Attacking midfield was a clear need for Charlotte FC in the MLS secondary transfer window and club went out and addressed it by signing 23-year-old Portuguese, Nuno Santos, from Benfica. Yes, the same club that developed world-class players like João Felix, Bernardo Silva, and Ángel Di María.
Santos arrives from European soccer royalty, and it’s safe to say he was molded in one of the best academies in the world. The Portuguese midfielder is a seasoned professional, making 128 appearances between the Portuguese first and second divisions.
Portuguese players are renowned for their maturity and discipline even at young ages and Santos is no different. European Sporting Directors and scouts raved about Santos’s character, including CLTFC’s very own MLS Next Pro head coach, José Tavares, who is all too familiar with his fellow countryman.
On the pitch, Santos brings a unique skillset that hasn’t really been seen at CLTFC. He stands at 5’10 but is much nimbler than one would expect of someone of his stature. His close control of the ball combined with his flair and composure helps him excel in tight spaces and under pressure.
“Nuno has a great functional technique and combines this with good orientation and awareness. He likes to play behind the ball and is a good passer, but he is also good at finding solutions in situations higher up the field,” said Director of Scouting Thomas Schaling. “He has good close control, uses both of his feet, and he has a good kicking ability, both in the run of play and on set pieces.”
That good awareness is what allows Santos to be so good at picking a pass. He’s always cognizant of where his teammates are and has the vision and quality to distribute the ball in whatever way is necessary. Having someone who can help progress play is what CLTFC needed and what Santos can provide.
Physically speaking Santos is lean, but he has good strength on the ball and is deceptively fast. He’s more of diesel as in that it takes him a while to hit top speed but when he does, he moves well . This is especially apparent when he’s running in transition on both the offensive and defensive sides.
“His defending is tactically aware and educated. In transitions especially, his tracking back is already quite good. He has good continuity to his game and he is disciplined enough to realize when he needs to get behind the ball quickly.”
Signing a highly touted Portuguese youth international without using the available Young Designated Player slot is significant for the league, the Club, and the future of the Club. On one end, it’s a sign of the league’s growth and on the other is a testament to the exciting project that is Charlotte FC.
“I think it’s a good sign for the league in general, but purely looking at our own club we are definitely noticing that a lot of talented young players are interested in coming to Charlotte FC. In this global game, sometimes it only takes a couple of examples of players making a name for themselves with your club before you start to see the positive developments that comes with that. I think we're hitting new ground in the sense that young players from different types of markets are open to coming to our club,” said Schaling.
Not having used the valuable Designated Player and U-22 Initiative slots allows for flexibility to continue upgrading the roster heading into year two. Nevertheless, the Crown still have everything to play for this season and Santos could play a critical role in the final stretch of the season.