Charlotte has a midfield problem. I wrote too long of a post back at the beginning of May about the issues in the midfield and I don't think they've been solved. If anything, the midfield situation has gotten worse. This post will lack numbers and is mostly my thoughts on the state of things.
I do want to quickly say that the biggest thing I got wrong in that post was Bronico. I was too harsh (and just plain wrong) about how good he's been for the team. With that said, I don't think he's had the best games recently, but that is probably due more to those around him than himself.
The state of Charlotte's midfield is a mess. First was the departure of Alan Franco, which many saw as a direct result of the dismissal of MAR. No idea if this is true or not, but my feelings about Franco were always well known: I loved the guy. Now, Titi is gone.
I was never a massive fan of Titi and, in a vacuum, I don't think his departure is all that meaningful. We're not in a vacuum, though; we have real depth issues in the midfield right now and his departure hurts. Currently, our central midfield options include, in no particular order:
First, that's not a ton of options. Second, aside from Bronico, none of these other players have shown anything close to consistency. Bender has a huge fanbase and he's talented, but he's not ready to be a starting 8 or 10 in this league. Ruiz was our first signing and has shown flashes, but to often he's either dominating a game or nonexistent. McNeill came in solidly and added some stability, but the last 3 halves of soccer have shown him to be a young player who isn't able to be a starter right now. Jones just hasn't really gotten any run because, in my opinion, he plays in the same role as Bronico, but doesn't do it as well. I will say I wouldn't mind seeing him more, but that would mean either Bronico sitting (no) or Bronico being pushed a bit higher up the pitch (not sure if this is for the best). Finally, Alcívar has really fallen out of favor, which is a bit disappointing because I think he possesses a lot of talent.
In fact, I think the biggest problem with Alcívar is how he's been used. He is not an attacking midfielder. Ideally, I would have Alcívar as part of a double pivot with Bronico, wherein Bronico takes the defensive duties and Alcívar is allowed to drift, find spaces, link play with the attack, and make passes from deep. Neither MAR nor Lattanzio has shown the inclination to implement a double pivot, though, which leaves issues with Alcívar.
Let's also talk about the issue of Bender and Alcívar's vaccination status. Look, I haven't seen anything that definitively says they are unvaccinated for COVID, but I have to assume that is the reason for their absence from the Toronto game. I'll be clear here: I'm pro-science and pro-vaccines. They are safe, effective, and absolutely necessary for the health and well-being of society. Even if we ignore these rational, commonsense, and simple points, to not be vaccinated and thus make yourself unavailable to help your team for multiple games is inexcusable. This is not a logical "hill to die on" and is selfish. They should both get the vaccine immediately. If either one chooses not to, I would seriously question their commitment and dedication to the team (if their vaccination status is not the reason for their absences, then ignore this rant).
Next, let's talk about the experiment with Jóźwiak at CAM. I'm probably in the minority in thinking he didn't have a terrible game (well, everyone had a terrible game, so I'm adjusting the scale). Listen, no one was effective in this game, so it's difficult to make any real judgments. Combine this with his injury that totally wasn't a foul (sarcasm) and we may not see him in that position again (I'm still hopeful the injury is minor, but I wonder if Lattanzio will put him at CAM again). I, for one, would be for it. I think he could do the job there. WIth that said, I don't know that that position is the best way to utilize him. I personally would still advocate for a front 3 of Shinyashinki-Świderski-Jóźwiak.
People have been lauding Reyna's goals and shots recently, and rightly so. However, aside from that, he's not been good. Over his past two games, he's had completion percentages of 42.9% (9/21 passes) and 61.4% (27/44 passes). On top of that, he doesn't really do anything defensively: 0 tackles over the past 2 games and 1/7 successful pressures over the past 2 games. For reference, Jóźwiak was at 2 tackles last game and 2/11 pressures just last game (yes, he's not winning them, but at least he's trying!). Reyna had two wonderful goals against Miami, but his overall game does not help this team.
So where does that leave us? In desperate need of two midfielders. Everyone wants the last DP spot to be taken by a CAM, and I'm not against that, but I would personally prefer a more central midfielder. Give me a guy in the mold of Mark-Anthony Kaye who we just saw with Toronto. I want someone who can go box to box, help out with defense, progress the ball in the midfield, and help in the attack. CAM is flashier, but with Jóźwiak, Shinyashinki, Świderski, Vargas, Gaines, and Bender, I actually think we have options for filling out the attack. None of those guys, with the exception of Bender, are really CAMs, but I think Jóźwiak or even Shinyashinki could do it. I've also toyed around with the idea in my head of Świderski as a 10 or second striker behind Andre.
My biggest concern is that the front office has shown no urgency in adding talent to the midfield. I'm not convinced we're going to add one player, let alone two. This also ignores issues we have at left-back and center half. With Fuchs' suspension, we're about to see how well this team copes with Mora as a primary left-back. Spoiler alert: I don't think it will go well.
The playoffs are slowly slipping away. I'm not in complete pessimist mode right now about it, but it's danger zone time. It's looking like we need 9 points out of these 3 games to have any real hope about the playoffs. The way this team is currently constructed, I'm not sure that happens. The worst part is, even if the front office does make moves, these 3 games come in the space of a week, which gives no time for any new addition(s) to acclimate to the club, if he even can get into the country in that timeframe. If it's a foreign player, visa acquisition will probably preclude their involvement in any of these games.
Finally, I try to remind myself that this is an expansion club in its first year. While we are all hoping for the playoffs, if we don't make them, that's not necessarily a failure (it is a disappointment). What the Toronto game really showed was a lack of talent in this club. People wonder why we are so bad on the road, and there's a multitude of reasons, but I think one (largely unquantifiable) reason is a simple lack of talent. Road games are hard to win and the teams who win on the road are usually the best, most talented ones. Obvious to say, but true nonetheless. The lack of overall squad talent with an expansion side, again, isn't surprising.
Therefore, to (begrudgingly) defend the front office on one point, they do have a bit of a tricky issue, namely, how to add talent to the squad for a playoff push, while simultaneously building a squad for the long-term. It's not an inconsequential task. They should absolutely be looking to sign multiple players, but these shouldn't be panic buys. We don't want to handicap ourselves in the coming years with expensive, old, and/or poor players just to say we "did something." At the same time, this front office has had loads of time to prepare for this first season and should have a list of targets. Either they don't have this or aren't moving aggressively enough to get them. In either case, it's unacceptable.
Editor's note: these were just some mostly off-the-cuff thoughts as a result of the frustration of the last two games. Be on the lookout for an upcoming piece from StillnessSpeed where he takes a more in-depth look at the state of the midfield and some of its issues.