With only nine days until the season starts, the smoke is starting to clear after the off-season demolition job done to this FC Cincinnati squad. By the time the first whistle is blown at Nippert a month from now, the team will be almost unrecognizable to the average FCC fan. One can almost imagine the hours Coach Koch and company have spent going through scouting and sorting just to get the semblance of a Starting XI.
Personally, my own lineup has gone through multiple edits as well, but it’s probably the best time to unveil what I could design. Of course, this doesn’t come without warnings; I’m not, nor have I ever claimed to be, someone who can put together a Starting XI for a competitive squad, but I feel that anyone on this FCC team could start in Week 1 and produce numbers.
This is also not a claim that I think negatively about the people I’ve left off my squad—I think each player has something positive to bring to the team, and I hope they both enjoy their stay in the Queen City and bring a great vibe to it.
My predicted Starting XI vs. Charleston:
Bahner – Keinan – Lasso – Smith
Walker – Ryan
Ledesma – Albadawi – Laing
Subs: Richey (GK), Hoyte, Barrett, McLaughlin, Haber, Bone, Ameobi
I still feel that four or five players on my 4-2-3-1 formation could be replaced if others perform well against Sacramento on Saturday. However, I do see some solid pairings over the past two games, especially in the backfield. Both Dekel Keinan and Forrest Lasso have demonstrated the ability to be vocal on the defensive end, as well as toughness and command at the offensive end, producing some solid goals on corner set-pieces. I can see Paddy Barrett giving Keinan some breaks, but Lasso should be the workhorse this season.
I went with Evan Newton in goal, even though I think Spencer Richey is a solid backup option. I’ve been open about my belief that we overplayed Hildebrandt in goal the past two years—it just didn’t seem that Harkes or Koch believed in giving the backups a few games. I’m hoping that we see a 65/35 distribution between Newton and Richey (with a game or two given to Mark Village) so that our keepers can remain fresh.
For the midfield, Kenney Walker and Richie Ryan appear to be establishing good work between them, and their experience makes them indispensable. I think Manu Ledesma and Nazmi Albadawi should be sensible starts in the midfield, even though the tweak in Nazmi’s back has me wondering if Corben Bone gets the nod. (Of course, I also thought that Aodhan Quinn would be the perfect piece with Walker and Bone last year, so take my midfielder suggestions with a grain of salt.)
The edges could see some variation, but right now I feel sold with Blake Smith and Lance Laing on the left. Smith showed some frustration in the first half against Nashville, but gradually developed flexible movement with Laing in the second half. If Smith blitzes up the side, Laing is capable enough to drop back, as well. On the other side, I think either Matt Bahner or Justin Hoyte would work well, but I’ll go with the Cincinnati native for Week 1. At the moment, this spot is a coin flip that could be determined by the game vs. Sacramento.
The forward position could end up being the most difficult to predict. It appeared that Laing and Emery Welshman clicked against Nashville, while Daniel Haber and Tomi Ameobi worked best together against NKU. I wouldn’t be surprised if those combinations became Koch’s preferred pairings. I also wouldn’t be surprised if you found all three forwards (Welshman, Ameobi, and Danni König) getting equal minutes and goal distribution by the end of the year. For the sake of this lineup, I went with maneuverability over muscle and put Welshman with Laing to begin.
Koch has put together a squad with individual experience, but also a little bit of a higher average age by the time the first game begins. The team’s average is higher than last year’s (27.3 vs. 26 in 2017), but the Starting XI I’ve concocted has an average age of 28.7. Koch will tell you that age means nothing in this league, but hopefully, the overall boost in talent will make this Starting XI flexible enough to give people plenty of rest and opponents plenty of nightmares.
Does your Starting XI look the same? Would you tinker with the lineup or seek additional pieces? Let us know, and stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press as we wrap up FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason slate.