FC Cincinnati Goes Dutch

The hiring of Gerard Nijkamp as GM has begun a sorely needed shift in the team’s playing philosophy.
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There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.” —Nigel Powers, Austin Powers in Goldmember

While I harbor no random distaste for the good people of the Netherlands, this quote from Austin Powers’ father sums up my knowledge of the Dutch through my adolescence. That changed when I watched the 2010 men’s World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, won 1-0 by Spain in extra time. The Dutch spent the majority of the match hacking away at a historically dominant Spanish side (“La Roja” also won the 2008 and 2012 European championships) recording an astounding 28 fouls. Spain were no choir boys, tallying 19 fouls of their own, but the Netherlands—who added eight yellow cards and one red card—were undoubtedly the primary culprits in a match occasionally resembling a Bengals-Steelers tilt.

 

It’s a shame that match was a rock fight, too. While Spain possessed a cache of generational talents known by just one name—Iniesta, Xavi, Pique, Ramos and Busquets among them—the Netherlands were a stacked squad, too, with stars like Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie dotting their roster and historically more known for playing attractive soccer. (Van Persie scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen when the two squads met up in the 2014 World Cup.) The Netherlands women’s team entered the mainstream recently as well, as they were on the receiving end of a 2-0 loss to the United States in the recent women’s World Cup final that gave the Stars and Stripes back-to-back world titles.

In bringing in Gerard Nijkamp as general manager, FC Cincinnati has gone Dutch as well. The former Dutch player was most recently technical director of PEC Zwolle, which plays in the Eredivisie, the top division of Netherlands’ domestic league. Nijkamp’s first player acquisition as GM was to bring in center back Maikel van der Werff, who last suited up for another Eredivisie side, Vitesse, but knows Nijkamp from playing with PEC Zwolle. He could debut Saturday against Toronto after spending most of the month working out visa issues, and any experienced help is welcomed for the league’s worst defense (FCC has surrendered 51 goals in 22 matches).

The additions of Nijkamp and van der Werff highlight a philosophy shift for FC Cincinnati, a hard turn to a possession-based style, though the team immediately went to this strategy after the mid-May fairing of Alan Koch. FC Cincinnati may not be fully embracing “Total Football” and its position-less fluidity popularized by Johan Cruyff and the Netherlands national teams of the 1970s, but the club appears committed to a 4-3-3 formation (four defenders, three midfielders, three forwards) that’s heavy on ball retention and quick, incisive passes. Since his hiring, Nijkamp mentioned the phrases “style of play” and “playing style and identity” in public comments; this Dutch style is what he’s referencing.

Nijkamp has his work cut out for him reshaping FC Cincinnati’s roster to fit this philosophy. The system can be difficult to adapt to, especially for the many borderline MLS players (and that’s being kind) who are currently occupying roster spots. Frankie Amaya will be a delight in this scheme, though. But over the next few years, FC Cincinnati should (in theory) have a streamlined approach that starts in the front office and trickles down to both the MLS side and its youth teams.

In the meantime, we’re left waiting for Nijkamp’s next move.

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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