Major League Soccer Returns Today
Charlotte FC hosts New England in their first regular season match since Anton Walkes passed away; St. Louis City SC kicks off their inaugural season; 29 MLS clubs seek 18 spots in expanded playoff.
Welcome to the first Soccer Sheet of 2023 - a casual soccer fan’s source for football news that goes beyond the pitch. Aside from MLS, there’s an entire world of football out there with major storylines coming to a head over the next couple months.
Major League Soccer
This year, we’ll be following Charlotte FC in a second year clouded by the tragic passing of Anton Walkes, as well as keeping an eye on expansion team St. Louis City SC as they make their first championship run. We’ll also keep you abreast of major news from the rest of the league.
Our first stories of the year, in partnership with sister publication Y’all Weekly:
2023 Preview: Charlotte FC Seeks First Playoff Appearance
Expectations are high for Charlotte this year. After barely missing the playoffs last year, the sophomore club has made significant moves in the off-season.
The biggest trade news was the acquisition of Argentinian Enzo Copetti from Racing Club, one of the “big five” teams of Argentine football. Copetti will take the “designated player” slot vacated by Jordy Alcívar. Copetti and returning designated player Karol Świderski will likely compete for the most goals for the squad.
In no particular order:
Charlotte went undefeated in pre-season play with draws to the LA Galaxy and Vancouver, a win against D.C. United, and wins against minor league clubs Charleston Battery and Birmingham Legion. A scheduled preseason fixture against St. Louis was cancelled due to the passing of Anton Walkes.
The same day as Walkes’ tragic accident, Charlotte FC had planed to announce the details of their MLS Next Pro squad, which will function as the club’s second team. “Crown Legacy FC” was officially announced on January 30.
In the least-surprising news of the off-season, Charlotte renewed the contract for head coach Christian Lattanzio. Soccer Sheet, along with numerous other outlets, reported that Lattanzio would stay.
Soon after the season ended, Charlotte declined the options for Harrison Afful and Christian Fuchs and announced Alan Franco would not return. Later, the club announced Leicester legend Fuchs would join as an assistant coach, and they signed Afful to a new contract.
Charlotte sold Jordy Alcívar for an undisclosed sum. Alcívar scored once for Charlotte FC with an olimpico.
In the MLS expansion draft, Charlotte protected Brandt Bronico, Nathan Byrne, McKinze Gaines, Kamil Jóźwiak, Kristijan Kahlina, Adilson Malanda, Vinicius Mello, Daniel Ríos, Nuno Santos, Karol Świderski, Kerwin Vargas, and Anton Walkes from being drafted by expansion club St. Louis City SC. As we predicted earlier in the year, Andre Shinyashiki was not protected; St. Louis ended up not drafting any Charlotte FC players.
Charlotte sent general allocation money to expansion club St. Louis City SC to obtain the number one pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. Charlotte used that pick to select Hamady Diop, who was on Clemson University’s 2021 championship team with goalkeeper George Marks and midfielder Quinn McNeill.
Speaking of McNeill, his option was declined along with that of Koa Santos. Both players had significant minutes for the Charlotte Independence in 2022.
On Christmas, the team announced the sale of Daniel Ríos to C.D. Guadalajara, who had seven goals for the team in 2022. Four of those goals came in Charlotte’s memorable win against Philadelphia, which kept their playoff hopes alive for the final time.
Ashley Westwood was added at midfield and Bill Tuiloma was added at fullback. The club purchased multiple international roster spots from other MLS teams.
All of these moves give Coach Lattanzio multiple options at both ends of the field, but leave open Charlotte’s biggest weakness: goalkeeping. Kristijan Kahlina is injured, and with another goalkeeper on loan, Charlotte is left with the mostly unproven George Marks and Pablo Sisniega; neither played in more than two MLS matches last year, though Marks got additional time in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Weakness in goal is compounded by the loss of Anton Walkes and the injury to Guzman Corujo. In his first ranking of MLS teams for the 2023 season, MLS analyst Matt Doyle worries how the lost of Walkes will effect Charlotte’s back line, where his partnership with Adilson Malanda was especially effective at the end of the season.
On the other side of the pitch, Charlotte FC has improved at forward and midfield, and Lattanzio has more options to play with. If some of his wingers underperform like they did last year, the club has more options. While Most MLS pundits expect Charlotte to miss the playoffs, finishing between 10th and 13th, I’m optimistic about Charlotte this year because they’re a better team, and they’re playing for Anton.
My Prediction: Charlotte makes the playoffs, 4-7th place in the East, avoiding a play-in game and earning more than 46 points. With greater depth, they’re also able to make a deeper Open Cup run and a respectable showing in the Leagues Cup.
New Players to Watch: Enzo Copetti, Ashley Westwood, Bill Tuiloma
Returning Players to Watch: Karol Świderski, Brandt Bronico, Adilson Malanda
2023 Preview: St. Louis SC Brings Soccer to a Logical Home
The best expansion team in the history of the Five Major Leagues is the Las Vegas Golden Knights, a team that made the playoffs in its first four seasons, and reached the Stanley Cup Finals in its inaugural year as well.
In the Guardian’s 2023 MLS predictions, no one expects St. Louis to make the playoffs - but they sure like the stadium, and the fact St. Louis’ long soccer tradition is finally being honored by a new MLS team. MLSSoccer.com’s pundits are less charitable, with no fewer than a dozen analysts predicting at 13th or 14th place finish in the Western Conference.
The biggest worry for St. Louis is that most of their talent is untested. City’s hopes are pegged on many players from the German Bundesliga, but not every player has competed at the top level. The best known is Swiss goalkeeper Roman Bürki, who previously played for Borussia Dortmund. If St. Louis is as weak as some pundits expect, they’ll need a goalkeeper who can make big saves.
On the other hand, St. Louis drew defending champion Philadelphia in preseason play, also picked up draws against Vancouver and New York City FC, and only lost to Atlanta. St. Louis can only go up and exceed expectations, so why not expect them to?
My Prediction: St. Louis finishes in 9th place, making the playoff play-in match.
Players to Watch: Indiana Vassilev, Edward Lowen, Tim Parker, Roman Bürki
Match of the Week
I’m biased, but it’s Bayern Munich hosting Union Berlin. The teams have traded top of the table honors all year, and drew in an earlier match in Berlin. Whichever team wins controls its own destiny for the rest of the campaign. After a decade-long championship run, Bayern can’t be counted out in Bundesliga play, but since the start of the year they’ve faltered as Union has recovered from a shoddy end to the first half of the season, winning more matches than any other Bundesliga club so far in 2023 and remaining undefeated in both league and European play so far this calendar year.
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