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Reality Check

Saturday was bad. No need to rehash it, really. I don't believe anyone had a good game. A few players simply had a less bad one.

What I do want to touch on, though, are 3 trends that I am seeing with this fanbase.

  1. Alan Franco has no business being on the pitch.

  2. Christian Fuchs should be a CB and not a LB.

  3. We keep giving away games.

I'm going to touch on these in reverse order.

Expectations vs. Reality

First, as I said in my April preview, 3-4 points during this time should have been the goal. We met it, but there still seem to be a very vocal section of fans who are viewing this month as a failure.

I think the disconnect--at least in how I view the games we've played and the way I see a lot of the fanbase react--is between expectations and reality. The big question is: what do you, as a fan, see as a realistic goal for this season? What would make this season a success? For me, the goal has always been to make the playoffs. That's it. If Charlotte do that, they will have exceeded my expectations.

This team can not consistently compete with the best teams in this league. People are not going to want to hear that, but we don't have the depth, experience, or the talent to do so. This isn't surprising; it's an expansion team, after all. We just saw the proof, by the way.

  • 2-0 loss to Philadelphia, East leaders

  • 2-1 loss to Orlando, 3rd in the East

  • 2-1 loss to New England, 9th in the East

Philadelphia controlled their game against us. We were lucky to get a goal versus Orlando. It took a wonder strike by Titi to even get a goal versus New England. I remain hopeful that the addition of Jóźwiak and now Shinyashiki can improve our attack, but it's not a sure thing. Although, honestly, our attack is so bad right now I don't know how they can't help it.

This fanbase needs to remember that not every loss is a disaster. Not every draw is a missed opportunity. Not every win is a trend. I urge fans who feel frustration after our games to remember that this is a process. Be disappointed in the result, but don't let it get you too down.

Christian Fuchs, CB

No. No, he shouldn't be our CB; he should be our LB.

About a month ago I looked at our left back options. The options are worse now with Armour's injury. It's amazing to me to see people actually advocating for Mora to be the left back while also bemoaning the lack of attacking support the position is providing. Joseph Mora is not going to help that; he will make that worse.

I don't think much has changed since I wrote that post and I stick by this statement: the drop-off from Fuchs to Mora is much greater than the drop-off from Fuchs to any of our other center backs. The best starting XI for this team, as currently constructed, does not have Fuchs as a CB; it has him as a left back (this assumes a back four; if we're talking a back 3 with wingbacks, that's a different conversation).

Also, for anyone who wants to place the majority of blame on Fuchs for the first goal--or really anything down that left side all night--just take a look at the actual goal. We have 7 players for their 6. Based on what happens, you wouldn't know it.

Jaylin is getting his lunch eaten by Benji Michel (19 for Orlando), as he did all night. Their CB, Jansson (6), has made a run forward that both Corujo and Bronico are tracking. Makoun has to cover the incoming Kara, forcing Fuchs to come cover Torres. Torres, by the way, is their actual right sided winger, not Ruan, although you wouldn't know it by the way he got up the pitch. Where is Jordy? What is he doing? He's supposed to be the left sided mid in the diamond, yet time and again--whether by his own choice or MAR's instructions--was not giving help on that side. Fuchs was consistently left to deal with Torres and Ruan by himself.

As Michel destroys Jaylin, both Corujo and Bronico come off of the CB in order to "help." This is a lack of communication to me, as it causes a cascading effect. Neither are able to really provide any help and the end result is that Michel has taken out 3 of our defenders. Franco, far from blameless, is just standing in space.

At this point, their CB looks more like a center forward, finding space right in the middle of the box. He gives a great little flick for the oncoming Ruan. You can't really see it in just the still, but when Michel crosses this ball, it's basically Fuchs and Makoun covering 3 players: Kara, Jansson, and Torres.

Look at when Ruan strikes this ball: Makoun has had to step up to #6 and is trying to recover back, while Torres has drifted off of Fuchs. Alcívar is no where to be found. Go and watch this goal. Alcívar just jogged to the top of the box, not tracking anyone. As he's jogging, he's not even looking around. He literally never turns his head because, if he did, he would have seen a wide open and onrushing Ruan. No one covered themselves in glory on this goal, but the issue wasn't just Fuchs and, I would argue, it wasn't even primarily him.

