The Columbus Crew fought back to earn a point at Lower.com Field last weekend thanks to a thrilling last-second goal from midfielder Sean Zawadski against the New England Revolution. Zawadski’s heroics meant the Crew is now unbeaten in the team’s last four matches and enter match week 9 with the opportunity to continue to climb the Eastern Conference table.
Looking to extend that unbeaten run to five games, the Black & Gold face Charlotte FC on the road for the second time in the two teams’ history. Charlotte has struggled so far in 2023, earning only six points through the first eight games of the year, but will prove to be a tough place to play for the Black & Gold.
Here’s what to expect in this matchup.
Charlotte FC at a Glance:
Record: 1-3-4, 6 points
League Form: D-L-D-D-W
Leading Scorer: Enzo Copetti, Kamil Jozwiak, Kerwin Vargas (2)
Assist Leader: Karol Swiderski (2)
Player to Watch: Karol Swiderski
Swiderski has been the most impressive piece of Charlotte’s squad in the team’s brief history with 11 goals and six assists in 36 matches. Swiderski joined Charlotte FC just before the team’s inaugural campaign and has been the focal point of the attack since.
The attacker can feature anywhere along the offensive front and has a knack of disappearing from defenses before popping up in a great goal scoring positions. The 26-year-old Polish international is able to use his left foot to both finish and create chances and his role has only been boosted as Charlotte had added more attacking players.
It will be up to the Crew to keep a close eye on Swiderski on Saturday night.
How Charlotte plays:
Charlotte hasn’t changed much tactically in Year 2 as a franchise as head coach Christian Lattanzio looks to build on the expansion year foundation. Charlotte looks to keep possession of the ball as much as possible as a means to control the flow of the game and manipulate the opponent. CLTFC often looks to attack in wide areas with over and underlapping runs from the fullbacks.
A new wrinkle the team has added this year involves former Crew outside back Harrison Afful inverting from his outside back position into a more central area. This allows Charlotte to add another player into the midfield while still keeping the attacking side players in wide areas.
Defensively, Charlotte will counter press after losing possession in an effort to win the ball back as quickly as possible and disrupt the opponent’s rhythm. If unable to do so, CLTFC will defend in a mid-block before triggering the press when the ball is played to an outside back or wing back.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold look to make it five games unbeaten and get their second road win of the campaign this Saturday in Charlotte. There are a few key areas for Columbus to focus on in order to do so.
Both teams look to maintain the majority of possession in any given match, thus, the Crew will need to do a good job of keeping the ball in order to make Charlotte uncomfortable and force the home side to defend, which they are not great at doing. In addition, the Black & Gold will have to handle Charlotte’s counter press well in this match. When Columbus played another counter pressing side in he New York Red Bulls, Wilfried Nancy’s team struggled to maintain a good flow in possession throughout the course of the game, eventually leading to a loss.
A large part of Columbus’ success over the last month or so has been the team’s ability to finish chances in front of goal. The Crew will need to continue to convert these chances at a high rate in order to take three points on Saturday. Chances may be few and far between in the match, thus, the Black & Gold need to take advantage of the chances they’re presented. If Columbus is able to do so and score first to take the lead, the Crew will be able to dictate the flow of the game, which would play directly into their hands.