Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Sacramento Republic brings FC Cincinnati’s preseason slate to its conclusion.** Next weekend FC Cincinnati embarks on a long USL campaign starting with a Saint Patrick’s Day opener against the Charleston Battery. Here are a few thoughts to share after fully digesting Saturday’s preseason rehearsal against Republic FC.
Well, Saturday was a bit disappointing, wasn’t it? After a six-game undefeated run that included a lot of positives and excitement, yesterday’s result was an anti-climatic conclusion to the 2018 preseason. Sacramento dominated play in our backyard, and they were two goals to the good before an 84th minute Keinan header made the final score respectable. While there are certainly areas to be concerned about, there really is no need to panic at this early stage.
Soccer is the ultimate team sport, and to expect a team with 15+ new players to come flying out of the gates is probably unrealistic. Building a high-performing team is just as much about finding the right chemistry and having a game plan that fits the players, more so than having the best raw talent. Even with a long preseason, expect it to take one-third of the USL season to get that mix right. The players need to develop enough familiarity with each other and the system to deliver to their potential. If FC Cincinnati isn’t looking good in the late-May timeframe, the hard questions should come to the surface.
There were some positives to make note of, as well. Another goal means that the Orange and Blue scored in each of their seven preseason matches. The Bailey was rocking again, and you could feel the pent-up energy in the drums and chants after a long offseason. The new kits looked pretty in the cold midday sunshine. There was even a player that stood out despite the result (which we’ll get too soon enough).
From a coaching perspective, Saturday’s result might not be a bad thing heading into the season either. Sure, it would have been nice as a fan to see the team thump an MLS expansion rival to build the excitement heading into game one. But Saturday’s loss knocks the team back a bit and reinforces that, even if they have a lot of talent, they are going to have to work hard and execute every time out. No trophies are handed out for having a good roster.
Small injuries are continuing to mount for the Orange and Blue. We expected Lance Laing (bone bruise) and Danni König (back spasms) to miss out, but Emery Welshman was surprisingly absent from both the first team and the bench. The Toronto native took a tumble in Friday’s 11-v-11 training and stayed down for a couple minutes. He continued thereafter but perhaps a small knock kept him out of Saturday’s action. No details are available yet, but stay tuned.
Tomi Ameobi also went down with an injury during Saturday’s match after a collision with Sacramento’s goalkeeper. He recovered and appeared to be ok, but our forward depth is being tested early. It’s worth noting that Manu Ledesma could quite comfortably fit into that role for some cover if needed.
Fortunately, most of these seem like small problems as opposed to more serious damage that could keep players out for sustained periods of time. Tyler Gibson, of course, continues to be out longer-term with a fractured fibula.
One player that we called out early and has impressed throughout preseason is another Toronto native, Daniel Haber. The Canadian international finished preseason with five assists and a goal to his name. He’s consistently produced quality service, threatens the opposition on the dribble, makes clever runs off the ball, and has end-product results. He’s beating loudly on the door of the first team right now, and even if he doesn’t start, he should be one of the first substitutes off the bench. He had 30 appearances and seven goals for a good 2017 Real Monarchs squad. This is a player accustomed to starting and is making his case to do so in the Queen City.
One and Done
FC Cincinnati has a strange start to their USL season from a scheduling perspective. They go to South Carolina for another “Groundhog Day” season opener against Charleston. After that, they get a two-week break from league action before their next match away to Indy Eleven. While this calendar wrinkle might be annoying to soccer-starved fans, it could be quite beneficial to a team looking to figure out its identify and solidify its tactical plan for the 2018 season. Hopefully, it will also provide an opportunity for some of these minor injuries to clear up as well, so Koch has the full roster to select from for back-to-back rivalry matches against Indy Eleven and Louisville City.
So that’s a wrap for FC Cincinnati’s third preseason. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue press for coverage of next week’s season opener, including the return of our cheat sheet previews for the Charleston match.
**In truth, FC Cincinnati also snuck in a Sunday, March 11th friendly against Wright State Men’s Soccer and cruised to a 5-0 win.