda, Andrew Privett, Ashley Westwood and Patrick Agyemang. 

That made a lot of sense to Marks, who described it as indicative of the players’ character. “I believe the way you do anything should be the way you do everything, so it makes sense they’re coming out.”

Charlotte FC names key contributors

With the nomination, Marks joined six of his teammates as nominees for 2023 MLS Year-End Awards. Each team’s nominees are chosen by club leadership; Charlotte FC nominees in other categories include forward Karol Swiderski for MVP, captain Ashley Westwood for Comeback Player of the Year, Kristijan Kahlina for Goalkeeper of the Year, both Andrew Privett and Patrick Agyemang for Newcomer of the Year, and defender Adilson Malanda in two categories: Defender of the Year and Young Player of the Year.

Two sweaty guys chat after a soccer match, one of whom wears the starting Charlotte FC goalkeeper kit, while the other, Marks, wears a practice top
Charlotte FC goalkeepers Kristijan Kahlina and George Marks. (Photo by Sam Spencer)

The awards are voted on by MLS players, coaching staff and selected media members. While some of the nominees are long shots due to their respective teams’ performances this season, it’s an important way for the club to recognize key contributors.

“[Karol Świderski] has had a great two seasons for us and continues to excel on the international level,” said Krneta. “He’s got 15 goals and eight assists across all competitions for us this season and has scored a few international goals as well. He might not get a vote for MVP, but when you talk about actual value to their team — he is up there on the most important players in Major League Soccer for their teams and his goals down the stretch for us have shown that.”

“Their performances speak for themselves,” Marks said of his fellow nominees.

The second team builds the Legacy

A bright spot for the Charlotte FC organization this year was the addition of second team Crown Legacy FC, which ended its first season as the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference Regular Season Champions. Until a shocking 0-1 playoff loss to the Columbus Crew 2 this month at home in the Matthews Sportsplex, it seemed like nothing could stop the young Legacy.

The second team’s contributions extended far beyond the MLS NEXT Pro development league. 

“When you look at this season’s awards, it’s excellent to see the young players like Adilson Malanda, Patrick Agyemang and Andrew Privett being honored with nominations,” said Krneta “These types of players show how bright the future of the league is and the latter two speak to the success of Crown Legacy FC this season.”

Three guys go after a ball on the soccer pitch
Charlotte FC defender Andrew Privett attacks the ball as Nathan Byrne covers Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi (Photo by Jesse Boykin Kimmell)

While Malanda immediately started with Charlotte FC upon his transfer from France last year, two players who started the season with Crown Legacy — Agyemang and Brandon Cambridge — scored at least two goals for Charlotte FC in top-flight MLS play, while both Agyemang and defender Privett demonstrated their quality during the Leagues Cup competition.

Learn more: Adilson Malanda Finds His Place on the Charlotte FC Pitch

When Nerve spoke with veteran defender Nathan Byrne about Charlotte’s run in the Leagues Cup, he spoke highly of Privett and Agyemang’s contributions.

“[Andrew Privett] has done really well,” said Byrne. “[When you start playing at the top level], there’s a lot of pressure on you to perform instantly … I think he’s been great since he’s come in, he showed maturity, he showed a calm head, he’s playing really strongly at the moment defensively and on the ball.”

On Agyemang, Byrne told Nerve, “He’s got so many attributes that are rare and hard to find in a footballer — his size with his speed, and he’s got a cool head in front of goal.”

“They’ve both got bright futures, they just have to work hard and stay grounded,” concluded Byrne.

“Andrew [Privett] has been a revolution. He played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play,” against Inter Miami, said Westwood.

Ashley Westwood: The comeback king

Perhaps the Charlotte FC player with the best chance of winning an award, or at least becoming a finalist, was team captain Ashley Westwood. Since joining the team, Westwood has been an integral piece of Charlotte’s lineup thanks to his experience and refined skill set. He’s been a key playmaker and scorer, with three goals and four assists in 29 starts this season.

However, this season was not a given for the skipper. Westwood suffered a “horrific ankle injury” in English Premier League play last year. After West Ham midfielder Nikola Vlasic fell on Westwood, then playing for Burnley, the veteran footballer thought his playing career might be over. 

“I was really close to retiring in England, I thought that was it, but then coming to the MLS and coming to Charlotte gave me a boost,” said Westwood after Charlotte’s Oct. 7 win in Chicago. “I worked hard with the [physical therapists and trainers] to get back, and thankfully Zoran, [Lattanzio], and everyone at Charlotte showed faith in me. Like I said, I’m so happy to be here and so happy to be leading this team.”

Ashley Westwood wears the purple Charlotte FC kit
Ashley Westwood, nominated for Comeback Player of the Year in the MLS Awards, during a game in July. (Photo by Sam Spencer)

Nerve asked Westwood if he thought Charlotte’s playoff run completed the comeback. 

“It’s been a tough season. We’ve had ups and downs,” said Westwood at an Oct. 23 press conference. “We’ve stuck together, even the boys who aren’t involved … It’s a real squad game. They’re just as important, the lads coming off the bench, the lads who aren’t starting. It’s a real testament to the character that we’ve built here. It’s exciting. I’m already excited for next season as well. The club’s in a really good place.”

Like many on the team, Westwood thought the comeback started with Charlotte’s run in the Leagues Cup.

“Weeks ago we got written off by a lot of people. We always knew in this locker room how good we were, how good we were playing,” said Westwood. “We never lost belief. Even on the pitch we’re saying to each other, ‘We don’t realize how good we are.’ But I think now we’re really starting to believe it.”

“It goes to show we don’t listen to outside noise. It’s what we’ve got in the locker room. It’s what we do every game on the pitch. It’s real, and it’s carried us over the line.”

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One Comment

  1. Messi cemented his place as arguably the greatest of all time when Argentina won the World Cup in Qatar in December 2022, with Messi putting in several Man of the Match performances throughout the competition.

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