Charlotte FC’s first 2024 preseason press conference kicked off with a familiar smiling face. Captain and midfielder Ashley Westwood addressed the media to discuss the early days of Charlotte’s swiftly approaching third season.
Players always enter preseason with a renewed desire and energy, a sentiment further heightened by the introduction of a new coach. There's a palpable hunger in the camp as the players seek to impress the newly appointed head coach, Dean Smith. The first three days have been demanding, focusing on getting everyone back into optimal shape.
“It’s been tough; we've got the afternoon to rest now, which is welcomed, I’m feeling it,” said Westwood after a rigorous morning training session. “But it’s been good. The lads have come back in good shape. We did a lot of football this morning, which was tough and intense.
“Of course, everyone wants to impress the new manager, so with that comes a lot more intensity, but we need to sustain it. This will be where we come together as a team.”
Though it's only been a few days, Smith has already made a strong impression on both young and seasoned players with his football knowledge and ability to teach even veterans new aspects of the game. From recently drafted players to Premier League stalwarts like Westwood, Smith has managed to impart something new to everyone present.
“He [Smith] did a presentation the other night, which was incredible. Even us old lads were taken aback by it.”
The wealth of experience that Smith brings to the team as a former Premier League coach is quickly apparent, something Westwood believes will greatly benefit the club.
“He comes with a lot of experience... I’m really excited to have him; we’re lucky to have him. I know a lot of clubs back in England were desperate to take him, but thankfully, he chose Charlotte. He sees it as a big challenge. Even at this stage of his career, he’s come out here to test himself, and he wants to do well, so it’s only good for the football club.”
Smith and his staff have fostered a warm and inclusive environment not just for players but for all the club’s staff present at preseason. This atmosphere is particularly helpful as the team trains in Miami, where the tragic passing of Anton Walkes occurred exactly a year ago on Friday.
“He’s always with us everywhere we go, but it was tough... the whole build up to it because we knew we were coming back here. It's tough, it’s tough. We’ll do our little bit on Friday for him. We've got a little in-house thing that we're going to do as a team to pay our respects.”
The team continues to “carry him everywhere” as they commence preparations for the upcoming season.
While the Club and players have long-term goals for the season, the current priority is being prepared for February 24th, Charlotte’s season opener against New York City FC at Bank of America Stadium.
“We want everyone fit and healthy. That's the most important thing: to be fit, healthy and ready to start the season, and we know we'll be working up to it. We've got loads of time left, but we're working hard. We want everyone to know what we're doing and work with the manager's outline and his philosophy straightaway... and we need everyone to buy into it.
“Everyone's interacting, and so come the end of preseason, at the start of the season, everyone should know their responsibilities within the team and what the manager wants.”