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The Greenville Preview

Today offers an interesting opportunity for Charlotte. Playing the Greenville Triumph of USL League One, Charlotte are finally the expected favorites in a game. With that comes a dilemma: do you play a strong team or a rotated one?


In a game such as this, a victory is expected. If you play a strong squad and you win, you should have rotated. If you play a young squad or a squad of bench players and lose, you should have played a stronger squad. What fans want is a young/rotated squad and a win. Oh, also, fans want that win to be like 5-0. This is often easier said than done.


For me personally, I definitely view cup games as a way for teams to rest some players while also getting unused/young players time. However, there must be a balance to this decision. In any sport, teams often look very different from who they were game one to who they are, say, 25% of the way through the season. A big part of that, especially in a sport like soccer, is chemistry.


I'm not a fan of the idea of momentum--you can't quantify that and usually it's just a placeholder for a combination of confidence and luck. Chemistry is similarly an unquantifiable aspect of a team, but I believe in it. Hypocritical? I don't think so. I think the difference lies in the fact that you can see clear progression in team chemistry. Momentum comes and goes, and no one can really explain why. Chemistry clearly builds in a team the more those players work together. In a game like soccer, good teams just know where their teammates will be. For example, Jordan Henderson doesn't have to look for Mohamed Salah making a middle channel run--he knows he will. Misplaced passes in the beginning of the year slowly disappear as players realize what kinds of passes and runs their teammates like to make. Chemistry comes about through experience and playtime, both at an individual level and a team level.


This brings us to the question of how does Charlotte approach this match. Advocating for us to play our same starting XI from the New England game would be silly. However, I am of the opinion that this should not be a fully rotated squad. I have 3 main opinions about squad complexion for this game:

  1. 4 players must start: Ortiz, Ruiz, Armour, and Walkes. All 4 of these players need time and could become major rotational pieces, or even starters, for us this year.

  2. I would start Świderski, one of Bronico or Franco, and 1-2 of our regular defenders for about 60 minutes. There are a couple of different reasons for this, depending on player. For Świderski, it's about getting him rolling. He hasn't actually scored in a few games now and, due to opponent gameplans/focus, has been relegated to more of a facilitator role. Strikers often operate off of confidence and this might be a great time to get him a goal or two, then some rest. For Bronico/Franco and the defenders, it is about team structure. There is a reason these players have been starting. Having an entire new backline or midfield composed of players with little playtime so far this year would worry me. All it takes is a few misplaced passes or touches due to rust to gift a lower division side a goal and set up an upset.

  3. If health is not a concern--and it still could be--Jóźwiak should start.

Aside from these points, I don't really have an opinion on who else needs to play or what the formation should be. I would like for Gaines, Reyna, and Jones to get some time, as well, but I won't be upset if one didn't.

 

We shouldn't' fully dismiss our opponent either. Yes, Greenville is a team that is playing in the third tier of US soccer, however, they play really well in that division. Last year they finished second in their league. In 2020, they finished top of the table. This is a good team. Additionally, this is what you are greeted with when you visit their homepage:

This is understandably a HUGE game for their club. While I know Charlotte fans are excited for this game, I think it's safe to say it does mean more to Greenville. I want to be clear about this statement: it is not meant as a knock or dig against Greenville. It's just the reality. Regardless of league, when a lower division team has the opportunity to play a top division club, that team will view the game differently than the top division club. This is a huge stage for both the club and players.

 

I tried to get as much information as I could about Greenville, but it was tough. Some things (e.g., xG) are missing for them. If there is n/a, that means I could not find that information for Greenville.

Team

Total Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (Standings Place)

WhoScored (SofaScore) Team Rating

Charlotte FC

52.4%

10.8

4.6

8 (7.2)

11 (12.7)

9 points (8th in Eastern Conference)

6.53 (6.80)

Greenville Triump

47.0%

11.0

3.5

1 (0.92)*

1 (2.43)

1 point (10 the in USL League One)

n/a (6.58)

This is a lower division side who arelady cedes some possession in their league. Charlotte's possession has actually been steadily rising in MLS, so I fully expect them to have at least 65% of the ball this game. Against an MLS club, Greenville shouldn't be able to get off as many shots per game as they normally do, so they will have to make them count when get their opportunities. Of course, as has been the case all year, Charlotte struggles to get off shots themselves. If they struggle to do so this game, we should all be worried.


