Thoughts On Harkes’ Departure

In the aftermath of the dismissal of coach John Harkes, FC Cincinnati fans are left to speculate about what went wrong and where FC Cincinnati goes from here.

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A day after the dismissal of John Harkes as head coach of FC Cincinnati, there’s no additional information about the circumstances of his departure. I’m sure the club prefers not to air its laundry any more than is necessary and wants to refocus attention on the team and the season ahead. Time will tell whether Harkes comes forward with more information about what actually transpired. Until that happens or some inside information leaks, any analysis of the reason for his dismissal is just speculation.

People are going to speculate. It’s human nature to speculate whether it’s helpful or not. Without a clear understanding of what happened and why, speculation will result.

John Harkes, both as a name and as a man, brought excitement and passion to the club. He also presented himself as a genuine guy that cared about the city, the club, its supporters and its success. He brought a sense of humor to most of his interactions that many appreciated. Just last Monday, I brought my two young daughters to a book signing and he was there at the end of a two hour session, happily engaging with them in a fun and genuine way. People connected with that and will miss it.

It’s ok for fans to be shocked and angry about the change. Supporters need time to react, have their say, think about what it means, and get over it to whatever extent they need to. People adjust to change and bad news differently, and at different speeds. What seems certain though is that Harkes isn’t coming back, so let’s get that process started.

The firing is significant and shocking because of the weight of the Harkes name, and the perceived success of the first season. He is a U.S. soccer legend. It was clearly a successful 2016 season. There must have been a very good reason to change the recipe so significantly just before the start of this year’s campaign.

The dismissal is also significant and shocking because of the unusual timing of the event. Coaches and players come and go. Their time with any particular club is often no more than a few years. They usually go as the result of clearer circumstances such as poor results or another opportunity elsewhere. Neither applies in this case.

This portion of yesterday’s press release is interesting. It describes new head coach Alan Koch as follows, “Alan leads by example, is a strong communicator and has established very clear expectations for himself and the players. We feel his disciplined approach will be key for a successful season.” It could be just wording but the words imply that Koch brings a level of discipline and organization that was perhaps not there before. Again, this is speculation.

Alan Koch is certainly an impressive soccer professional and qualified to lead this club forward. Orange and Blue Press recently interviewed Koch about his role with the club. While his role is much larger now as head coach, check out the segment (which includes audio) for more background on the new man in charge. There’s a lot more to be said about Koch but we have the rest of the season to do that.

No coach or player is bigger than the club, even with a club this young. FC Cincinnati will move forward and still has the ability to continue its rapid growth and have a successful 2017 season. The talent and depth on this squad is better than most in USL. As long as Koch can get his players refocused quickly, favorable results should follow.

Well that was all a bit too serious wasn’t it? The one certain cure for all this drama is some football. That football arrives tomorrow at 3:30pm when FC Cincinnati takes on OKC Energy in the team’s first preseason match.

What do you think? Air your grievances in the comments section.

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John Harkes Officially Dismissed as FC Cincinnati Coach

FC Cincinnati confirmed that John Harkes has been relieved of his duties as the coach of the club, to be replaced by assistant coach Alan Koch.

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At 7pm, news broke from unconfirmed sources that coach Harkes had lost his position as FC Cincinnati’s head coach. Reports: John Harkes Dismissed as FC Cincinnati Head Coach.

The reports cited a “power struggle” between Harkes and GM Jeff Berding as the reason for the dismissal.

FC Cincinnati issued a statement at 10pm on Friday night confirming reports that John Harkes had been dismissed.

FC Cincinnati President and GM Jeff Berding released the following statement:

“After careful consideration of what is in the best interest of the FC Cincinnati organization, I have decided to relieve John Harkes of his duties as FCC head coach, effective immediately.

We wish John all the best and thank him for his efforts in our inaugural year. We believe we have an exciting team and look forward to a special season with our fans at Nippert Stadium.

Alan Koch is a respected and experienced leader, who takes over head coaching duties and will continue preparing the team for the season that begins with tomorrow’s trip to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He led Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 to a Western Conference final with a very young team. Prior to that, he coached Simon Fraser University to four Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) championships, two Division II regional titles and to two NCAA Division II Final Four appearances.

Alan leads by example, is a strong communicator and has established very clear expectations for himself and the players. We feel his disciplined approach will be key for a successful season.

