The Charlotte Football Club’s inaugural campaign is heading towards a denouement, not an exciting finish, as “rebuilding” has replaced “playoffs” as the keyword heard most often in the tunnels of Bank of America Stadium.
With that in mind, Queen City Nerve can exclusively report that no Charlotte FC player has a “no-trade clause” in their contract, meaning very few players will automatically be safe when 2023 expansion team St. Louis City SC looks to draft five players from other MLS teams during the offseason.
Fans disappointed by the erratic nature of the Charlotte FC’s performance may see rebuilding as a godsend, but it necessarily means anyone can be on the chopping block.
“Fun?” In Toronto?
On Saturday night, Charlotte FC (10-16-2, 32 points) lost to Toronto FC (9-13-6, 33 points) at Bank of America Stadium, marking the first time the Crown Club lost three home matches in a row all year. Before the Aug. 6 loss to the Chicago Fire that began the streak, Charlotte was 8-3-0 at home. As of today, they’re 8-6-0.
Toronto is looking more and more like a playoff team, and they finally passed Charlotte to take 10th on the Eastern Conference table as of this writing. The Crown Club was unfortunate to face them twice in the second half of the season, losing the first match 4-0 in Toronto after many roster changes had been finalized.
On Saturday, Charlotte’s boys played valiantly and dominated the match, especially the first half, but strikers like Karol Świderski and Andre Shinyashiki didn’t dominate where it matters: on the final ball.
Charlotte’s season record against Canadian teams is now 1-4-0 with no matches left; however, our neighbor to the north is not the reason the playoffs are almost out of reach for Charlotte.
Instead, if one were to pinpoint the moment where Charlotte’s playoff hopes evaporated, it would be in the 31st minute of the loss to Chicago, when center back Guzmán Corujo suffered a season-ending knee injury. Ever since then, Charlotte has not been the same team at home and has sorely missed Corujo’s talents.
Rebuilding is the New Playoffs
Charlotte is now 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, the lowest the team has been ranked in months. In a European league they’d be facing relegation; instead, at least one source with the club is already talking about “rebuilding,” a word in the world of professional sports that is a tacit admission that the current season is not salvageable.
Close followers of the team may be surprised to hear this. Mathematically, Charlotte still has a reasonable chance at making the playoffs, though finishing in the top four (which comes with home-field advantage) would require Charlotte winning every remaining game and an absolute collapse from one or both of the New York clubs.
Another common refrain is that the club is only an expansion team; none of the team’s players have the skills of English Premier or La Liga talent in their prime, much less that of a Messi or Lewandowski. Charlotte FC interim head coach Christian Lattanzio speaks often in press conferences about the difference that years of playing in the MLS and years of playing together could make.
Charlotte also has three new international players who haven’t had a chance to step up yet. Portuguese footballer Nuno Santos could fill an important role in attacking midfield, and English defender Nathan Byrne has the experience to be another defensive captain, but despite being announced at the beginning of August, neither player has played yet, ostensibly due to immigration issues. Only French defender Adilson Malanda has had the opportunity to start for the team.
Additionally, Charlotte announced two major contract signings last week: a new contract for versatile forward Andre Shinyashiki, who has seen his minutes decrease in the final third of the season; and a contract extension for Brandt Bronico, seen as one of the hardest-working players on the team and a strong defensive midfielder in a club with decreasing defensive options. Both players’ contracts run through the 2025 season with a club option for 2026.
However, no contract is a guarantee. When I spoke with Charlotte FC sporting director Zoran Krneta after Saturday’s loss, he made it clear the team is keeping all its options open during the postseason to turn the team into a winning one. He also confirmed to me that none of the players on the team have a “no-trade clause” in their contract, which would both prevent them from being traded and automatically protect them from other teams in expansion drafts.
While Krneta told me the team would protect its “designated players” — typically the three highest-paid and most talented players on the team — the lack of no-trade clauses keeps the club’s options open.
The no-trade clauses are specifically relevant given how the team has dispensed with players associated with former coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez, including Titi Ortiz and Charlotte FC’s original signing, Sergio Ruiz. Arguably, the most impactful trade decision Ramírez made was to bring on Shinyashiki from Colorado; however, the Brazilian forward’s five goals haven’t been enough to keep him off the bench under Coach Lattanzio, putting his future into doubt.
Before finalizing his contract, Shinyashiki told the podcast Sam’s Army (no relation) that he was unhappy with the terms Charlotte was giving him during contract negotiations. This interview fueled further speculation on his future. The new contract quieted the speculation, but if there were a clause in Shinyashiki’s new contract that protected him from trades or the expansion draft, the club’s commitment to his future would be more convincing.
However, while Lattanzio may be giving Shinyashiki fewer minutes, a new coach may have something different to say. While one could make the case any coach is an interim coach, Lattanzio’s future at the club is uncertain as well. He told reporters earlier this month that he does not yet have a contract for next year. His future likely depends on whether Charlotte can make a real playoff run in their final six matches. (Interesting note: Saturday’s loss means Lattanzio now has the same record with Charlotte FC that Ramírez had when he was fired.)
Finally, after the season is over, Charlotte’s front office will have to choose whom they cut and whom they keep. The most transparent of these exercises is the 2023 expansion draft, where St. Louis will have its pick of any unprotected player in MLS, including no more than one of Charlotte’s players.
While homegrown players like Brian Romero are automatically protected, Charlotte can only choose 12 players on the senior roster to protect from the draft. Assuming designated players Karol Świderski, Kamil Jóźwiak, and Jordy Alcívar are protected, that leaves nine names to choose from.
However, as the drafts and trades sort out, expect the 2023 squad to look quite different.
It Ain’t Over ‘til it’s Over
A couple months ago, I predicted Charlotte FC would end up with 41-47 points (specifically, sneaking into the playoffs with 44). This prediction was more pessimistic than many other people in the Bank of America Stadium press box, and yet it also may have been too optimistic.
Charlotte needs three wins to get to 41 points, meaning they’d have to win half of their remaining games (the team rarely draws).
What’s working in Charlotte’s favor and keeping them in playoff position has nothing to do with their own play. This past week, Charlotte’s Eastern Conference competition kept their points to a minimum. Inter Miami lost, Cincinnati and Columbus drew, Chicago lost, and New England lost.
This week, Atlanta plays Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Columbus and Miami play each other, Toronto faces a tough Montreal team, and Charlotte controls its destiny against Cincinnati.
If Charlotte beats Cincy — they already have once this season — the Crown Club will catapult as high as 8th place in the table, and the rebuilding conversation will once again take a back seat to playoff hopes. I expect nothing less than the unexpected from Charlotte FC at this point — but as a Charlottean at home and at heart, I still hold the completely irrational hope this team can pull off the mathematically possible.
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