Match Preview

Match Preview: Charlotte FC vs. Columbus Crew


Charlotte FC is back at Bank of America Stadium this weekend fresh off three consecutive away matches. The last time The Crown played at home, they notched a 1-0 home opener victory over New York City FC.

Head Coach Dean Smith’s side will look to keep that home momentum going this Saturday against the defending MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew.

Match: Charlotte FC vs Columbus Crew

When: Saturday, March 23

Where: Bank of America Stadium

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET

Watch: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV – How to Watch & Listen

Listen: WLNK 107.9 FM (English) & WOLS 106.1 FM (Spanish)

For all other radio station affiliates in the Carolinas, click here.

Balancing Attack and Defense

Through four matches of the 2024 MLS regular season, Charlotte FC has been an exceptional defensive team. The team has passed the eye test, looking very solid and rarely troubled by the opposition’s attacks. Goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina often has very little to do.

This eye test is backed up by the numbers test, as well. CLTFC leads the Eastern Conference in Expected Goals Against (xGA) with only 2.9 through four matches. Based on the quality of shots they have allowed, the model projects Charlotte to have only conceded 2.9 goals (they have actually conceded four).

This means that the team is doing an excellent job of limiting both the number and quality of chances for their opponents, a key metric in achieving positive results every week. Over the course of a larger sample size throughout the entire season, expect this xGA number and the actual number of conceded goals to be closely aligned (Lorenzo Insigne’s wonder strike in Toronto is currently skewing the actual number in this small sample size).

However, on the flipside, the team is underperforming their Expected Goals (xG), generating 5.4 worth of xG while actually finishing only three goals. To start turning draws and losses into wins, CLTFC will need to finish more of the chances they are creating.

That xG of 5.4 also puts them in the middle of the pack (seven out of 15) in the Eastern Conference. Committing more numbers forward could create a higher xG value (and so theoretically more goals), but Head Coach Dean Smith will be wary of the impact that may have on his squad’s Eastern Conference-leading xGA number.

Balancing a solid, league-leading defense with attacking emphasis is the conundrum that every coach faces in soccer. Finding the right balance for Charlotte FC will be a problem that Smith will continue solving as his team grows together in this young season.


The Opponent

The Columbus Crew are the defending MLS Cup Champions after a dominant run through the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, capping it off with a victory over LAFC in the MLS Cup Final.

The parity created by roster rules in Major League Soccer means that the previous years’ best teams are not reliably the following years’ best teams. However, in the Columbus Crew’s case, they have carried their 2023 momentum forward into 2024.

Last time out, they dismantled the New York Red Bulls in a 3-0 victory that was not particularly close on the field or on the scoreboard. They have two wins and one draw from their other three matches while also advancing to the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions Cup by overcoming Houston Dynamo FC in the Round of 16.

Striker Cucho Hernandez is their star man and is currently tied for second in the MLS Golden Boot race with three goals through four matches. Only Luis Suarez, Dejan Joveljic, and Giorgos Giakoumakis have more than the Colombian.

Tactically, the Crew typically set up in a 3-5-2, creating width and verticality with aggressive wingbacks and dominating the midfield with veteran Darlington Nagbe and young U.S. national teamer Aidan Morris. However, they will be without Morris due to international duty.

All in all, it is an intriguing and difficult matchup, but Charlotte FC have been up to the task in past years against defending MLS Cup Champions. The team swept NYCFC in their inaugural year and took down LAFC last season.

The Season So Far

Charlotte FC won their first match of the season over NYCFC with a gritty 1-0 win at home. They then faced three consecutive games on the road, securing a 1-1 draw in Vancouver before tight losses to Toronto (1-0) and Nashville (2-1).

Head Coach Dean Smith has been happy with his team’s performances, believing they deserved more points from the three-game road trip as he pointed out a late Insigne wonder goal (in Toronto) and some refereeing decisions that did not go The Crown’s way (in Nashville).

Now, CLTFC is finally back at Bank of America Stadium after an entire month away. The team will match up with the defending MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew, this Saturday before taking on defending Supporter’s Shield Champions, FC Cincinnati, next Saturday.

The Party Is Back | Mar. 23 | 7:30 PM

The Party Is Back | Mar. 23 | 7:30 PM

Join the party for Girls & Women in Sports Night on Saturday, March 23rd including a clear fanny pack giveaway, courtesy of Atrium Health.