The ownership group continues to be committed to bringing top-level soccer to Cincinnati. The 2017 season presents a very unique opportunity for FCC to affect and, to a degree, determine our future and we feel this change gives us a technical staff that is in alignment with our vision for the franchise.

Coaching changes are not uncommon in the sporting world and many of them are difficult. Timing is also a consideration and we made this decision to give our new head coach time to prepare with the team for the upcoming season. I want to express my appreciation to our owners, players and staff for their support of this decision and handling a challenging situation with professionalism.”

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more thoughts on coach Harkes dismissal as the dust settles on a dramatic and unexpected twist in FC Cincinnati’s second season.

Also see: Thoughts on Harkes’ Departure

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FC Cincinnati’s Five Must-See Home Matches

FC Cincinnati released the full schedule for its second season on Tuesday. There are five home matches that stand out from the rest and are must-see events.

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FC Cincinnati released its long-awaited 2017 schedule on Tuesday afternoon. The USL calendar was delayed by several weeks waiting for US Soccer to make a decision on division two sanctioning. The USL received division two status and now, less than two months before the season begins, the full schedule is available.

FC Cincinnati begins the season with a challenging three game road trip. They face the Charleston Battery, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and Bethlehem Steel on three consecutive weekends starting on March 25th. Orange and Blue Press highly recommends taking in these games with the team’s most passionate supporters at Rhinehaus OTR, Molly Malone’s Covington, or one of FC Cincinnati’s pub partners.

All of the home matches at Nippert Stadium are, of course, worth your while. But the five matches listed below are must-see events. Mark your calendars, change your plans, take a day off, get a dog-sitter, cancel your vacation. Do what you have to do to support the Orange and Blue.

April 15th – Saint Louis FC (Home Opener) –  Get your taxes done early so you can see FC Cincinnati return to Nippert after a six month respite. The release of the pent-up Bailey energy on April 15th will be something to behold. Saint Louis FC is a new member of the Eastern conference, migrating from the USL’s West to balance the two conferences. FC Cincinnati played Saint Louis twice and beat them twice in 2016. A revamped Saint Louis FC, led by former US international Preki, will be looking for revenge. This early season game will also carry the weight of an MLS expansion rivalry.

April 22nd – Louisville City FC – The home leg of Dirty River Derby (a.k.a. River Cities Cup) is the #1 match of the season. It’s that simple. Take into account that FC Cincinnati has signed away not one but two LCFC players, including their captain. This match is going to be nasty and will feature a loud traveling contingent from Louisville. FC Cincinnati travels to Louisville for the second and third legs of this three games series. Mark July 15th and August 12th as travel dates on your calendar.

June 17th – Charleston Battery  – If FC Cincinnati has a bogey team this early in its existence, it’s the Charleston Battery. They’re 0-2-1 against the Battery, including the home playoff loss that ended FC Cincinnati’s inaugural season. This will be a revenge match against the old guard of a very new-look USL. They came into our house twice last year and took four points. That can’t happen in 2017.

August 23rd – Ottawa Fury – Two teams, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Ottawa Fury, defected from the troubled NASL to the USL’s Eastern Conference this offseason. Some may argue that Tampa is the more interesting matchup, considering our history and the competition over MLS expansion. However, the Tampa game is on a Wednesday and is sandwiched between two other must-see games. So Ottawa may be the game you earmark if you can only check out one of the two former NASL clubs this season.

September 16th – New York Red Bulls II  – The Baby Bulls were the class of the league last season, winning both the regular season and the USL Cup. FC Cincinnati lost to them twice last year, and both games were haunted by questionable refereeing decisions. The Orange and Blue will try to prove that they are the best of the East in the last home game of the regular season. Top playoff seeding will likely be on the line.

Honorable mention: September 2nd – Pittsburgh Riverhounds: What can you say, it’s Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds struggled in 2016 and all three matches the Orange and Blue played against them were, shall we say, tepid. It is Pittsburgh though. If you have Bengals baggage, this is the day to deal with it.

The full 2017 FC Cincinnati schedule can be found here. Times for all matches will be announced at a later date.

What do you think?  Which games are you most looking forward to seeing? Leave a comment below.

If you don’t have season tickets already, right now would be a stellar time to lock some up. Over 9,000 season tickets have been sold already.

