A Bad (Left) Back
After 6 games, there are 2 positions that give me real cause for concern with this team: winger/wide midfielder and left back. I'm a little less concerned about the winger/wide midfielder situation because we should have Jóźwiak soon and Mello will hopefully come at some point (although there has apparently been a setback). Additionally, there are veterans in Reyna and Ortíz who can play wide, although, yes, there are some questions about their form and effectiveness already. I still have hope they can be contributors.
What really has me worried, though, is Charlotte's left back situation and how it has impacted our attacking ability. In an ideal world, I think both fans and the manager want a back four, yet, I'm not sure any of our options are great, at least in terms of helping the attack. To my eyes, there are 3 choices for that position. I honestly only think 2 of them should be considered realistic options. The three options are: Christian Fuchs, Joseph Mora, and Adam Armour.
Let's start with the captain, Fuchs.
At 35, there is some wear on the tires. At his best, Fuchs was a strong defensive presence and good passer, but with age some of that ability has worn away (as you would expect). I actually think he's been solid for Charlotte FC so far, but there are concerns.
First and foremost among my concerns is his lack of pace. Forwards have had success getting past him on the left. Second, I do think he wears down a bit late in the game. As the heatmaps show, he is not getting forward quite as much as he used to, which is probably related to age. And that leads to my next point: I think it's important to understand where he is coming from in his career and where is currently is.
Fuchs was last a nailed on starter back in 2016/17 for Leicester, when he started 35 of their league games and all 9 of their Champions League games. In 2017/18, he played a good amount, starting 21 and having 25 total appearances. Since that year, though, Fuchs has only played in 28 total matches (22 starts and 6 substitutions) over 3 seasons.
I think there are two ways to look at this, each on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Optimistically, one might say that he is still be working off some rust. He only played in 9 total games for Leicester in 2020/21 and we're only 6 games into this season. Factor in a new league and it's not inconceivable that he is working himself back into form.
Pessimistically, one might say there is a reason that he wasn't playing a lot. At least according to transfermarkt, Fuchs' lack of playing time was not the result of injury; he just wasn't being chosen There's always a natural decline in players and that may be what we are seeing now.
As with most things, the real answer is probably somewhere in the middle. I, as an acknowledged moderate pessimist, probably think it leans closer to age-related decline, especially when you consider the athleticism and physicality of the Premier League. MLS is certainly not as competitive a league as the Premier League is, but it is a league with a lot of athletic players and the play can be wide open at times. For a 35 year old, this can cause issues.
It's not all bad and I've not given up on the idea of him being a real positive for this team. Fuchs is still showing good signs, especially with his defensive numbers. It should be noted that these are skewed slightly due to his split time at fullback and center back. He's making 2.2 interceptions/90, 3 clearances/90, and 1.4 tackles/90. His passing could be brought up a bit, as it only sits at 78.15% on the season, but it's still early. His football IQ still makes him an effective defender who is able to sniff out danger.
The big issue when discussing Fuchs is how much can and should he play? At 35, he's not going to be able to play a full 90 every game for a full season, especially at fullback. I think he's been decent as a CB, but, honestly, I prefer him in that position only in a back 3 or if we have some injury issues. I'm a believer in Makoun and Corujo (and maybe even Walkes, who was bad last week, but it was his first start back from injury).
To add more context and to look further at the heatmaps, what we see is a player who used to get up and down the field a lot (2015-17) and was able to really add to the attack. Now we have a player who is much more defensive and less able to get forward (again, some of this is due to playing CB). Depending on how you set up your team, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, with Charlotte's overall struggles in the attacking third, it is.
On the opposite side of the pitch, I don't think Lindsey has been great going forward, but he is very young and still learning. I'm not surprised at his struggles. Charlotte need at least one of their fullbacks to be a real contributor to the attack and I think they were hoping it could be Fuchs. So far, I don't think that has happened.
The next option is Joseph Mora and, oh boy, is he a frustrating player.
I'm just not seeing it with him. To my eye, his first touch is bad, his passing is subpar (70% on the year; career average of 72.2%), and he doesn't contribute anything to the attack. In fact, he has 2 career assists in MLS, one in 2018 and one in 2019. He's never scored a goal in MLS
He's played a good amount, too, over his career:
28 starts and 2 sub appearances in 2018
18 starts and 2 sub appearances in 2019 (he also had a fractured jaw at the end of the 2019 season which caused him to miss 13 games, so this total would probably have been higher)
19 starts and 2 sub appearances in 2020
16 starts and 10 sub appearances in 2021
For someone averaging over 20 appearances a year, there's just nothing to show for it (in terms of goals and assists).
Defensively, Mora is pretty good, which is probably why he keeps getting into teams. For his career, he averages 2 tackles/90, 1.1 interceptions/90, and 2.1 clearances/90. He's strong when opponents try to take him on, as he's got a 67.86% ground duel success percentage this year. Additionally, he's good in the air for a fullback, too, as he winning 70% of his aerials so far.
