FC Cincinnati Stays Busy Remaking the Team

What you might have missed so far during the offseason.

In the months after its calamitous maiden voyage in Major League Soccer, FC Cincinnati stuck to mostly humdrum moves to improve its roster. More specifically, upgrades were made to the worst defense in league history, as the club added real depth to a back line that too often turned to minor league players or overmatched backups when short-handed in 2019.

 

But if FC Cincinnati fans were nonplussed about the club’s roster maneuverings entering the new year, their ears certainly perked up last month when the Orange and Blue announced its second-ever designated player signing: Japanese winger/striker Yuya Kubo.

The good: Kubo has 86 goals across 10 seasons playing in four countries. He’s got ample big-time European and international experience, having played in the Champions League and in World Cup qualifiers. The 26-year-old retains the ball in tight spaces and packs a flair for attack that FC Cincinnati desperately required in 2019; in addition to allowing the most goals in the league, FCC also ranked dead last in MLS in goals scored.

The bad: Kubo has scored just once in 23 appearances this season after notching a single goal across the 2018-19 campaign. He also hasn’t played for Japanese national team in nearly two years. Kubo isn’t exactly in form, and moreover he’s not the type of player who will routinely carry FC Cincinnati offensively for long stretches. That’s an (obviously) unfair ask, and illustrates the club’s need for further attacking assistance.

In the aftermath of that signing, there was brief hope that the new No. 10 would arrive in the form of PSV Eindhoven’s Gaston Pereiro. That acquisition failed to materialize; FC Cincinnati were then connected with striker Bobby Wood, a former regular for the U.S. national team. The third time was seemingly the charm, however, as FC Cincinnati have reportedly signed Jürgen Locadia as its next designated player, a Dutch striker/winger with ample experience in both the Dutch Eredivisie and the English Premier League. Locadia, who was greeted by FCC fans at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport Sunday night, was a goal-scoring machine in the Netherlands (62 goals in 176 appearances). He couldn’t match that level of production in England or for a brief spell in the German Bundesliga, but Locadia was far from a flop in either league, arguably the top two in world soccer. He did score against Arsenal, for instance, and he’s more of a “sure thing” than Kubo.

Much like their baseball-playing counterparts housed on the Ohio River, FC Cincinnati has spent the latter half of its offseason chasing impact offensive talent, and that pursuit has paid off with a 26-year-old attacker who will immediately become the best player in franchise history. Locadia’s arrival is a testament to GM Gerard Nijkamp’s connections abroad, and signals the club is indeed serious about competing.

Here’s what else you may have missed since I delivered the eulogy on FC Cincinnati’s 2019 season last fall…

Defensive reinforcements are here. Swedish center back Tom Pettersson arrived on a free transfer following a career spent primarily in his home country. FCC has touted Pettersson’s fit with what it hopes will be more of a possession-based style that fits the ideology of Nijkamp and head coach Ron Jans. Pettersson could also slot next to Kendall Waston and Maikel van der Werff in the back three of a 3-4-3 formation, a possible changeup to what will presumably be the usual 4-3-3 lineup. At right back, Saad Abdul-Salaam and Zico Bailey were added to the fold. Abdul-Salaam has 86 MLS appearances to his name and projects as Mathieu Deplagne’s backup, while the 19-year-old Bailey is more of a future play and could be loaned out. FC Cincinnati appears to be set at left back with starter Greg Garza and backup Andrew Gutman.

FC Cincinnati may have found its Sergio Busquets. Alright, so comparing ex-Philadelphia Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin to the iconic Barcelona defensive midfielder is a tad blasphemous, but FCC’s new 35-year-old No. 6 will play the same position—and he’s no slouch despite his age. Medunjanin led all MLS players in passes completed in 2019, including completing the most passes in the opponent’s half, per Opta. Medunjanin has plenty of miles on him, but with proper rest the Bosnian could provide FCC with a passing wizard’s touch. Medunjanin’s acquisition took on greater significance when Leo Bertone, who started 22 games last year and played a similar role at the base of the midfield, was transferred to the Swiss Super League.

Allan Cruz signed a contract extension, ensuring that the 23-year-old attacking midfielder is in Cincinnati for the foreseeable future. Cruz was the squad’s leading scorer a year ago, and his development will have a large say in any improvement FCC makes in 2020.

The old USL guard hath departed. Fanendo Adi, Corben Bone, Justin Hoyte, Forrest Lasso and Emmauel Ledesma are all gone. They were members of FC Cincinnati’s final USL team in 2018, but just Hoyte and Ledesma saw major minutes in 2019. Only Fatai Alashe, Jimmy McLaughlin and Spencer Richey remain from the 2018 USL regular-season champion squad.

Victor Ulloa and Alvas Powell moved on to Inter Miami CF. Ulloa, a midfielder, was traded to Miami—one of two expansion franchises entering play this coming season—after appearing in 26 games for FCC in 2019. Powell, a fullback, was selected by Miami in the expansion draft after playing in 13 matches for FCC. A member of the Jamaican national team, Powell failed to appear in FCC’s final 12 games.

FC Cincinnati traded its first-round SuperDraft pick to Miami. In return for the No. 3 overall selection in the draft, FCC acquired $150,000 in General Allocation Money. The Orange and Blue didn’t make its first SuperDraft selection until the 53rd pick, when it took Indiana University midfielder Joris Ahlinvi.

Billionaire Meg Whitman bought what amounts to a 20 percent stake in FC Cincinnati. An influx of $100 million should help pay the construction bill for the West End stadium, eh?

Forward Brandon Vazquez joined from Nashville SC. Nashville selected Vazquez in the fourth round of the expansion draft from Atlanta, and then shipped the 21-year-old to FCC in exchange for $150,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. Vazquez, stuck behind 2018 league MVP Josef Martínez on the depth chart, played sparingly over the last three years in Atlanta after joining from Club Tijuana in Mexico. As of now, Vazquez looks set to back up Locadia, and will likely start alongside Locadia on occasion, depending on the formation. Vazquez’s importance to the side was cemented when Jans admitted last week that MLS veteran Darren Mattocks is no longer in the forward mix.

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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