Last week, I detailed the stakes for FC Cincinnati’s remaining games: competition for roster spots, avoiding the wrong side of MLS history, and spoiling the playoff hopes of other teams. Oh, and there was this Hell Is Real thing, too, a chance for Bad News FC Cincinnati to nab another result from Columbus Crew, submitting a kidney shot to their rivals’ postseason aspirations and ensuring that Ohio remained split between Orange & Blue and Black & Gold.
But a funny thing happened Sunday night at Nippert Stadium: FC Cincinnati failed to show up for the first half. Yes, the team fielded 11 players, but their focus and commitment were elsewhere. (Maybe they were given an early look at the new Rise of Skywalker trailer and were too mind-blown to perform?) The result was a 3-0 deficit through 45 minutes and a 3-1 full-time setback.
New coach Ron Jans (pictured above) got his starting XI wrong from the start, with Emmanuel Ledesma, FCC’s top attacking threat lately (two goals, four shots on goal over his past four games) sitting on the bench. Poor left back Andrew Gutman was overrun from the get-go, with winger Roland Lamah failing to adequately track back with enough regularity to help defensively. Cohesion between the back line and the midfield was nonexistent, so when FC Cincinnati did get the ball—which was rare—the offense was reduced to the sort of long ball after long ball common in high school matches.
Overall, the first half was an embarrassment, an affront to FC Cincinnati supporters everywhere and especially to those who filled Nippert expecting competition but instead witnessed a public spanking by big brother. I found myself wondering if FCC had, you know, practiced tactics at all during the week. Jans claimed his team had a game plan going in, but in a moment of biting criticism of his side that would have pleased Jose Mourinho, Jans noted that his team abandoned the plan.
For whatever reason—maybe Jans reenacted Al Pacino’s “Inches” speech from Any Given Sunday—FC Cincinnati acted a bit more like paid professionals in the second half. The TV broadcast reported that FCC altered its shape from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, which elicited positive results. Kekuta Manneh was subbed on immediately, and his pace caused problems. Columbus switched off a bit and were content to concede possession almost entirely to the hosts; incredibly, FC Cincinnati won the possession battle by game’s end. Ledesma racked up an assist in the match’s waning moments as FCC picked up a deserved goal.
The plain truth is that, above all else, FC Cincinnati require better players. Lots of them. And it will be fascinating to see if Jans and General Manager Gerard Nijkamp, two individuals completely new to the quirks and intricacies of Major League Soccer, can—along with technical director Luke Sassano—assemble a team that will be competitive on a week-to-week basis in 2020.
The franchise’s glossy sheen will eventually wear off. It might take years, given FC Cincinnati’s reasonable single-game and season ticket prices and the novelty of a new stadium in 2021, but anyone who has attended Reds and Bengals games in recent years knows that extended periods of losing are met with empty seats in this city.