On Thursday, Major League Soccer suspended match play for 30 days, citing COVID-19 (coronavirus). FC Cincinnati’s home opener on Saturday vs. D.C. United is officially off. Barring another suspension—or an outright season cancellation—FCC’s next match will be April 11. The club is scheduled to play at New England that day, but it’s far too early to know how or if MLS will reshuffle its schedule to compensate for what could be a shortened 2020 calendar.
Here are two possible on-field benefits this break could provide for FC Cincinnati, permitted the club is allowed to train together and players decide to stick around Cincinnati…
A chance for much-needed continuity. The club added Jurgen Locadia, Yuya Kubo, Siem de Jong, and Adrien Regattin, a quartet of players that I’d expect to be regular starters, between the end of January and on the doorstep of the regular season’s start. The revamped squad thus had very limited training time together, rendering their preseason games almost useless. Then Ron Jans stepped away/got fired on Valentine’s Day, further upending FC Cincinnati’s 2020 plans.
Leading up to the season opener, Locadia missed the entire week of practice with visa issues. After missing the first two matches, de Jong was set to make his debut vs. D.C. United after experiencing similar visa concerns. Now, if the team can to train together at its Milford complex, interim coach Yoann Damet has the benefit of using the two games already played plus a month’s worth of training time to experiment and see how the new additions can coalesce with the rest of the squad.
General Manager Gerard Nijkamp can continue his head coaching search without the potential pressure of mounting losses. FC Cincinnati has two defeats in two games, but they’ve displayed a higher level of play and technical ability than the 2019 outfit. But if the club, for example, entered mid-May with just 10 points from 11 games, sects of the fan base would be pressuring Nijkamp for a coaching change in order to potentially salvage a playoff run. I think Nijkamp will operate on his own timeline—especially since the Jans hire backfired spectacularly—regardless of both when and if FCC resumes its season and where the club is located in the standings. Nevertheless, the suspension of the season provides Nijkamp with the ability to conduct his search without the pressure of responding to on-field results.
On a personal note, a massive chunk of my existence is and has been viewed through the lens of sports, its history, and its moments of randomness. It’s a gift and a curse, a strange source of pride and embarrassment. Want to know who won the 1982 NBA Finals? I could answer that faster than a Magic Johnson-led fast break. Interested in the 1990’s brawl-filled contests between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche? Pull up a stool and I’ll wax poetic about Darren McCarty and Claude Lemieux. (One of my great regrets in life was never trying out for Sports Jeopardy! I would have Ken Jennings’d that show.)
When I was a boy, I read the sports section front to back daily, and often cut out notable achievements. I still have Cincinnati Enquirer and USA Today newspaper articles that chronicled the 1998 Home Run Chase. There are boxes full of hundreds of baseball cards somewhere in my mother’s basement. When I was in grade school, I would wake up 30 minutes earlier than I needed to just so I could catch up on what I’d missed by watching the morning SportsCenter. (Shoutout to Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Rich Eisen, John Anderson, Stuart Scott, and the other SportsCenter anchor OGs.)
Spring is arguably the most exciting time of the sports calendar. Now I’m just going to be one of the millions testing the capabilities of Netflix’s servers and spending way, way too much time thumbing through Instagram. Of course, it’s a very small price to pay to help ensure the country and the world safely navigate this pandemic. I just wished I hadn’t binge-watched McMillion$ so quickly…
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.