After a pair of subpar showings in its initial re-restart matches, FC Cincinnati got its shit together and delivered a resolute performance August 29 at Nippert Stadium, notching a well-deserved 0-0 draw against the Columbus Crew. Yes, that’s the same Crew that sit second in the Eastern Conference standings and humiliated FCC in its MLS Is Back opener 4-0 in Jaap Stam’s first game as head coach. Psychologically, it was encouraging to see FC Cincinnati respond positively following its debacle in Chicago, especially since last Saturday was the club’s third game in nine days. That brand of mental fortitude didn’t exist last season. #StamBall
That 4-0 loss sparked FC Cincinnati’s defensive revolution—Crew coach Caleb Porter might call it something else—that’s led to clean sheets in four of the team’s past six matches. The 5-3-2 (or 3-5-2 depending on your point of view) formation that Stam has organized FCC in since that beatdown has salvaged its season. On Saturday night, FC Cincinnati limited Columbus to seven shots (three on goal), keeping their Hell Is Real rivals off the scoresheet for the first time all year. Though the clean sheet was a team effort, FCC center back Maikel van der Werff was highlighted for his individual play and named to MLS’s Team of the Week. The Dutch defender led the team with four interceptions and completed 32 of 34 passes.
And so, while plaudits are deserved for FC Cincinnati’s defense, we need to talk about the nonexistent offense. Yes, the club’s historically bad defense certainly deserved ridicule last season, but the offense was only a step or two higher on the ineptitude scale, scoring just 31 goals in 34 league matches.
In 2020, things are nearly as dire. The Orange and Blue haven’t scored since Jurgen Locadia’s successful penalty against Portland in the 81st minute of their MLS Is Back round of 16 tilt—a span of three-plus games. The squad’s last goal from open play was Yuya Kubo’s score in the 43rd minute vs. New York Red Bulls on July 23, more than four matches ago.
Through eight games, FC Cincinnati has six goals and 22 shots on targets. Prior to Tuesday’s night’s action, the former was tied for second-lowest total in the league—Nashville, an expansion team, has four goals in seven games—and the latter was third-worst in MLS.
Ownership dropped the dough to bring in Locadia (striker) and Kubo (attacking winger/second striker), two Designated Players, to inject some dynamism into the offense. But at present, Locadia finds himself devoid of service, and Kubo is essentially a defense-first midfielder. This isn’t what they or the club signed up for—but for 2020, the arrangement may have to do, given FC Cincinnati’s successful defense-first identity and a dearth of proper personnel to play management’s desired Dutch-style 4-3-3 system. Since the re-restart, FC Cincinnati has registered five shots on goal in three games. Locadia hasn’t recorded a simple shot—not a goal, just a shot—over his past two matches. And yet, over that same stretch, FCC has tallied two clean sheets. That method of point acquisition won’t shoot them up the standings, but it may be enough for a playoff berth.
Locadia clearly needs more help up top. Kubo is obviously playing out of position. New signing Kamohelo Mokotjo, a defensive midfielder, can’t get here fast enough—however, I wouldn’t expect him to play tonight vs. Chicago or Saturday night in Columbus—so that Frankie Amaya and/or Allan Cruz (when healthy) can be elevated into more attacking positions. Right now, FCC’s best offense is right winger Joe Gyau using his sprinter’s speed to get behind the defense a few times a game and send hopeful passes into the final third in Locadia’s general direction. Maybe new signing Álvaro Barreal, a winger, can offer a different dimension as a pacey supersub, though FCC needs to clear an international slot before the 20-year-old can play.
For a while, there was some uncertainty around whether FC Cincinnati-Columbus would even happen. The match took place only days after the North American sporting landscape was brought to a standstill. First, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks elected to not play their playoff game against the Orlando Magic last Wednesday in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. MLB, NHL, and WNBA postponed games as their players followed suit in protesting Blake’s death and racial injustice. As for MLS, five of its games were postponed last Wednesday, with Orlando City-Nashville the lone holdout because the players on the two clubs ran out of time to make a united decision. As for the postponed matches, LAFC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye said it was the players who opted not to play, contradicting the league’s stance that it had decided to postpone the games.
If Wednesday was a PR headache for MLS, things only worsened on Thursday when The Athletic dropped an article detailing Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen’s history of alleged racist behavior. (That report broke after Hansen publicly expressed his displeasure with Wednesday’s events.) Hansen has since decided to sell the team. MLS resumed on Friday with a game between Toronto and Montreal, with Toronto captain and longtime U.S. men’s national team midfielder Michael Bradley explaining postgame his support for the pursuit of racial and social justice despite not kneeling with the rest of the players during the Canadian pregame anthem.
As for FC Cincinnati, Gyau told the media that had FCC been scheduled to play on Wednesday, the club would not have taken the field. Gyau, who is Black, was the victim of racist comments when he was a youth player in Maryland. And unfortunately for FC Cincinnati, it has been indirectly and directly connected with recent racist behavior. In early August, construction was halted on the club’s new stadium because of racist comments from two subcontractors. In February, head coach Ron Jans was ousted after using a racial slur in front of players, with FCC President Jeff Berding adding that Jans was not fired for a “single incident.” All of this serves as a harsh reminder of just how far we have to go in this country in so many facets, the most basic of which is treating each other with grace and understanding regardless of color or creed.
Tonight, FC Cincinnati’s mini-Redemption Tour sees them take on the Chicago Fire, who embarrassed them 3-0 eight days ago at Soldier Field. (The Fire followed up their grand victory by being wiped off the field by New York City FC by the same scoreline over the weekend.) Sunday brings a road trip up to Columbus for yet another Hell Is Real derby. Will goals finally flow for FC Cincinnati?