Your FC Cincinnati Offseason Primer

The countdown to MLS has officially begun.

American sports can be cruel. Time and time again, dominant regular season teams exit postseasons early in shocking fashion. Add FC Cincinnati to the list. After cruising through the United Soccer League for six months to the tune of 23 wins and 77 points (both USL records) and a 25-game unbeaten streak, the Orange Blue fell short in a 1-0 loss to New York Red Bulls II in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

There was barely any time for reflection in the game’s aftermath, though, not with the club’s transition to Major League Soccer firmly in high gear. (Three-year FCC player Kenney Walker noted how fans might have simply been satisfied with ending the Playoff Drought.) Here’s what you may have missed since the playoff loss, as well as what the future holds for Cincinnati’s third major league team.

Fountain Square on November 13, 2018

The Latest News

As many as six current players will reportedly make the jump to MLS. FC Cincinnati’s first two official MLS personnel moves came in late July when it signed striker Fanendo Adi from the Portland Timbers and midfielder Fatai Alashe from the San Jose Earthquakes. The club was tied to U.S. international Fabian Johnson over the summer, so a “splash” signing could be coming.

ESPN reported that FC Cincinnati attacking midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma, who may very well win this year’s USL MVP award, was set to sign a new three-year contract. The Enquirer reported that midfielder Corben Bone (12 goals in 2018 and a former MLS first round pick) isn’t going anywhere, and the The Athletic has reported that midfielder and crowd favorite Jimmy “Philadelphia Messi” McLaughlin and newly-crowned USL Defender of the Year Forrest Lasso are in, too.

Keep an eye out for more players to join. As The Athletic noted, recent expansion franchises Minnesota United (seven players) and Orlando City (eight players) have not been shy about retaining players from their final minor league seasons. I’d be a little surprised if midfielder Nazmi Albadawi (11 goals in 2018) wasn’t on FC Cincinnati next year, too.

The club released its new MLS identity. The club’s new logo/crest was announced Monday during a private ceremony at the Woodward Theater. In addition to the new crest, which was inspired by Cincinnati and its German roots, FCC’s orange and blue colors have been modified. The name has also changed; the club’s full “written name” is Football Club Cincinnati, though FC Cincinnati and FCC remain acceptable abbreviations, per the team. Another marketing note: The club previously announced that Mercy Health would replace Toyota as its jersey sponsor. Mercy Health also has naming rights to Football Club Cincinnati’s new training facility. Speaking of that…

Construction is underway for the training facility in Milford. The 24-acre future headquarters won’t be finished until August 2019, but the club plans to relocate to the site in January and utilize temporary facilities. The $30 million project will sport three full-size fields to be used by the MLS team for training, a future academy program, and local soccer tournaments, among other activities.

What’s Still to Come

Groundbreaking for the new stadium in the West End is expected the second week of December. In its stadium reveal, the club said capacity could be more than 26,000, which would make it the second-largest soccer-specific stadium in the country behind L.A. Galaxy’s StubHub Center. The new stadium is scheduled to be open for the start of 2021 season.

The expansion draft. Slated for Dec. 11, the expansion draft allows the Orange and Blue to select up to five players from other MLS teams, but under heavy protections. MLS recently announced that the five teams that had a player selected in the 2017 expansion draft held for Los Angeles FC are exempt from this year’s expansion draft. (As compensation, FC Cincinnati will receive an unknown amount of allocation money. Translation: MLS knows it’s screwing over FCC a bit here, so they’re giving them money to recruit players by other means.) The expansion draft remains a good opportunity for the club to extract established talent from other clubs. For example, last year LAFC selected goalkeeper Tyler Miller in the first round of its expansion draft, and he went on to make 33 appearances (all starts) for the team in 2018.

Free agency opens. MLS free agency is restricted to older players, but this could be an opportunity for FCC to nab a league veteran or two.

The SuperDraft. On Jan. 11, the four-round MLS SuperDraft begins in Chicago, and FC Cincinnati owns the No. 1 overall selection. The SuperDraft is similar to the entry drafts held by MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL. Notable recent No. 1 overall picks include Abu Danladi (Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2017), Jack Harrison (currently playing for Leeds United in the second division of English soccer), and Cyle Larin (broke the league’s rookie scoring record for Orlando City in 2015).

The debut! Expect the 2019 MLS season to begin the first weekend of March, though the league likely won’t release an official schedule until after the new year. It’s not a lock that FC Cincinnati’s first game will be at Nippert Stadium either; two of the last three expansion teams have opened on the road.

Grant Freking is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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