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MLS era begins for Charlotte

ADSN Pregame Report – CLTFC at DC United – 2-26-22

By Steve Goldberg

So, it's finally here. The first regular season game for Charlotte FC, the newest club in Major League Soccer. It comes a season later than originally planned but to be fair, to go from announcement to the pitch in less than a year was ambitious at best.

Unfortunately, the reason for the delay – a global pandemic – also prevented owner David Tepper and his team from doing all the things other debut clubs have been able to do on the way to their first kick, especially the large and raucous public events that instill the excitement and passion so unique to soccer, or as I prefer to call it, real football. You know, with real feet.

It also put a big dent in being to generate the early season ticket sales numbers boasted by Atlanta and Austin rolling into their first seasons. But the blue and white seem to have a strong finishing kick – pun intended – both in season ticket sales and seats already sold for the first home match against the LA Galaxy a week from now on March 5. It is a very real possibility that Charlotte will exceed the MLS record set by Atlanta United FC of 72,548 on August 3, 2019, coincidentally also against the LA Galaxy at Mercedes Benz Stadium, which is also home to the Atlanta Falcons.

But before that comes the first true test against a DC United team that finished 13th last year in the Eastern Conference with a 5 win, 6 draws, 12 loss record, one place ahead of that "other Queen City", Cincinnati. Even with that, DC United, a founding team in MLS, has lost only two of its 19 home matches against MLS newcomers. Over the last ten years, expansion sides have a record of one win, two draws and 8 losses in their inaugural matches.

So, no one is putting the mortgage up on Charlotte to win this match, which is kind of good in that there's nothing to lose here.

It's not just that Charlotte is a newbie. They are also a team that's not fully defined yet with all the pieces in place. Team chemistry as well as learning coach Miguel Angel Ramirez's system will be a work in progress for much of the season.

Luck hasn't been kind either. First choice striker Karol Swiderski flew back to Poland last week to sort out some visa issues when neighboring Ukraine was attacked by Russia, complicating all travel in eastern Europe. It's unknown at this point if he will be in Washington with the team.

Earlier today, the club announced the acquisition of Mexican forward Daniel Rios from Nashville FC. Whether the 27-year-old Rios, a 6'1", 185-pound left-footer, is rushed into the lineup without any training is uncertain at this point as well.

Injuries limited Rios over his first two seasons in Nashville, with six goals and one assist in 31 total appearances (13 starts).

He's no stranger to the Tarheel State as the Chivas Guadalajara youth academy product played on loan with USL side North Carolina FC before Nashville acquired him. He scored 41 goals in 66 appearances over the 2018 and 2019 seasons between Nashville's predecessor USL team and NCFC, a pace that Charlotte FC fans would truly love to see.

It is probable that Ramirez, who wants an aggressive, high-press attitude, will start wingers Yordy Reyna and Christian "Titi" Ortiz up front with three midfielders and five backs (5-3-2) to solidify the defensive while looking for counter-attacking opportunities. He could go with two midfielders and three forwards as well. Quite frankly, we will all find out together when the whistle blows.

In Charlotte, the match from Audi Field in Washington, D.C. will be televised live at 6 PM EST on WSOC-TV, channel 9 as well as on ESPN+. WFNZ (610 AM, 102.5 FM)

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