*Edit: Shout out to @schimax for reminding me that American Soccer Analysis has lower level information. Added in xG and xGA for Greenville. Probably could've found some other useful analytical information from them, but unfortunately don't have the time to update anything else.

 
Greenville lineup vs. Central Valley Fuego, 4/2, via google
Greenville lineup vs. Central Valley Fuego, 4/2, via google

Greenville have played 2 league matches so far this year, resulting in a loss and a draw. This puts them in an unfamiliar position in their league: the bottom. Their only win so far on the year came in the U.S. Open where they beat the Oakland Roots 2-0. It's important to note that Oakland is a second division team (USL Championship). Greenville has already punched above its weight in this competition.


I want to note that below I will be making some assumptions. As I said, I tried my best to find statistics and player position information, but the data is lacking. This is my best attempt to piece the information together. I also want to note that FBref only really aggregated stats for the league and not for any cup matches. As such, I tried to get accurate goal/assist/other stat numbers, but I may have missed one or two.

Greenville lineup vs. Oakland Roots, 4/7, via google
Greenville lineup vs. Oakland Roots, 4/7, via google

It looks like Greenville likes to play a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Regardless of actual formation, it looks like there's one striker at the top.


Injury Report

Greenville will have 3, probably, 4 players unavailable for them today. Defenders Noah Franke and Jamie Smith are both already ruled out with an elbow and ankle injury, respectively. Midfielder Noah Pilato is out with an ankle injury and midfielder Lucas Coutinho is doubtful with a leg injury. Neither Pilato nor Franke have featured in a game this year. Smith and Coutinho have both played in two. It looks like Coutinho was injured in the Oakland game (judging by his substitution off and subsequent game absence). It's unclear to me whether Smith was injured during the Oakland match too, but was able to complete it, or wether he was injured in training between that match and their second league game. Either way he is unavailable.

Greenville lineup vs. North Carolina FC, 4/16, via google
Greenville lineup vs. North Carolina FC, 4/16, via google

Attack

There is some discrepancy between FBref and Greenville's website on some players, as far as position goes. I will be putting players into these categories based on a mixture of Greenville's website, FBref's player designation, and Google's results of formation.


In attack, Jake Keegan seems to be their main striker. He's started all 3 matches for them on the year. It's his 3rd year with the team and he has 11 goals and 4 assists in 40 appearances. He does have one goal so far this campaign, having scored in their match against Oakland.


Venton Evans is listed as a midfielder on Greenville's site, but as a forward on FBref. Google has him starting as a winger in the two league games in a 4-3-3 and as a wider midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. Regardless, it appears Evans is a wide, attack-minded player. He has 1 goal so far on the year. He had 4 goals and 2 assists in 21 appearances last year for Fort Lauderdale, also of USL League One. Evans is actually pretty good in the air, according to Greenville's stats. He's been in 7 aerial duels on the year, winning 6 of them. For context, Keegan, their striker, is 1/5. Back post crosses might be something our fullbacks need to be aware of.


Jesus Ibarra is another player who is listed as a midfielder on Greenville's site, but a forward on FBref. To me it looks like he can either play as a wide midfielder or winger. Ibarra seems to be lacking end product. He's played in 23 games for Greenville, including 11 starts. He has only found the back of the net once and chipped in one assist, both last year.


Nico Brown has started one game for Greenville in the league as a winger. He's an inexperienced player having only 9 appearances for the club over two years with just one goal (last year).


Jacob Labovitz has also gotten into two games for them. Labovitz is a first year professional, having graduated from Virginia Tech. He had 23 goals in 51 appearances for Virginia Tech after transferring from Fairleigh Dickinson (where he had 7 goals in 30 appearances). He was an All-ACC selection for Tech in 2021, so he definitely has some talent.


Midfield

In the midfield, one, if not both, of Pete Pearson and Allen Gavilanes seems to start. Both are in the 70s with their passing--Pearson at 79.7% and Gavilanes at 71.8%. It looks like they miss Coutinho in the midfield. He was a good passer (81.5%) and had passing range (71.4% long pass accuracy).


