It’s already been an unpredictable MLS season, and we’re not even yet to summer. Two coaches have been fired, the playoff standings are a logjam and MLS’s newest team, Charlotte FC, have come strong out of the gates.
The expansion side are 3-5-0, and sit just one point below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference. Three wins and five losses may seem modest at best, but given the struggles and difficulties recent expansion teams have endured, the start for Charlotte should be seen as a good foundation for longterm success. It’s a good beginning to an inaugural season in what could be a 100 year project for Charlotte.
They’re managed by Miguel Angel Ramirez, the youngest coach in Major League Soccer. The Spaniard spent 2021 in Brazil’s Serie A, managing Internacional where he went 11-4-7 with a +15 goal differential. Not too shabby. The Charlotte job however, is different. He’s in charge of creating the first imprint of this brand new club.
Of Charlotte’s three wins, two came against the New England Revolution and Atlanta United. The third was FC Cincinnati. The losses were to DC United, the LA Galaxy, Atlanta United, the Revolution and the Philadelphia Union.
When Charlotte play well, they play really well. When they don’t play well, they really don’t play well. They’ve been shutout three times in eight games, and they’ve only scored multiple goals in two instances.
As with most expansion sides, Charlotte FC enters the league with a roster that’s lacking in star power, but is full of guys with something to prove, high-ceiling players with potential and MLS veterans. They’ve got a Premier League winner in Christian Fuchs, a couple of Designated Players and one Young Designated Player. You can do worse when constructing your inaugural roster.
Charlotte are 0-4-0 away from home in league play this season. And Saturday’s match will be their longest journey, and first trip going farther West than Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to the wild west, y’all. Here’s how Colorado can sew up all three points as they look for 20 consecutive unbeaten at home.
Karol Świderski, one of Charlotte’s Designated Players, has four goals in 582 minutes across seven games. The 25-year-old Polish striker is outperforming his Expected Goals of 1.5 by a pretty good clip. Either he’ll regress to the mean and the goals will stop coming, or the data will catch up to him and he’ll continue scoring. The sample size is too small to prognosticate about which way it will go, but there’s a lot to like about his game, in my opinion. He is feisty in the box, makes intelligent runs and has clinical finishing skills. He’s scored half of Charlotte’s goals, so shutting down their attack begins with shutting down him.
Back to Basics
In tandem with stifling Świderski will be putting together a full 90 minutes of defending. The last two matches, away to FC Dallas and away to Minnesota United, weren’t kind to the Rapids’ defense. The bad news is six goals conceded in two games. The good news is the issues can be fixed. Defending is about discipline, cohesion and desire. None of that has changed for the Rapids. The players are still disciplined, have unit cohesion and want to defend. I doubt their confidence has been affected by the last couple games, but in case it has, a tidy clean sheet would do wonders to get it back on track.
Find Success Out Wide
Forward Diego Rubio is having a good start to the campaign. He has four goals and one assist in 541 minutes. That’s a great clip of production for a team that needs a lethal forward. As teams adjust to the Chilean finding so much success in the middle, opportunities are going to open up on the wings. Michael Barrios, Jonathan Lewis, Andre Shinyashiki, Keegan Rosenberry and Lucas Esteves should start to pull defenses apart. Whether it’s pinpoint crosses from Rosenberry and Esteves or pulling defenders out wide, taking on defenders one-on-one, the Rapids wide players can create chaos at the back for any defense. As they do this, there will be even more opportunities for Rubio in the middle.