By Ryan Bailey
Ahead of the 2022 season, North America Scout Ryan Johnson and his team are putting in meticulous preparation to create the best possible inaugural roster
CHARLOTTE—Thanks to its comprehensive global scouting network, and a highly methodical approach to player acquisition, Charlotte FC is setting itself up for success for 2022 and beyond.
“We’re putting in the hours every day,” says North America Scout Ryan Johnson. “We’re gearing up for the end of the current MLS season, looking ahead to the Expansion Draft, and making sure we get the best-quality players from the options we have.
“I really love the process of building this team. It’s going to be a real moment when first kick comes around next year.”
Johnson—who played in Major League Soccer with Real Salt Lake, Chicago Fire, San Jose Earthquakes, Toronto FC and Portland Timbers—is part of an international scouting team led by Director of Scouting Thomas Schaling.
The team, which includes Steve Walsh, the man who helped build Leicester City’s sensational title-winning team, is in the process of building the roster for CLTFC’s inaugural campaign.
“We’re at a time where decisions have to be made,” says Johnson. “Within a few months we’ll be going into pre-season, so it’s about making the right decisions at the right time, and being smart about spending.”
A key to success for Charlotte’s scouting team is the maintenance of a “process-driven” approach. There will be no impulsive roster acquisitions for the franchise: player identification is methodical, empirical, analyzed by committee, and designed to ensure the best possible decisions are made.
“We have a really good process,” says Johnson. “We go through everything as a team and it takes discipline, time and a lot of organization for the process to be done correctly. That’s the standard we want to have for this club.
“Thomas [Schaling] does a phenomenal job of organizing the potential players from all over the world, and everyone in our team has experience and expertise in different regions of the world.
“We have a good collective group who are really hard working and honest, and everyone is putting in a lot of hours to make sure we reach the right decisions.
“I can guarantee there won’t be a player coming through that no one has seen, thanks to the process, the amount of eyes we have, and our experience level. When we see the final product, it’s going to be really exciting because we know those players have been filtered through the process.”
Former Jamaica national team star Johnson—who won the U.S. Open Cup with Chicago in 2006 and was Western Conference champion with Portland in 2013—is able to view player acquisition from both sides of the lens, having played through the high school and U.S. collegiate system.
“Soccer is a whole-life journey, and it’s been my life, and my experiences mean I’m able to make good decisions for the club,” says Johnson.
“Part of becoming a pro is that you are constantly being judged and assessed. You always have to give your best because you never know who’s watching, and I know the smallest thing can be the difference in a yes or no from a very important person in the decision process.
“There’s so many players, from all over the world, that want a roster spot. So, it’s useful to know what players have to go through to get to the starting XI: how difficult it is in terms of competition, and how stringent the recruitment process can be.”
Johnson is responsible for scouting efforts at MLS, United Soccer League and collegiate levels. Thus, the former San Jose Earthquakes MVP striker is aware of the crucial importance of the upcoming Expansion Draft, during which Charlotte FC will select five players from existing MLS rosters.
“If you look at the Expansion Drafts for Nashville, Austin and earlier teams, you can clearly see the teams that hit right on those impact players,” says Johnson. ”Those players will likely be with the team for the first few seasons, so you really want to get them right. We have the advantage of looking through the evidence from the teams who have come before us.”
Johnson and the technical team have included mock drafts in the preparation for the Expansion Draft, likely to be held in December, and the collegiate SuperDraft, which should follow in January.
“We’re constantly going through different scenarios of who could possibly be free,” says Johnson. “We have internal documents that we’re continuously revising, so when we’re watching games now, we have an idea of what we’re looking for.
“We’re putting in the work as a team to make sure we are confident we did the due diligence when a player we want is available.”
Johnson and his team regularly scout U.S. college games and are fully prepared to take advantage of having No.1 pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.
“Players like Daryl Dike, who came through the 2020 SuperDraft, show that there’s quality coming through from college, and that college players can add value at a professional level,” says Johnson. “I believe there is great quality out there and it will be the club’s duty to develop those players.”
With around five months until first kick, Charlotte FC is entering a decisive period for roster construction. Johnson and his team are confident that the building blocks for success are firmly in place.
“I’m really pleased about the players we have signed, and we have some very exciting players in the works, too,” says Johnson. “From what we have, and what we may choose in the Expansion Draft, I have a really good feeling we’re going to have a strong team.
“I’m excited to see how this team comes together and it is such a privilege to be a part of the process.
“I’m a very competitive person and I want to win—so it’s great to know we’re making good decisions on players. I’m really looking forward to see how it shapes out.”