Heading into the MLS 2023 season center back was not a position of concern for Charlotte FC. Even with Guzmán Corujo still recovering from an ACL tear, the Club still had Adilson Malanda, Anton Walkes, Jan Sobociński, and even number one SuperDraft pick Hamady Diop.
Walkes and Malanda proved to be a stellar pairing at the end of the 2022 season and there was no reason not to think they would pick up right where they left off. Then the unthinkable happened. Anton Walkes shockingly passed away and it changed everything.
Suddenly, the team lost not just a center back but a leader and most importantly a friend – how does one replace that? You don’t, it’s impossible, but through tragedy the team has found deeper meaning and motivation for the upcoming season.
“The legacy of Anton, in a sporting way, is in our hands,” said head coach Christian Lattanzio a week after Walkes’s passing. “It's up to us, it's our responsibility. We want to come back stronger than before because we have Anton with us.”
Still, as difficult as it was to acknowledge CLTFC was short a center back.
On February 16th Charlotte FC announced the signing of defender Bill Tuiloma from the Portland Timbers. The New Zealander checked multiple boxes that the scouting department was looking for in a defender.
“Bill adds a lot of what we were looking for in a center-back," said Director of Scouting Thomas Schaling. "He knows the league, is a fierce competitor, has veteran presence, is versatile and is a good personality to add to our locker room.”
New Zealand as a country is renowned for rugby, a game that requires incredible toughness and tenacity. Two traits that Tuiloma is known for by those who are familiar with his game. He's as tough and determined as they come which was one of the many reasons he was a fan favorite in Portland.
His passionate personality on the pitch is juxtaposed by his laid-back and kind nature off the pitch that is signature to Polynesian culture. A personality like this makes it easy to fit into a locker room because those around him know he will give his all on the pitch while still not being afraid to crack a joke or two in training.
Tuiloma is no stranger to MLS either as he’s accumulated 112 appearances in his time at Portland and is just entering him prime at 27-years-old. Charlotte will be the first team outside of Portland that he plays for in MLS but he’s coming into a side that plays a system suited to his strengths.
As a versatile defender Tuiloma can play across the entire defensive line. Even though he is naturally right footed, he’s comfortable using his left foot allowing him to be deployed as a left center back, fullback, and even defensive midfield. Being able to play across multiple positions also requires good understanding of the game which Tuiloma possesses.
The Kiwi positions himself well and when the time is right, he’s aggressive to close down space and make a crunching tackle. At first glance, Tuiloma may come across as rigid old-school defender but he's more than just a brute.
He effects the game on both sides of the ball so much so that he led all MLS center backs the Goals Added (g+) metric in 2022. The metric calculates how much each touch changes their team’s chances of scoring and conceding providing a way to measure a player’s on-ball contribution in attack and defense.
His effect on the offensive side of the game is blatantly apparent in the number of goals he directly contributed to in 2022. He scored six goals and assisted three more which for an absurd amount for a central defender. Whether it’s through overpowering his opponent to reach a header off a corner or hitting a direct kick that curves around the keeper, Tuiloma is an all-around goal-scoring threat.
“Bill is a mature player that knows his own strengths and weaknesses," describes Schaling. "He wants to defend aggressively and proactively. He is physically strong, can hold his own well in man to man duels and he is good in the air. He will also add a lot to the team on set pieces.”
As a bonus, Tuiloma holds a green card, so he won’t take up an international slot. In addition, he has a decent understanding of French from his time playing at Marseille in the first division of France which will be beneficial for communicating with fellow center back Malanda.
It’s clear to see why CLTFC’s technical department were so keen to bring Tuiloma to Charlotte. He fits the team in multitude of different ways which include his versatile player profile, experience, personality, and leadership qualities. Tuiloma will be an uplifting presence in the locker room and stalwart on the pitch that will inspire those around him with his fighting spirit.