Guzmán Corujo loves defending. He relishes the opportunity to make the game difficult for the offense and to take away their scoring chances.
The Charlotte FC center back may have dyed his hair a striking platinum blonde, but his game is anything but flashy. It’s one built on grappling with the opposition, dueling with forwards to push them off the ball, sliding into tackles and quickly moving the ball back upfield and out of harm’s way.
“I love going for the ball and controlling it,” he said through a team translator. “I think (loving defense) is something you’re born with and it comes from within.”
He’s been one of the team’s most reliable players this year — tied for the team lead in minutes played (1,440, Kristijan Kahlina). Corujo pairs that heavy workload with an adept ability to break up plays by the opposing team. His 32 interceptions lead Charlotte and rank fourth in Major League Soccer.
“I am just finding out about this statistic; I don’t follow statistics,” Corujo said. “I try to do what I need to do to help the team and be there for what they need, whether it is recovering the ball or having to play the ball.”
Corujo’s ability to get those interceptions stems from anticipation and communication, he said. Knowing what the attacking player will do next informs his own move, looking around to see if a teammate can cover him lets Charlotte maintain its defensive structure.
His contributions and that defense have been necessary for a squad that’s had minimal offense. Charlotte FC has scored just 16 goals, tied for the third-worst mark in the league. But Corujo and his teammates have only allowed 19 — middle of the road.
In its six wins, Charlotte FC has only allowed six goals. The team isn’t one designed to win high-scoring matchups, instead putting pressure on its defense to limit opportunities.
In its first two games under interim head coach Christian Lattanzio, Charlotte has only given up one goal. It only allowed one shot on goal against the New York Red Bulls and nearly shut out Columbus if not for a misplay by the goalkeeper Kahlina that led to a goal for the Crew’s Erik Hurtado.
Despite that tally, Lattanzio praised Corujo’s play in the matchup against Hurtado and Columbus, saying that the center back held his own in competitive one on ones.
“He doesn’t get scared in those situations,” Lattanzio said of Corujo. “It actually takes the best out of him. So there were a couple of moments where he was on a (one-on-one) with Hurtado that shows how reliable and strong he is, mentally first and physically also.”
That mental toughness was one of the reasons Lattanzio tapped the 25-year-old to wear the captain’s armband in Christian Fuchs’ absence. With Fuchs ready to travel with the team to Montreal (7:30 p.m. Saturday, WAXN) and “recovering very well,” according to the coach, Corujo will likely slide that wristband back, something he’s comfortable with.
“When he is not there and I have to wear it, I feel proud and it is a privilege to be in that position but personally, it doesn’t change who I am and how I act during the game,” he said.
In a display of the mental fortitude that Lattanzio described, Corujo dealt with a slew of hecklers from the Columbus crowd in Charlotte’s most recent match. It’s a strategy they often employ to try and take players they respect off their games, the coach said.
This time, it didn’t work.
“He’s a warrior,” Lattanzio said. “The more you put him under pressure, the more he will respond.”