When discussing the best passer in the USL Championship over the past few seasons, your conversation had to include Charlie Ward to have any credibility. First, he was an ironman star for RGVFC in 2016, playing every minute of the season and would go on to have quality seasons in distribution for San Antonio FC and Ottawa Fury FC in the past two years. In 2019, he finished third in the league in passes, despite not playing in the final match of the season and hit on 92% of those passes. That followed 90% in 2018 and 91% in 2017, with over 1,200 passes across 24 total matches. But, outside of a short stint with Houston Dynamo, that unique passing ability has not attracted an MLS side to snatch up the English midfielder. Now, Ward has arrived at his fourth USL Championship club and he’s ready to unleash every skill he has for OKC Energy FC. When I asked Charlie what else he can do, outside of being the best passer in the league, he responded, “Well, it’s hard to answer that because, yes I am and I have been every year I’ve played in the USL. But, it’s gotten to the point now where I think I have to not change, but maybe bring more to the table.”
“Last year, I worked massively on my defensive side of my game and the stats don’t lie, I was one of the best defensive midfielders intercepting the ball. But, now I think I have to add other things like key passes, goals, assists, just more. As this past offseason, I had no MLS interest, I never shy away or tell lies. And for me, that’s where I want to be playing, but it just showed that maybe these teams aren’t just looking for the best passer, that’s why I need to add and evolve my game even more. Or else, I will be playing USL next year and that isn’t my end goal.”
While Major League Soccer is his end goal, like most players in the USL Championship, Charlie feels good about the team he is joining this season in the second division. “OKC stood out to me one because of the interest they’ve shown in me, but the biggest thing was the coach,” Ward explained. “We spoke on the phone and had a great conversation about football, his views on the game, and they stood out from the rest of the coaches. He wants to play good soccer, which for me, I need. I need to be in an environment where people want to play, pass, and express themselves. And he was all for it, so speaking to John (Pascarella) I just knew that this would be the team I was playing at this year and I can’t wait to help the team.
Despite his deep love for soccer and excitement about the 2020 season, his deeper love for his family makes heading to North America difficult every year for the Birmingham native. “No one understands any of it, when you’re back home people say, ‘ahh you must love it out there, must be unreal for you.’ And it is, I’m so lucky to be doing something I love in a new city every year in America,” he said. “But, it comes at a cost, no one knows that my grandad is 84 and could be gone any minute and I’m missing valuable time with him.”
“No one knows this past year my mom could have been dead and I was in America having to play games not knowing that when I get back to my phone in the dressing room, I could be reading texts that she’s gone. No one gets that side how tough it is not to see any of my family for 10 months at a time. It’s tough, but I have to do it. This is my job, my life, and I’m grateful for it, I really am, but it’s hard. But, I talk to them every day so that helps a lot, but I miss them all. Especially the big fat dog I have. If you haven’t seen her just jump to my Instagram, you won’t miss her.”
Outside of his family and soccer, Charlie also loves photography and music. Discussing his pre-match playlist, he said, “Man, I’m locked into everything. Grime, hip hop, anything to be honest. I love music. Me and some of the old boys back in Ottawa still link up on texts about new stuff dropping.” He adds a shoutout to a member of that crew, Deaze, better known as young Aidan Daniels, for his signing with Colorado Springs. Ward adds, “The new artist at the moment is Baby Keem. But honestly, Irishmen brought out a film and they have a soundtrack on Apple Music. It isn’t hip hop, but it’s fire. Watch the movie as well, very good!”
For his photography, I asked Charlie if he was excited about getting out and taking pictures in his new city of OKC. “I am man, I got into it last year and I’ve just been loving it,” he said. “I just only use 35mm point and shoot cameras. I never went to school for photography, but I would love to. I use a Yashica t4, but honestly, any 35mm film camera works. I just used to take it on away trips and nights out anything like that and I really enjoy doing it, so if you see me now, I near enough always have a camera on me just taking pictures of how ugly you all are…myself included.”
So, there’s a chance OKC fans may see their new star midfielder snapping some pictures around t0wn. While Charlie is great with fans and likes to engage with them, he thinks he best bonds by showcasing his skills and work rate on the pitch, just like he has for RGVFC, (briefly) Houston, San Antonio, and Ottawa. “I just try to show on the pitch that I’ll do my best every game and the fans always seem to get that and that’s how I build a good relationship with them,” Charlie explained. “And hopefully, this year that’s bringing playoff football to OKC and then it’s game by game. But, I’m confident in any team I go into that if the coach wants to play good soccer then it will be a good positive year and I’m looking forward to it!”
No matter what the future holds after this season, OKC fans should expect to see elite passing and a whole lot more from Clockwork Charlie Ward during the 2020 USL Championship season.