Franco Conundrum

This brings us to Alan Franco. I'm going to get this out of the way: I love the guy. I can't explain why, but from the first game, something about the way he plays connected with me. I won't argue he is faultless, though, and I have no problem with those who have valid critiques of him. The only perfect player in the world is Bukayo Saka. Aside from getting the penalty, Franco was bad this game. I thought Jordy was too, though, and I find it interesting he, along with many others, hasn't gotten as much hate as Franco.

In fact, I would argue that there are a few guys on this team for whom the narrative is taking over, meaning, regardless of what they do the perception of who they are has been basically solidified and will be hard to change. I count Makoun in this group, along with Titi (it's harder to defend Titi after his lack of effort on the 2nd goal) and Gaines. Franco might be the poster child of this group. The fact that so many people seem to be finished with a 23 year old who has already been capped by his country multiple times is amazing to me (again: expectation of what a 23 should be vs. reality).

I'm going to be looking at our midfield in much greater depth later this week, but the question I'm trying to answer is: why does Franco play?

The best comparison I have come up with for Franco is Granit Xhaka, the Swiss international who plays for Arsenal. He's a polarizing player, to say the least. He's captain of Switzerland and he was captain at Arsenal, until he had his captaincy stripped from him. Most Arsenal fans either love him or hate him, with the majority probably tending toward the latter group. He's a player who fans want benched, cut, started, and sold, all at the same time. He will make a ridiculously good pass one minute, then lose his head and make a dumb tackle for a red (he is also judged really harshly by referees due to his reputation).

Yet, Xhaka has survived four managers at Arsenal. Not only that, he has been a nailed on starter for all four. This is true even for the current one, who brought him back after the incident with the fans that got his captaincy stripped. The point is: there is something that all of these professional managers see in Xhaka that they don't just like, but love. He's not just a starter, he's one of the first names on the team sheet consistently. We fans may get annoyed at situations like this, but there is obviously something going on that we don't know (and likely never will).

This brings me back to Franco. He is Charlotte's Xhaka. MAR sees what we see during the games. For a lot of people the option is Bender or Franco (although I would argue it's probably more Alcívar or Bender), so it frustrates them that Franco has started when Bender hasn't. There are only two options for this though: 1) MAR is incompetent or 2) Franco offers something that Bender and other don't, which, in MAR's eyes, is more important. It can't be both.

I think what further frustrates me about this situation is that Franco (and Makoun to an extent) has been singled out for poor play, when others get a pass. I've heard very little from people about how bad Jaylin was last game. It was Benji Michel, not Sadio Mané, Son Heung-min, or Vinícius Júnior, who consistently tore him apart. Not much was said about Alcívar who consistently had poor positioning and bad passes. People continue to talk about Ríos as being vital, but he's yet to contribute to this team in any meaningful way. I mean, he's a striker who doesn't score. Bronico was also very poor last game with multiple giveaways and poor decisions. Yet, none of these players get the same treatment as Franco, namely, the bench-him-now treatment.

My overall point is not that Franco has to start. To me, there are only 3 players who are must-starts: Kahlina, Fuchs (as long as his body holds out), and Świderski. No one else--including Bender and Lindsey--are part of this group. So, the real point I'm trying to make is that we can't simultaneously praise MAR for being a great coach but blame Franco for playing. He doesn't pick himself. Either MAR is a good coach, in which case you have to trust his decisions, or he's a bad coach and should be gone.

(Admittedly, this is an oversimplified way to look at this. One decision does not make a coach good or bad. However, when a coach makes a decision(s) consistently--such as starting Franco--there does come a time when, if you seriously disagree with that decision, you also much assert that he is not doing a good job. We're not at that time yet, but it's coming. If MAR continues to pick Franco and you are someone who continues to disagree with that, which is fine, at some point your argument has to turn from "Franco is terrible" to "Franco is terrible and MAR is doing a bad coaching job.")

What I would like to see more of from fans is support for Franco (and anyone else on the team). I don't see Ríos as a vital member of this squad, but I hope every time he plays that he proves me wrong and I sincerely cheer for him to do well. Franco is a talented, young player that could be a foundational piece for this team for a long time, along with Bender, Alcívar, and Jóźwiak. The oldest of that group is Kamil at 24. That's really exciting!

With the new signing of Kerwin Vargas, this team keeps adding young talent over experience. We have to remember that with this decision will come growing pains. Further, this season should be about those growing pains. I hate to break it to people, but this team is not winning the league. As such, enjoy the ride! Players are not finished products at 20, 21, or even 24. We should have more joy in watching them grow.

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