Know Thy Enemy: Revs at Charlotte 2023 MLS Opening Night Edition
I will not call them Connecticut Leaving Thieves FC, I will not call them...
The return of Major League Soccer is upon us. The grass is fresh and green, the jerseys are new and mostly in stock, and the time to be frustrated once or twice a week for ninety minutes is back. Or in the case of El Traffico, an outright cancellation on opening day because I think they somehow got a wicked Nor’Easter…
The New England Revolution begin the 2023 campaign at Charlotte FC tonight at Bank of America Stadium with kickoff on Apple TV at 730 EDT.
These two teams split their matchups last year, each team winning their home fixture with a Karol Swiderski masterclass in March getting canceled out by a Matt Polster epic later in April.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that both teams had their share of struggles last year - Charlotte being an expansion team had an up-and-down form before a late three-game winning streak in the final month and the Revs slow start was buoyed by a long 10-match unbeaten streak that featured just four wins.
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Both teams come into 2023 with renewed expectations, especially up front. Revs DP Giacomo Vrioni showed flashes last year and has done well in preseason but was never able to settle in or get consistent minutes after joining last summer. Charlotte’s new Argentinian DP striker Enzo Copetti will look to take the scoring pressure off Swiderski and form a lethal tandem going forward.
Obviously, CLT would like to hold serve at home with three points, while the Revs would get off to a tremendous start with a win against the team they finished tied with in the standings last year. Under the league’s new playoff system, which I discussed rather harshly yesterday, the Revs would have finished 10th on the wins tiebreaker, meaning CLT would have been the final team in the East to make the playoffs if the current format had been used last year.
Today we are joined by the venerable former Total MLS (RIP) writer Tyler Trent who is now over at Top Bin 90, who has put aside his questionable taste in ice hockey teams to provide his takes on CLT’s expansion year, just how great Swiderski could be this year and the new playoff format with the Eastern Conference.
No questions for me to answer this week but head on over to their site for all their Revs-Charlotte coverage, and be sure to check out Sam’s appearance on the Queen City Soccer Show.
1) How did everyone rate Charlotte's inaugural season in 2022? It seemed like there were a lot of positives in the first half of the year before an ending slump saw CLT win just two of their last ten, in particular, what went wrong late in the year?
I think Sam mentioned this when he was on the TopBin90 show on Tuesday, but that stat got mixed up with the Columbus Crew. Charlotte finished with 4 wins, 1 draw, and 5 losses in their last ten.
(Author’s Note: Actually I think Sam and I did the same thing looking at the MLS dot com Form Guide - it cuts off the final three games and you have to manually zoom out the page to see it and there is no Game 34 either, so we missed CLT winning three of their last four. As always, use Matt Montgomery’s Form Guide, it’s way better and I’ve already submitted a bug report cause the year tab for MLS is not displaying right.)
However, to answer the remainder of the question: I think most fans were satisfied with the season Charlotte FC had in year one. There were a lot of ups and downs and instability throughout the season. However, the team started to gel more as the season went on under the leadership of Christian Lattanzio. Even games that Charlotte lost down the stretch, you could tell the team was playing with more purpose and intent. The goal in year one was to make playoffs, so ultimately Charlotte fell short of that. Former manager Miguel Ángel Ramírez and most MLS pundits set low expectations for the team, so for them to look competitive and end up finishing 9th was still respectable. From an off-the-field perspective, it was a massive success. They had very high attendance during year one and strong fan reception throughout the Carolinas. It looks like that is going to continue into year two with the matchup between the Revs projecting between 60,000 and 70,000 fans.
2) Karol Swiderski is good at soccer, what can he do individually and what can the team do to help him improve on a tremendous 2022 campaign that saw him notch 10g/6a?
I think Karol Świderski performed well last season all things considered. Early on, Świderski was really our only bright spot offensively so it was much easier for teams to shut Charlotte FC down by focusing on him. As the season developed, Świderski began to play more in a free-roaming #10 role. I think this suited his skill set much more within this team as he often received the ball deeper when playing as a lone striker. Lattanzio allowed Karol to fill that #10 role and Daniel Ríos played up top which provided a massive boost for the team and Świderski himself. This off-season, Charlotte FC was able to add Enzo Copetti up top. Copetti will enable Świderski to operate on the ball or link-up up front more easily. This will take a lot of pressure off of Świderski's shoulders as Copetti is a pressing machine and loves to be in the box. With that extra freedom, Karol can focus on doing the small things for himself instead of trying to drag the team to goals. If Copetti fulfills expectations and the wingers step up, Charlotte should look fantastic offensively.
3) Under the new playoff setup, Charlotte would have been in the 8v9 play-in game last year. Does the new best of three setup hurt or help CLT in the quarterfinal round and what are your thoughts on the new playoffs overall?
I think Charlotte was generally trending up as the season closed last year. The 8v9 matchup with Columbus would have been a battle, but I think Charlotte could have won that and advanced. All three times that Charlotte FC and the Crew have played have ended in a draw so far though (including preseason last year) so it would likely be a really tight matchup. Additionally, Charlotte thrashed #1 seed Philadelphia Union 4-0 in October as the season was coming to a close. Charlotte was a little inconsistent, but they could play with anyone. I personally like the new system with more teams being added. I think the margins between teams, especially in the Eastern Conference, last year were minimal for the most part. It's a whole other debate on whether the regular season matters when so many teams make the playoffs, but if we do have the playoff system, I don't mind the extra teams getting a chance. The three-game first round is an interesting choice in what is already going to be a very busy year for MLS clubs this year with so many competitions. However, the better team is more likely to win a three game series and will likely combat lower seeds knocking out teams that have performed well all season.
Jozwiak Świderski Vargas
Afful Malanda Tuiloma Bryne
Injuries: Kristijan Kahlina (GK), Guzmán Corujo (D), Adam Armour (D), Vinicius Mello (F)
Prediction: I think Charlotte FC will win 3-1. While I think both Charlotte and New England have made solid improvements, I think Charlotte will pull through at home in front of around 70,000 fans in their first MLS match since the unexpected passing of Anton Walkes.