Charlotte FC has an opportunity to pick up their first road win tonight. Can they do it?
Coach Lattanzio recommends patience with 16 matches left in the campaign.
Last weekend, Charlotte FC came home from a 2-0 loss in Montréal halfway through their first campaign in MLS. While the loss was in many ways out of Charlotte’s control – most of Charlotte’s key starters stayed home due to COVID-19 exposure – it was a disappointing end to the first 17 matches. Charlotte was now out of the top 7 in the Eastern Conference, with a 6-9-2 record and 20 points (3 points for wins, 1 for draws, none for losses). Interim head coach Christian Lattanzio’s record with the team was now an even 1-1-1.
Due to Charlotte’s impressive record at home – 6 wins, 2 losses, no draws – they were still clearly in the playoff hunt. The team’s mission was clear – continue to rack up wins at Bank of America Stadium and break the winless streak on the road. Their first challenge of the second half of the season was a home game, facing an injured Austin FC at the Bank.
Charlotte’s roster was (mostly) back at full strength, and on paper they dominated Austin FC for most of the match, leading in possession, shots, and passing. However, an impregnable Austin defense, a lucky Austin shot off the crossbar, an uncalled hand ball that should have been a red card for Austin, and a lack of intensity in Charlotte’s second half play all conspired to give Austin a 0-1 win.
Charlotte couldn’t maintain their home field reputation on Thursday, but tonight’s match against Houston Dynamo gives them an opportunity to break their 9-match winless streak on the road. Houston (6-8-3, 21 points) sits in 9th place on the Western Conference table. In a Saturday press conference, coach Lattanzio revealed that COVID-19 protocols had expired for every member of the team who missed the matches against CF Montréal and Austin FC, including McKinse Gaines, bringing the team back to full strength.
At the pre-match day press conference, Lattanzio compared the team’s challenge tonight to the last match against Austin: “We have to try and be as good as we were here [in Charlotte against Austin] at least in terms of stopping [them], I thought that we limited them, especially in the second half, to the main weapons that they have. Although the result was not what we would have liked, we felt the game was within reach.”
Lattanzio also recommended patience, in spite of the urgency of Charlotte’s challenge: “I have not been in this position as head coach for long so we are still getting to know certain principles of play [that are] a little bit different to what the boys have been used to, so that may take a little bit of time.”
The coach had similar observations when it came to Charlotte’s front three. On Thursday, wingers Andre Shinyashiki and Kamil Jóźwiak started with striker Karol Świderski for the first time as a front three, and it was only the second time the three started a match together (the first time was during Charlotte’s May 22 win against Vancouver, under then-coach Miguel Ángel Ramírez).
The match had to be frustrating for the starting forwards as Shinyashiki saw his shots blocked, Jóźwiak’s crosses kept landing in the hands of Austin’s goalkeeper, and Świderski rarely saw the ball. According to MLS’s postgame passing analysis, none of Charlotte’s crosses were successful, and fewer than five passes successfully made it to Świderski.
“There are no secrets about that, they need to play more together,” said Lattanzio. “To get the best out of them is to get to know each other more and more … up front we could have done better with crossing and attacking the box, but this is something that will become better and better with time.”
Charlotte plays Houston Dynamo at 7:30 CDT/8:30 EDT tonight at PNC Stadium in Houston, TX. The game is available on ESPN+.