Charlotte FC is the newest team in the Major League Soccer this season, and it has been a peculiar start for the expansion side. Charlotte’s first home game was a 1-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy in front of an MLS record crowd of 74,479 at Bank of America Stadium. Despite a strong home 5-2 record to start the year, Charlotte fired its head coach with reports of a growing rift between the players and coach. Christian Lattanzio is now the interim head coach.
While the home form has been good for Charlotte, the expansion side has failed to win a game on the road this season, going 0-6-1 and scoring only four away goals. Both Designated Players for Charlotte, Karol Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak, are questionable after returning from international duty with Poland for Saturday’s game against the Columbus Crew. Defender Christian Fuchs also is listed as questionable.
Saturday marks Harrison Afful’s first trip back to Columbus after departing from the Black & Gold at the end of the 2021 season. The Ghanaian enjoyed seven seasons with the Crew where he quickly became a fan favorite.
Let’s take a look at what else fans need to know about this Charlotte side.
Charlotte FC at a glance:
Record: 6-8-1 19 pts (7th place in the East)
League Form: W-L-L-W-L
Leading Scorer: Karol Swiderski (4)
Assist Leader: Ben Bender (3)
Player to Watch: Karol Swiderski
Swiderski is returning from international duty with Poland and Lattanzio was unsure if he would be available for play against Columbus. This seems to be good news for the Crew as Swiderski is a skilled forward. The Polish international is a clinical finisher, needing a only single touch to direct the ball to goal. He is deadly with either his foot or his head, making him a prime target for crosses. With smart movement in the penalty box, Swiderski can tear apart defenses.
Not only does Swiderski score as a target forward, but he also scores from outside the 18-yard box. While not as consistent as the Black & Gold’s Lucas Zelarayan, Swiderski is dangerous from free kicks. Crew defenders will need to be aware at all times of Swiderski. Communication from the Columbus backline and central midfielders will be critical to make sure Swiderski does not get a chance on goal.
How Charlotte FC plays:
There is only one game of tape for the Columbus coaching staff to review on Lattanzio’s tactical philosophy, and that is a 2-0 home win over the New York Red Bulls that week. Charlotte looked to dominate the ball and play through the wing, specifically McKinze Gaines against New York. Gaines may not start if Jozwiak is available, however. Charlotte will look to overload the wings with overlapping full backs, especially if Afful is in the starting lineup. With the Black & Gold having injury issues at left back, expect this to be an area for Charlotte to attack.
Defensively, Charlotte will counter-press and attack second balls. As teams advance down the flank against Charlotte, the backline will drop deep into the penalty box as a uni, to defend against crosses. Against the Red Bulls, Lattanzio elected to play two central midfielders and a defensive midfielder in front of a four-man backline.
Charlotte FC has a similar playstyle as the Crew and Saturday will make for an interesting matchup. Both Columbus (11 goals) and Charlotte (10 goals) are at the bottom of the league in goals inside the 18-yard box. Oddly, both teams are top of the league in goals outside of the penalty box — Columbus with six and Charlotte with five. Both Swiderski and Bender will look to shoot from outside of the penalty box.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold will need to defend well to not get behind against Charlotte, keeping the ball in wide positions should benefit the Crew. While Swiderski is a talented target man, Charlotte has not seen many assists come from wide positions.
With a change in coach and a rotating cast of defenders, communication between the Charlotte full backs and center backs has not gone well. New York took advantage of this on numerous occasions, specifically targeting Afful. The 35-year-old Ghanaian right back was exposed by Lewis Morgan, often being caught on the attack. Having a speedy winger on the left will give Columbus a chance to counterattack.
Charlotte is also vulnerable to cut-back passes in the 18-yard box. As the opponent move down the flanks, the defenders move together in a line to defend against incoming crosses. This is great at not giving opponents free headers, but the midfield line does not move as quickly to cover the empty space at the top of the box. The Crew could take advantage of this space to drive home a shot.
This will be an interesting game, as both teams want to have similar tactical styles. With the dismal road form for Charlotte and the many injuries Columbus has sustained, both coaches will need to get creative to search for a win. A win for the Black & Gold would be massive for staying in the hunt for an MLS Cup playoff spot.