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USL D2 Sanctioning Matters to the Average FC Cincinnati Fan

The US Soccer Federation elevated USL to division two status along side the NASL. The decision is significant for the USL, FC Cincinnati, AND the average fan.

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As the dust settles on US Soccer’s decision to elevate USL from division three to division two status, the average FC Cincinnati supporter is asking “why should I care?”

When the season kicks off in March, it’s true that not much will look different (except for the recently widened Nippert field…nice!). FCC will play in USL, a lower tier of American soccer. NASL remains an independent league at the same division two level, so there will be no consolidation of leagues. Because of that, it’s likely that the USL will be structured the same with an Eastern and Western Conference. A few teams have come, a few have gone, but the names on the opposite side of the scoreboard will largely look the same. Not much different right?

From the USL’s perspective and the club’s perspective, this decision is clearly significant. The decision is a recognition by US Soccer of the success of the USL’s business and recent aggressive expansion. It’s a validation of their business model and a league structure that combines independent clubs, like FC Cincinnati, with MLS2 teams and affiliates. The elevated division status will make it easier for USL clubs to strike better advertising, sponsorship, TV, and radio deals. D2 status should equal increased revenue.

Although it means much more to many of its supporters, professional soccer is by definition a business. If FC Cincinnati and other USL clubs can capitalize financially on their elevated status and increase revenue, they will have more money to invest in the club, spend on players, improve training facilities, develop academy programs, build/improve stadiums, etc. Increased revenue, assuming that it is balanced with effective cost management, will also produce better year end statements validating USL clubs as a businesses. Owners make money, justifying their initial investment, clubs are worth more and can better attract additional investment if necessary. Soccer grows, from a business perspective.

So no, we won’t see a big difference at this year’s home opener at Nippert, but division two status should impact the product on display and the financial health of the club in the long term. How much more revenue will there be at division two than division three? That’s debatable.

Disagree? Good, it’s all about dialogue. Tell us why in the comments section.

It’s important to note that US Soccer’s decision is provisional. USL has work to do to secure this status going forward. It should also be mentioned that both USL and NASL have had their fair share of up and downs. The lower divisions of American soccer continue to be very dynamic, and sometimes not in a good way. Good business needs to continue and supporters need to support, or a lot can change very quickly.

Sympathy for NASL Supporters

It’s likely that very few NASL supporters want sympathy from FC Cincinnati fans, but they deserve it. US Soccer’s decision gives the NASL a life line, but a lot has to be done to restore that league to full health. Many dedicated fans in those cities are looking on with uncertainty as their club’s future hangs in the balance. These supporters are the fabric of American soccer culture and are the same as you and me in everything but geography.

Well all that crap was quite serious right, how about something lighter?

The best part of this mess was Friday’s social media meltdown as reporters, supporters, and the clubs themselves waited well into the evening for the repeatedly delayed decision. The announcement was expected in the afternoon but didn’t come until 9:10pm Eastern.

Fortunately, the soccer community entertained each other with four jokes on repeat for about six hours. Here’s a statistically accurate breakdown of that humor.

59% Comparing US Soccer’s decision making process to a soccer game going to penalty kicks

22% Comparing US Soccer’s decision making process to  a papal election ceremony (white smoke, etc.)

11% A Russian hacking attack has the meeting in disarray. Systems down!

6% Jill Stein requested a recount

2% Sunil Gulati dick jokes

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more color leading up to the 2017 season. With this decision out of the way, a USL season schedule should be forthcoming.

 

 

 

 

Harkes and FC Cincinnati Issue 35K, Founders Box Challenge

John Harkes and FC Cincinnati issue a challenge to fans to sell out Nippert Stadium. Additional playoff promotions are revealed.

FC Cincinnati coach John Harkes issued a challenge to the city of Cincinnati to sell-out the team’s October 2nd playoff game and pack Nippert Stadium with 35 thousand fans. The challenge was laid out on the Toyota John Harkes Radio Show on Thursday evening, a program hosted by FC Cincinnati play-by-play announcer Tommy Gelehrter.

“I don’t think we’re out of line asking for that.” said Harkes of his request for the large crowd. He referenced the three times his club has broken the USL single game attendance record. He also cited the sell-out friendly against Crystal Palace as a reason to believe an enormous crowd is possible.