Don Smart has also gotten into 2 games for the club. Listed as a forward on Greenville's website, but a midfielder on FBref, I'm a little unclear on his true position. It looks like he might be an attacking midfielder who can play either wide or through the middle, but I'm also basing a lot of that on Google's versions of their formations. Smart is a veteran at 34 years of age and has never been a prolific goal contributor. Across 150 appearances in the 2nd and 3rd division of US soccer, he has 13 goals and 19 assists. This is his second year at Greenville. He's played in 23 matches for them, only scoring 2 goals and having 2 assists.


Aaron Walker has started the previous two games for them in midfield. He's coming off his best year as a pro where he had 5 goals and 3 assists in 25 appearances (24 starts) for Greenville last year. Walker has a really high pass completion rate (89.1%), however, he appears to be a recycler of the ball (11 forward passes, 14 backward, 14 to the left, 14 to the right). This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it's always nice to have a player who you can trust to be safe with his passes and help you retain possession.


Defense

Tyler Polak, the left back, and Evan Lee, a CB, have both started all three games. It looks like Smith was a starter for them before his injury. Google has him as a RB (first game) and CB (second game). Nate Shultz has started as the right back the last two games, while Brandon Fricke was their other starter at CB in the 1st and 3rd games.


Their defenders play a lot of passes. Lee leads the team with 55.7 passes/90; Fricke is at 46.5 passes/90; Polak is at 46 passes/90; before his injury, Smith was at 40 passes/90; Shultz lags a little behind at 34 passes/90.


Lee is a really solid passer at 84.6% on the season. Fricke is a little worse at 74.2%. I'm making a huge assumption here--based on passes/90, long pass percentage, and long passes attempted--but I think Lee is the better distributor of the ball, while Fricke might be more of a "dump in down the pitch" guy. This is backed up by Fricke's 7 clearances on the season. If this is the case, it might make sense for Charlotte to not allow Lee time on the ball and force Fricke to distribute out of the back. It should also be noted that Lee was given a red card (second yellow) in their last match.


Polak is another good passer in the backline. He sits at 85.5% on the season with an impressive 80% long pass accuracy (should be noted it's on a very small number of attempts at 5). Like Lee, Polak appears to be the better of the two passers at his position. On the other flank, Shultz is only at 79.4% passing on the year. The discrepancy in the number of passes both fullbacks attempt also leads me to believe that Greenville might build their attack on the left.


Goalkeeping

Paul Christensen has started all 3 games for them between the sticks. The American actually started his career with Atlanta United, making 1 appearance for them in 2018. He also had 10 starts for Atlanta 2 that year. His career goes dark until 2021, when he reappears with Greenville, starting 10 matches.


When he was with Atlanta/Atlanta 2 in 2018, he was not great. His save percentage sat at 64.8% and he allowed 21 goals on the year (2.10 goal/90). Atlanta 2 did not have a good year that year (finishing 29th) and only won one of the games Christensen started (of the 9 others, they drew 3 and lost 6). He only had a 10% clean sheet percentage that year.


Last year for Greenville, things were much better. He only allowed 4 goals in 10 appearances and had a 70% clean sheet percentage. It's not clear the good times have carried over, though, as he only has a 50% save success rate this year.


I don't believe their asking Christensen to play out from the back a lot. He's only at 57.9% passing on the year and has attempted 49 long passes (38.8% success rate). My assumption, based on these numbers, is that he's not being asked to be a part of the buildup play and instead is told to launch the ball up the field. If he is being asked to play out from the back, he's not very good at it.


I'm not sure Christensen is a good goalkeeper. There are definitely metrics lacking, but nothing in his history suggests he's a superb shot stopper. As such, it is imperative that Charlotte batter him with shots. If they do, it seems like he will concede.


Conclusion

At the end of the day, Charlotte should win this game, regardless of who starts/plays. The beauty of league cups, though, is that this doesn't always happen.


In looking through the stats, only one player really stood out to me in a positive way and that was Lee. He looks like he might be a decent center half who can distribute pretty well.


In attack and the midfield, they don't have anyone who jump out as dangerous to me. Of course, I've not actually watched Greenville play and not everything can be gleaned from stats alone. Further, some key stats I would look at are just not available for the USL League One. As such, there is probably an attacker/midfielder that will surprise me with his positive play.


Finally, I've talked ad nauseam about Charlotte's inability to create chances. They must do that this game. I expect Charlotte to dominate possession, pepper their goal with shots, and come away with a victory.


Prediction: Charlotte 3 - Greenville 0





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