As his heatmaps show, he is also able to get up and down the pitch a lot. He just doesn't really do anything in the opponent's half. He clearly has the energy to be a presence both defensively and offensively and, defensively, he turns that presence into a real contribution; offensively, not so much (even though he does put himself in good positions).
At 29 years of age, there's no projection left on him. He is who he is: a strong defense fullback who will give you absolutely nothing in terms of assists or goals.
This can be a useful player! I'm not advocating for him to be cut tomorrow, but, is he a starter? I'm definitely saying no to that, at least with the current set up of this team.
Finally, we have Adam Armour. Already a crowd favorite because he scored the inaugural goal for the club, many are clamoring for him to get a start.
It is important to note, though, that Armour is only 19. He had one season at the USL level (2021), where he played in 19 total matches, starting 10. He had 4 assists and no goals. His defensive numbers leave something to be desired, as he only averaged 0.7 interceptions/90, 1.0 tackles won/90, and 0.6 clearances/90. He wasn't dribbled past very often though (0.3/90). None of this is surprising for an 18 year old defender.
This is also, though, the context we have to keep in mind when we advocate for him to play. Again, he is a 19 year old defender. He is by no means a finished product, either offensively or defensively. He is going to make mistakes, and probably a lot of them.
I understand why people are calling for him to play, though. Potential and the idea of the unknown will always be appealing. Additionally, the numbers in the USL aren't crazy, but 4 assists in 19 games isn't bad, especially for an 18 year old. As his heatmap shows, he gets up the field and contributes to the attacking play (well, the 2021 heatmap shows this. Obviously he hasn't really played this year, so his 2022 one was put in just for fun). The left side isn't really dangerous for Charlotte right now and he could probably add something to it immediately, in an attacking sense.
But--and I'm going to keep saying it--he's 19. Charlotte already start a 22 year old at right back. Corujo is only 25 and Makoun is 22. Do you really want to start a backline with an average age of 22? That's a recipe for disaster. Even if you put Fuchs into a center back role, you're still starting a backline with an average age of 25 (with Corujo) or 24.5 (with Makoun). That's just too young. Realistically, if you're going to play Armour, I think you have to play a back 3 and he would be a wingback. By doing this though, you are now removing a midfielder or forward. I'm not sure that's the correct option for a team that is struggling to score.
So where does that leave us? Well, we have 3 options, all of which are flawed.
I don't think the left sided attacking issue gets fixed with just a different left back. The first step is the inclusion of Jóźwiak in the team. I think regardless of who starts at LB, Charlotte shouldn't expect a lot of attacking help from the position. We will probably need to rely on Jóźwiak and a midfielder (e.g., Bender) to provide width and overlaps. With a true winger, whoever the left back is should have more space to operate in and pass into, so there should be more contribution; I'm just not sure how much to expect.
My personal preference, and I think most realistic option, would be to play Fuchs at left back the majority of the time. My ideal scenario would be about 60-70 minutes per game. Let him run his legs off then put in Mora if we're up or tied and need defensively stability or Armour is we're chasing the game. When Fuchs needs a rest, as much as I don't really want this to be the case, I think Mora probably starts. I just don't see Armour as a starting option right now.
I will also say that even though I would advocate for Armour when we're chasing the game, I don't know how realistic this would be. I'm not sure MAR is going to make that same decision. Additionally, I don't know if I expect to actually see Fuchs subbed off much.
If this were a team full of established veterans, I think you could more easily make a case for Armour's inclusion, as a veteran team would be able to "look after him." As it is, though, this is an incredibly young team. Aside from Fuchs and Afful, every other starter or player to get minutes is in their 20s. The midfield is full of young players in Bender (21), Alcívar (22), and Franco (23), who are also all new to the league (and in Bender's case, new to professional soccer). Bronico (26) and Ruiz (27) are the "elder" statesmen of the group. The average age of this squad is 26.5, almost a full year younger than their opponents' average age of 27.4. If you take out Fuchs (35) and Afful (35), the average age of this team is 24 years old. It's expected that Jóźwiak will be a starter, but he's young too at only 23 (almost 24) years old. He's not adding huge amounts of experience to this side.
If this team has serious aspirations about competing for a playoff spot--and they should--I don't think Armour is a realistic option as a starter. He's just too lacking in experience. This isn't FIFA and 19 year olds rarely get significant PT at this level. I'm not saying he shouldn't get some playing time, but I don't anticipate it to be a huge amount.
More importantly, at this moment, I don't know what he's done to earn the playing time. He looks talented, for sure, but there must also be a reason he hasn't forced his way into the lineup. MAR sees more of him than we do. MAR also sees what we have with Fuchs and Mora. If Armour was the better option right now, there would be no reason not to play him. It's not like MAR has shown an unwillingness to play young players; he's shown the opposite (see: Bender). I have to believe Armour hasn't proven himself to the manager quite yet, which, again, isn't surprising for a 19 year old.
In the end, I think we will have to--and should--count on Fuchs and MAR's tactics. Let's hope our faith is rewarded.