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Chatting Charlotte FC with MLS Season Pass Analyst Lloyd Sam



Photo by Jack Verdeur

A week out from their first win in seven matches, the Philadelphia Union are back in action on the road against Charlotte FC. Charlotte is heating up just as the Union have begun to struggle in league play, as the hosts of Saturday’s match have earned 10 of their last possible 12 points.

We spoke with MLS Season Pass analyst Lloyd Sam, who previously served as the color commentator for Charlotte before working for Apple TV, about what Philadelphia can expect from one of the league’s hottest sides.

Note: Questions and answers have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Philadelphia Soccer Now: Charlotte’s taken 10 of their last 12 possible posts, which is really impressive. What’s going on down there?

Lloyd Sam: What’s going on down there? Defensively, I think that’s where they’re really excelling. I mean, there’s no secret on that — four clean sheets in a row. But it’s the way those guys are playing. There’s a real like leadership back there from Khalina and then the two center backs in front with Malanda and Privett. I think it stems from what they had to do last year. Last year, under [Christian] Lattanzio, everything was like 1v1 and kind of loose running all over the place.

Dean Smith has given them that structure to just sit and help each other out and be a unit. Yeah, with Nathan Byrne right back, and Uronen, the left back, as well. So they now know, there’s some continuity with it. I know this guy is gonna be here. I know what he does. I know what my goalkeeper’s like. Last season, the back four changed every week. It was one guy in, one guy out. Defensively, they’ve been outstanding, and the personnel — Malanda is a top, top defender and then Previtt wasn’t known as that. But Dean Smith was an old center back there’s a lot of work going on. So [Privett’s] improved a lot. Defensively, they’ve been sound.

It’s the other side that they probably need a bit more work. Maybe attacking-wise, they’ve not been as fluid in the attack. They probably need a couple of guys to step up. Patrick Agyeman has been great. He’s been a revelation, honestly, this season for Charlotte FC.

PSN: Penn State’s own Andrew Privett recently got a new contract from Charlotte. What’s he been like this season?

LS: Whenever you’re switching position and you’re not normally a defensive player, it normally takes a while. But I think that it was the system last year that didn’t really help him. You’re having to get into channels with Luciano Acosta and guys like that. That didn’t make sense. But his profile of a player, right 6’3″, big guy. He’s not going to be able to live with that. So really, with players like that, you want to get them in situations where the odds are skewed a little bit in their favor.

And having Malanda around him Uronen to the left, Khalina behind him, and guys like that, Nathan Byrne, he’s a real solid, consistent guy. That’s only helped him. I think complements the Privett, man. He’s been working hard. I don’t think it’s a thing where he’s like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna center back. I’m just gonna go out there and play.’ I think it’s a thing where it’s like, ‘I’m a center back who used to be a midfielder. I understand I need to keep working at my game,’ as you should. You get a center back who’s a coach, that’s only gonna help. Fair play to him. He’s doing good.

PSN: Behind Privett is goalkeeper Kristijan Khalina. He’s given up 13 goals through 14 games this season — is that a credit to him or his back line?

He’s given a lot of credit to his line in front of him to be fair when we’ve asked him. I actually spoke to him today, funnily enough, leading up and he was giving a lot of credit to his players in front But he’s actually a solid key. I think his mentality is just next level. He’s quite a serious guy. But when you joke with him, he’ll joke. But he’s very passionate about his football. He says the best thing about those guys in front of him is that they want to learn all the time. They’ll come for advice and he’ll tell them things and they take it on board. And he said sometimes, you might tell someone and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, but this,’ and, ‘Yeah, but.’ There’s no ‘yeah buts’ with those two. They take it on board and they get better and they listen.

PSN: For as good as the defense has been for Charlotte, the attack hasn’t really done the same. Agyemang leads the team with three goals, but that’s it. What’s the issue with the attack?

LS: It’s not, but remember, Agyemang wasn’t meant to start the season. They had another DP striker. Where they’re lacking is probably personnel. They need to bring in another DP. Yeah, they brought in Liel Abada, who’s a DP. He’s been injured. He scored one goal. They probably need a no. 10 as a DP. Yeah. So on the attacking end, I would say personnel more than anything. I don’t think you need a DP striker, but you definitely need a DP no. 10 You need a Abada to be fit and playing. So for me, it’s more personnel.

PSN: Half of Agyemang’s starts have come in these last four games as Charlotte’s picked it up. He only has one goal in that span, but has he added anything other than pure goalscoring?

LS: He adds a little bit of a one-man army kind of vibe as well where he can do a lot himself. He doesn’t need to be set up with too many chances. His goal against Nashville, if you see it, he’s taking the ball. He’s beating a man then he’s putting it in the corner. It’s not just being put on a plate for him, necessarily. His work rate and his mentality is different. He harasses defenders. He literally harasses them, takes the ball off them and generates his own chance like that as well. So he’s doing a lot as a striker. He’s a handful to deal with for the 90 minutes and that’s how he likes it.

PSN: Charlotte’s been a wildly different team at home vs. on the road. What do you attribute that to?

LS: I don’t think most MLS teams have 30 to 35,000 fans every week. Some do, but most probably don’t. It gives them, automatically, support in numbers. Then there’s a bit of a family feel that when you’re at that home stadium, that’s going to make you go the extra mile. That’s going to make you run faster, jump higher and it gives you that extra bit. The 12th man is there. Charlotte really takes pride in that. They really take pride in their attendance and the average attendance in the fans pulling up and going to tollgates right, we’re in the south. That’s all the culture here. It definitely means something. And Dean Smith has been vocal on how much the fans help. There was a game that they lost 3-0 at home and he was like, ‘We didn’t have as many fans as usual in that game.’. It was a Sunday game, different kickoff. He felt like that affected his team a little bit.

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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