FC Cincinnati has eight games to go in its maiden voyage in Major League Soccer. Just over six weeks of soccer remain until whatever effervescent sheen from the franchise’s first year in the top division of American soccer fades and the unpleasant realization of a season spent secluded in the basement of MLS sinks in. So, in that spirit, what motivation could possibly exist for a squad with just 17 points from 26 games (5 wins, 18 losses, 3 draws)? Plenty, as it turns out.
Hell Is Real, the sequel. After landing a few early haymakers, FC Cincinnati narrowly escaped Columbus with a draw two weekends ago. Grabbing points from Columbus—unbeaten over its past six matches prior to a midweek setback against New York City FC—and dealing a blow to the Crew’s playoff hopes would be sweet tonic for the Orange and Blue. FCC’s marketing department is squarely in shade-tossing mode, offering discounts at its downtown merchandise store to anyone turning in Crew gear. The second Hell Is Real is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start Sunday at Nippert Stadium.
Spoiler alert. Each of FC Cincinnati’s remaining eight contests are against teams either in the postseason or just outside of the playoff picture (through Wednesday’s games). I could proffer a tired sportswriter axiom about how FCC’s lowly status could cause a playoff hopeful to overlook them … but FC Cincinnati has acquired a grand total of four points over its last eight matches, so its ineptitude isn’t being overlooked by anyone at the moment, aspiring playoff team or not.
Roster spots are up for grabs. New head coach Ron Jans went with the same starting XI in FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 setback vs. New York City FC last weekend as he did against the Crew, with the lone change to the available 18 players being Kekuta Manneh’s inclusion over Tommy McCabe. I wouldn’t read too much into the two weeks of near-uniformity; FCC was without typical rotation players Spencer Richey, Leo Bertone, Frankie Amaya, and Fanendo Adi due to injury. When healthy, those four will see their fair share of playing time, as will Greg Garza, who hasn’t played in three months but is nearing a return.
Spots are up for grabs, Part 2. If Garza does play on Sunday, it will be interesting to see if he starts over Andrew Gutman, who has started in consecutive weeks at left back since joining the team. Derrick Etienne Jr.’s loan spell concludes at the end of the season—FC Cincinnati retains a purchase option—so he will likely continue to see playing time. More than half of the squad should feel uneasy about their status for next season. I count just 10 shoo-ins for 2020: Amaya, Richey, Bertone, Garza, Gutman, Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Joe Gyau, Victor Ulloa, and Maikel van der Werff.
Avoiding history. Rest easy, FC Cincinnati fans: Your side will not be the worst MLS team in recent memory, a frightening truth that was feasible a month ago. FCC is already one point clear of 2013 D.C. United (16 points) but still has work to do to catch the 2018 San Jose Earthquakes (21 points) and 2012 Toronto FC (23 points). Unfortunately for FC Cincinnati, its dreadful season won’t even result in the top pick—or the second pick—in the 2020 SuperDraft; those two selections will go to expansion franchises Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC, just as last year’s number one pick (Amaya) was made by FCC.