whatwe'velearned

Interim head coach, Christian Lattanzio has overseen Charlotte FC for five matches now, but in that short time he’s already had to face a fair share of adversity: three away matches, unavailable players, and three opponents who sit above the playoff line.

The Club’s record through these five matches is two wins, two losses, and one draw. It’s far too early to come up with definitive conclusions, but there is certainly enough there to begin dissecting how Lattanzio is influencing this team.

Defensive Stability

Before CLTFC even had a roster, there was always an emphasis on building the spine first, starting from the back to the front. It seems that Lattanzio has taken that same approach in how he’s begun instilling his game model as the first step he took was to improve the defensive stability of the team.

In his head coaching debut for CLTFC, the team faced the New York Red Bulls – the best away team in MLS. It was a tough task, but from the get-go the team looked more organized and compact on defense than what we’ve previously seen. The Crown earned the win and kept a clean sheet against the team that had previously beaten them 3 – 1 in U.S. Open Cup play.

That defensive stability continued to be present throughout the rest of the matches under Lattanzio. Since June 1st, CLTFC have had the best Expected Goals Against (xGA) per game in the league, which means that Charlotte has been the most difficult team to create high-quality scoring opportunities against during this stretch.

What makes this statistic even more impressive is that the team hasn’t been conservative and sat in a low block for entire matches. They haven’t been afraid to press high which proved to be effective against Austin FC and the Houston Dynamo.

Of the five goals that CLTFC have conceded, all but one came from either individual mistakes, poor refereeing decisions, or a wondergoal like the one scored in the Austin FC match.

The shift away from a man-marking system has made the team more compact and therefore helped prevent players from getting dragged out of position. The increased organization has improved the defensive stability of the team but not at the cost of the offense.

Attacking Freedom

For almost the entirety of the season, Charlotte has been ranked in the bottom five teams for number of Expected Goals (xG – a metric that measures the quality of a chance by calculating the likelihood that it will be scored based on several variables).

To put it simply – CLTFC haven’t created many good goal scoring opportunities this season. However, there seems to be a shift in the right direction in Lattanzio’s tenure so far. Against the Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo, the Crown produced 2.3 xG, the highest total this season.

Lattanzio’s tactical preference for inverted fullbacks – when fullbacks pinch inwards and serve as almost additional midfielders – has helped the team get attackers in better positions. It allows the central midfielders to play more advanced and in the half spaces. Charlotte’s wingers have especially been beneficiaries of this change.

Pitch

Charlotte has been particularly threatening down the flanks. With the fullbacks coming inside, CLTFC’s wingers have found themselves in a lot of 1 v 1 scenarios. And they’ve taken these opportunities to be direct and attempt to beat their man. Something that’s been consistent across the entirety of the team.

Under Lattanzio, players have been more willing to take players on and exploit open space. The match against the Dynamo is a perfect example of this when CLTFC did to them what they do to other teams – hit them in transition with lightning counter attacks.

This was a side of Charlotte that we hadn’t seen previously – a team that not only liked to hold possession but was also willing and capable of playing a more direct style that resulted in multiple scoring opportunities.

There is always still room for improvement, but the team is trending upwards on both sides of the ball as illustrated by the rolling xG and xGA visualization below.

Trust in the Squad

"We have a good squad with good players. We rate all of them and everybody has got a role to play in this squad," said Lattanzio. "As long as they work hard and make themselves ready everybody will be given an opportunity. Their job is to work hard and be ready for it.”

Lattanzio has practiced what he has preached. Under him, four players have made their MLS debuts: George Marks, Koa Santos, Quinn Mcneill, and Jan Sobociński. He has trusted fringe players in big moments, a testament to the belief he has in the squad's depth regardless of age or experience.

He substituted in Sobociński – who had never played an MLS match – against the Red Bulls to close out the game in the dying moments. Chris Hegardt was brought in against C.F. Montreal, after being sidelined for months due to injury, to try and chase a tying goal. Quinn McNeill not only made his debut under Lattanzio, but was handed his first start in the "make or break" away match against the Dynamo.

These opportunities partially came about because of necessity but Lattanzio had more veteran options he could have called on but instead opted to give new players a shot. As a player, knowing that you will always be given a shot if you train and perform only serves as extra motivation every week. This helps breed the competitive training environment every club thrives for.

More To Come

Taking over an expansion club midway through their inaugural season is already a daunting task as it is, and Lattanzio wasn't done any favors in his first three games where he missed several key players due to the international window and health and safety protocols. But despite the odds stacked against him, he's helped the team improve in all facets of the game.

So far, he has led the team to their first away win, better xG than opponents in 4 out of 5 matches, and belief within the squad that "the best is 100% yet to happen." So all and all, not too bad of a start to life as interim head coach.