And things had been going so well during FC Cincinnati’s offseason! Up until Valentine’s Day, the team generated some optimism thanks primarily to the additions of two designated players, Yuya Kubo and Jurgen Locadia, as well as an experienced European winger in Adrien Regattin. The trio represented an unequivocal upgrade in FCC’s attack and, in Locadia’s case, the potential for a true talisman.
Then, just over two weeks before the onset of season, head coach Ron Jans stepped away from the club for allegedly using a racial slur in the presence of players. Days later, Jans resigned. Yoann Damet was named interim coach—you might remember Damet; he was named interim coach last spring after Alan Koch received the heave-ho—and yet again this once-faultless franchise clumsily stumbled into another destructive episode. To make matters worse, the sad Jans situation almost completely covered up the fact that estranged forward Darren Mattocks is facing felony charges in Pennsylvania.
For the first two years of its on-field existence, FC Cincinnati was a pillar of merriment. The club enjoyed ample USL success and a truly magical U.S Open Cup run, while smashing attendance records. It endeared itself to diehard soccer fans and families alike, displaying keen marketing and branding awareness. Then, roughly two years ago, that sunny shroud was blighted by a West End Stadium deal that was at best a rushed and an uncomfortable solution to secure safe passage to Major League Soccer. That was all before haphazard roster-building—and if we’re being fair, a shortage of time—paved the way for an inaugural MLS campaign that established new records for futility by an expansion franchise.
We’ll have to wait until Sunday afternoon when FC Cincinnati opens its 2020 season at the New York Red Bulls to see how the players respond to this madness, but they did receive a crucial boost late last week when the club brought Siem de Jong into the lineup. The former standout in the Dutch Eredivisie also spent time in the English Premier League, and he’ll provide the Orange and Blue with a true No. 10 playmaker, a void they’d yet to fill since joining MLS.
Here are more thoughts on FC’s Cincinnati upcoming season, the schedule, and a points prediction…
After the de Jong signing, the (ideal) starting lineup has come into focus. Either Przemysław Tytoń or Spencer Richey will start in goal. Greg Garza and Mathieu Deplagne should slot in at left and right back, respectively, with captain Kendall Waston and Maikel van der Werff manning the two center back positions. Haris Medunjanin will play at the base of the midfield in front of them, with Allan Cruz in front of Medunjanin as the ball-winner and de Jong—who may not be available until the third game of the year—further up the pitch to link up the attack. Locadia starts at striker, with Kubo and Regattin on the wings behind him. Given the lack of practice time for Locadia, de Jong, and Regattin—who hasn’t played competitively since spending the 2018-19 season with Turkish club Akhisarspor—it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Frankie Amaya, Joe Gyau, Kekuta Manneh, and Brandon Vazquez get early season starts.
Allow me to sprinkle some skepticism on the new signings, though. While FC Cincinnati possess more adept personnel to build from the back, its collective lack of speed in the back half will leave it vulnerable to counterattack. In the midfield, much is riding on Medunjanin’s ability to fire line-splitting passes. He’s undoubtedly an upgrade over Leo Bertone, Caleb Stanko, et. al, but he also turns 35 on March 8. De Jong is 31 with a ton of mileage on his legs via a decade with spent with Ajax and Newcastle United. He’s logged just 29 appearances over the past two seasons, and most of those minutes came in the Australian A-League.
And yet, the league’s worst offense is overwhelmingly improved (on paper). I’d be stunned if Locadia didn’t bag 10-15 goals, with 20 scores not out of the question. He won’t collect the service he’s been accustomed to abroad, but MLS defenses aren’t as sharp as their European brethren at clearing their lines, and the goalkeepers obviously aren’t as talented. Locadia and de Jong should have some leftover chemistry from their time together at PSV Eindhoven. Kubo and Regattin offer dynamic dribbling and creativity from the wing. Once the new signings rack up a few weeks worth of games, FC Cincinnati fans should hardly recognize this attack from last year. Remember: Cruz led the club with seven goals in 2019.
The schedule is unforgiving to start, with matches against five of the seven East playoff squads from a year ago. FC Cincinnati will face an expansion side for the first time on May 27 when it takes on David Beckham’s Inter Miami. FCC’s subsequent match will be its initial foray against another first-year squad, Nashville SC. The schedule gets quirky in late June: Three home games give way to three away matches followed by three more tilts at Nippert Stadium. FC Cincinnati’s final match of the season is north of the border at Montreal on October 4. The final regular-season game at Nippert—the club is scheduled to open the new stadium in time for the 2021 season—is slated for September 26.
Last year, like a sucker, I forecasted FC Cincinnati to log 43 points and finish eighth in the East. FCC finished with 24 points, dead last in all of MLS. I’ll stick with that same prediction this year, which will put the Orange and Blue just on the outside of the seven-team East playoff picture. General Manager Gerad Nijkamp merits substantial plaudits for his team-building. There’s actual MLS-level depth in defense, the midfield should be more proactive, and the attacking additions will improve an offense that was nearly as impotent as the club’s defense a year ago.
The next steps are A) hiring a head coach who will stick, and B) turning FC Cincinnati into a surefire playoff squad that can, on occasion, expect to make deep playoff runs. With the West End Stadium opening roughly a year away, expectations will only get higher from here on out.