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Charlotte FC’s First Three Weeks: The Good, The Bad, and The Midfield

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Charlotte FC
Christian ‘Titi’ Ortiz in Sunday’s match against Atlanta United. (Photo by Taylor Banner/Charlotte FC)

First, the good news: On Sunday, March 13, Adam Armour scored Charlotte FC’s first-ever goal off a Ben Bender corner kick. The game was almost a draw; hosts Atlanta United didn’t score their second goal until near the end of stoppage time.

Now the bad: “Almost” doesn’t win matches. In Major League Soccer, a team gets three points for a win and one for a draw, and the total number of points at the end of the season determines the final standings. The Charlotte Football Club has lost its first three games, so the team still hasn’t won any points. 

And yet, a silver lining: Even without a win or a draw, the club isn’t quite in last place. After losing both of its last two matches by only one goal, Charlotte’s net goals (goals scored minus goals allowed) is -5. That tiebreaker currently puts them ahead of Montreal, which is also yet to win or draw a game.

Squad Goals

Especially for new fans, soccer is a sport that makes you adjust your expectations quickly.

In the NFL, 0-3 would be a terrible start to the regular season; most teams with that record are written off. The Panthers won seven of 16 games in their first season and went on to play in the NFC Championship the next year.

In the NBA, it would be cause for concern and probably indicative of a middling season. The Charlotte Hornets were bad their first couple of years, winning only 19 of 82 games in their second season. They wouldn’t make the playoffs until their fifth year.

For a new MLS franchise, Charlotte’s season isn’t out of the ordinary. Last year’s new team, Austin FC, won its second and third matches, but then went eight straight fixtures without a win. The 2020 expansion team Inter Miami CF lost its first five matches, while the other expansion team that year – Nashville Soccer Club – had only one win and one draw in their first six.

Charlotte FC has some work to do to have the kind of season the Panthers had in their second year, but it’s doubtful it will take this team five years to make the playoffs.

GOOOAAALLL!

Just as unfortunate officiating was the story of Charlotte FC’s first match in Washington, D.C., and breaking the MLS attendance record was the story of their first home match, Charlotte FC’s first goal is certainly the story of the team’s third fixture.

The equalizing header from North Carolina’s own Adam Armour tied the game 1-1, setting up an exciting finish and another late heartbreaker. Armour was born in Burlington and played youth soccer in the Triangle. The defender played in the second division of the German Bundesliga before going on loan to the Charlotte Independence in 2021 and coming home to Charlotte FC for this season.

Armour’s goal came after three games of chances, including the early goal against D.C. United that was reversed due to an (admittedly correct) offsides call. In the two away games, Charlotte got off only one fewer shot than their opponents (23-24), and matched D.C. and Atlanta in shots on target (12-12).

In total, in three games Charlotte has taken 28 shots; 15 of those (54%) have been on target; and one (3.6%) has resulted in a goal.

Charlotte FC’s path to its first victory

On Saturday, March 19, Charlotte will play its second home game against the New England Revolution, defending Eastern Conference champions. It’s going to be a tough match against a team that has scored five goals in its first three matches. To win (or draw), Charlotte is going to have to continue its strong defensive play to limit New England’s chances.

Offense

Forward Karol Swiderski made a difference for Charlotte FC on offense during the last match at home; he had missed the first match against D.C. due to international paperwork issues. He’s also Charlotte FC’s first and arguably most important “designated player” – in MLS, that’s a player who isn’t subject to salary cap rules and can be paid whatever Charlotte FC is willing to pay.

Swiderski is no stranger to scoring goals; he scored five goals for Poland’s national team in 2022 World Cup qualification play. Though currently scoreless, all four of his shots for Charlotte FC were on target, and he played in the striker position for Charlotte in their 4-1-4-1 formation last match. He’s played well for the club so far; Saturday at home would be a great time for him to have a breakout game.

Also from Poland is Charlotte FC’s newest addition and third designated player, winger Kamil Jozwiak. He’s already tried on the kit, but it appears we’ll have to wait to see what sort of impact he’ll make, as Jozwiak announced during a virtual press conference on Tuesday that he’s having VISA issues and probably won’t play for a couple more weeks. 

Midfield

Midfielder and UNC Charlotte alumnus Brandt Bronico has aggressively pursued the ball, winning a team-leading seven tackles, but also committing six fouls and drawing one yellow card (only winger Christian Ortiz has drawn greater attention from the referees, with eight fouls and two yellow cards). Overall, the team has won 28 tackles but committed 42 fouls, a ratio that leaves room for improvement.

Charlotte midfielder Ben Bender, the first pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, was still playing college soccer for the University of Maryland last year. Against Atlanta, he had his breakout game, earning the first assist for the club in his first start. Hopefully he continues to be a playmaker for the club.

Ben Bender has showed potential in the midfield. (Photo by Taylor Banner/Charlotte FC)

Speaking of playmaking, of the three matches so far, the home game against LA was the best passing game for the club, with 81% accuracy on 467 passes. However, those passes didn’t translate into enough opportunities for Charlotte. That must change the next time the club plays at home.

Defense

As a veteran of the Leicester City squad that won the English Premier League championship in 2016, team captain Christian Fuchs is arguably the biggest name on Charlotte FC. “The Fox,” as he’s known, has played hard – especially for a 35-year-old – with two tackles won, four fouls and one yellow card. It wouldn’t be unfair to speculate his leadership has made a difference on and off the field for Charlotte’s defense.

On the other hand, Fuchs was almost responsible for an Atlanta goal when a poor pass ended up on the foot of Striker Josef Martínez. Martinez couldn’t convert Fuchs’ gift, but it led to two corner kicks and two more shots from United. Then, in the sixth minute of stoppage time, he suffered a bad beat by Jake Mulraney that led immediately to the game-winning goal.

He’s also one of six players, primarily defenders, who have played every minute for Charlotte FC so far. The team has only had one defensive substitution, during the team’s worst defensive game so far against D.C. United. Otherwise, both team leadership and the fans seem content with the defense, which would have forced a draw against the LA Galaxy if not for Efrain Alvarez’s boot (not surprisingly, Alvarez’s goal against Charlotte was named MLS Goal of the Week). If Charlotte’s defense is as strong against the Revolution as it was against the Galaxy, you have a large part of the winning recipe covered.

At Goal

More than any other player on the pitch, goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina is earning his salary. In Charlotte’s first home match, the L.A. Galaxy outdid Charlotte on offense, giving Charlotte goalkeeper Kahlina a chance to shine as Man of the Match. Against Atlanta, he had some big saves as well. Against New England, he’ll need to keep up the good work, and someday soon there will be a guy in Uptown Charlotte yelling “Kristijan Saves!”

Charlotte FC
Goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina. (Photo by Taylor Banner/Charlotte FC)

Final Thoughts

The biggest question for Saturday likely isn’t on the pitch, but in the stands. Charlotte’s home opener at Bank of America Stadium was electric. Charlotte doesn’t need 74,479 fans to show up again to win, but another historic crowd can’t hurt. 

I’ll see you there.

Sam Spencer is a lifelong soccer fan and supporter of 1. FC Union Berlin in the Bundesliga. Follow him on social media at @choosesam.


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