FC Cincinnati finally returns home to a newly renovated Nippert Stadium on Saturday for their 2017 home opener against Saint Louis FC. A three game season-starting road trip was unkind to the Orange and Blue. It yielded just three points and left the team with a few notable injuries (Berry, Fordyce, Hoyte). FC Cincinnati currently sits 13th in the Eastern Conference, with just two teams below them. They were most recently defeated 2-0 by Bethlehem Steel FC, where an early injury and a red card put Koch’s men behind the eight ball.
Saint Louis FC currently sits on top of the Eastern Conference on 10 points, having played one more game than FC Cincinnati. Orange and Blue Press caught up with Phillip Grooms of the STL Soccer Report to talk about Saint Louis FC’s early season success, new head coach Preki, and their troubled MLS expansion bid.
Q&A with Phillip Grooms
Saint Louis FC opened the season with a series of good results and sits on top of the East. What have they done well so far that has led to their early success?
“The biggest calming improvement from this team in preseason to the regular season is goal scoring. It’s easy to see how Preki’s system pays off all around the pitch. One-v-one battles typically go in St. Louis’ favor. Effort and fitness make fan’s hearts swell with joy, but early on, the goals weren’t coming and they didn’t look to be in our near future. Well, in our first game at home something clicked. Strangely it’s clicked with five or six different forwards in use. It looks as if the “Preki System” is in play and having its effect.”
Former US International and MLS star Preki is now the head coach. What is one key thing that Preki does differently than Dale Schilly / Tim Leonard that is positively impacting the team.
“Tim Leonard, who was the assistant for Schilly and the interim after Schilly, is still the assistant for Preki. That said, this list could be a mile long, but in an interview with Tim Leonard in preseason he told me that, surprisingly, the passionate, on-field coach that is Preki has a very calming presence among his players. Tim told me that it was clear that previous coach, Dale Schilly, was under a lot of pressure. That pressure seeped into the locker room and, as many saw, onto the pitch. Preki brings personal talent and experience to the team that just lets the players trust him and relax. He proved his calmness when I sat down with him in preseason. I asked about the goal scoring woes early on. He merely shrugged it off and said the goals will come in time. Well, they have.”
In the wake of the recent failed MLS stadium vote, how is the Saint Louis soccer community responding and is there still a chance to get a stadium built to support the January MLS application?
“I’m going to say no–pretty confidently. I’ll also use these pictures to illustrate my point. Current Mayor, Francis Slay, tweeted the day after the failed vote that he didn’t think MLS was done in St. Louis.
Many saw this and thought the county would decide to help after all, or that a new investor would come in and save the day. Well, then we saw the following tweet:
No ideas?? Ok, my hope just went out the window with the bathwater and is laying on the ground next to the Rams Stadium. The ownership that made the MLS bid in St. Louis said, over and over again, that there was no plan B. I’m finding that it wasn’t a bluff. I’ve heard nothing.”
Saint Louis FC revamped its roster and brought in A LOT of new players during the offseason. Who’s having the biggest impact? Are you surprised they are playing so well out of the gate?
“I think the biggest impact players in this system are the cogs of the machine: the two central midfielders. They are Ivan Mirkovic and Dragan Stojkov. These two are professional frustrators. One is constantly hitting the guy with the ball, while the other cuts off passes. If a pass gets off, they switch it up and on and on we go. They get in pushes. They nip at ankles. They get lots of yellow cards. Best yet, they get turnovers high up the pitch. These turnovers have been the most consistent form of goal scoring for St. Louis, but even if we do get goals from run of play, these guys often have a hand in that too. So, if you’re watching St. Louis, start with those two (Ivan is injured, so watch for Tyler David to play the same role, but more…politely), and watch the talent revolve around them.
As far as the strong start (minus the Louisville opener)–yes. I’m shocked. Two weeks before the season started, the front office went on a campaign telling everyone that Preki’s teams typically get off to a slow start but finish strong. We were still having the goal scoring problems, and I think they wanted to get out ahead of the losses they saw on the horizon. Well, St. Louis eked out two last minute wins at home, scoring three goals per game in the process I am indeed surprised. If this is the slow start we were promised, the USL could be in some trouble. That said, the team is about to go on a three game in a week run–two of those away. We’ll see how the team deals with the travel, recovery, and the growing list of injuries.” NOTE: This interview was before Wednesday’s 2-1 Saint Louis FC victory over Pittsburgh.
Three Game Gauntlet
FC Cincinnati topped a struggling Saint Louis FC side twice last season, both times by a 2-1 scoreline. The team they will face on Saturday looks very different however. They have a new coach, a revamped roster, and will come into the match full of confidence. Saint Louis FC did play midweek however, so FC Cincinnati should have an advantage in terms of freshness.
Saturday’s match against Saint Louis FC is the first of a three game gauntlet where FC Cincinnati will face the best of the USL’s Eastern Conference. Koch’s men will square off with the Tampa Bay Rowdies next on Wednesday. Like Saint Louis FC, the second place Florida outfit is competing with Cincinnati for an MLS expansion bid. They are also a NASL defector who eliminated FC Cincinnati from the US Open Cup last season. Finally, the Orange and Blue play Louisville City FC in the first installment of the Dirty River Derby next Saturday. Louisville currently sits third in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
It’s going to be an epic week of soccer in the Queen City, and a chance for FC Cincinnati to put themselves right back in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of the 2017 home opener.