In addition to the challenge issued by Harkes, two additional playoff promotions were announced on the show. First, the playoff game will be a “white out” where fans are encouraged to wear white in support of the hometown club. Second, a Twitter challenge was announced encouraging fans to retweet a 7pm FC Cincinnati tweet promoting the white out. The goal of the Twitter promotion is to get at least 1,000 retweets. If that happens, one winner will be selected from the fans that retweet, and will get the honor of being on the field for the coin toss at the playoff game. The lucky fan will also be invited to watch the match from the Founder’s Box, where the FC Cincinnati owners and general manager Jeff Berding sit.

FC Cincinnati players Casey Townsend and Corben Bone also joined the hour long radio program. Townsend, a recent acquisition, scored the game winning goal last Saturday against Orlando City B to secure the home playoff game.

The humble Townsend described the goal, heaping praise on midfielder Eric Stevenson for the buildup play that led to his strike. “That goal was mostly Eric’s, he played a great ball…I got the slightest of touches. The goal was mostly his.”

Corben Bone spoke about Townsend joining the team late in the season and his contribution.  “We just want to make him feel welcome, but he’s a veteran guy. He’s made an immediate impact…and it proves that he should be here.”

Before turning their attention to the playoffs, FC Cincinnati must play their final game of the regular season this Saturday against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Orange and Blue cannot improve their third place standing, so they may rest key players for the weekend contest in Pennsylvania. Harkes was tight-lipped about what lineup changes might be made, but suggested that he would evaluate who needs rest on an “individual” basis. He also referenced the importance of going into the playoffs with momentum and a winning mentality.

FC Cincinnati fans should pay close attention to other results in the Eastern Conference this weekend. The games played on Saturday and Sunday will determine final playoff seedings and FC Cincinnati’s opponent in the playoff game. FCC could face any one of Charlotte, Richmond, Rochester or Charleston in that matchup. For the full lineup of USL action this weekend, see the schedule on the USL website.

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Cummings Out for “Several Weeks”, Could Miss Playoffs

FC Cincinnati issued a press release on Wednesday with more information about Omar Cummings’ knee injury.

FC Cincinnati issued a press release Wednesday with a little more information about the knee injury Omar Cummings suffered during the August 24th draw against the Rochester Rhinos. The injury occurred when Cummings collided with Rochester goalkeeper Tomas Gomez in the penalty box in the first half of the match. The FC Cincinnati forward had to be substituted out of the game, but was able to leave the field under his own power. Cummings underwent an MRI in the week that followed to assess whether any significant damage was done. FC Cincinnati’s press release does not report any specifics on the injury itself, but states that Cummings will be out for “several weeks.” The time frame stated is vague but brings into question whether he will be available for FC Cincinnati’s playoff run, which starts around the beginning of October.

Cummings has been a valuable part of FCC’s offense this season. He is the joint assist leader (along with Corben Bone at 5 assists) and has scored 3 goals for the Orange and Blue in 16 appearances. Orange and Blue Press and FC Cincinnati’s fans certainly wish Omar a speedy recovery and quick return to first team action.

Coach Harkes made the following comments about Cummings injury:

“Omar is an important player to our organization, both on and off the field. He has been tremendous for us in our inaugural year and we hope to see him healthy and back soon!”

FC Cincinnati is in action this evening at 7pm ET against the Charlotte Independence. For details on tonight’s matchup, see our cheat sheet segment.

Justice for Mitch, “Kind Of”

The USL rescinded Mitch Hildebrandt’s red card from Sunday’s match against Red Bulls II, but controversy still swirls.

The outcome of FC Cincinnati‘s match against New York Red Bulls II on Sunday was heavily influenced when a penalty kick was awarded to New York in the 9th minute of play. After a lengthy video review of the incident by the USL’s experimental VAR (Video Assistant Referee) system, a penalty kick was awarded to Red Bulls II. FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt was then issued a red card for denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity and was dismissed from the match. FC Cincinnati was reduced to 10 men, New York converted the penalty kick, and the Orange and Blue lost 2-0 with the second goal coming after the 90th minute. As part of the review, the VAR appeared to overturn an offside call by the assistant referee that would have negated the penalty incident.

On Tuesday evening, the USL issued the following statement rescinding the red card against Hildebrandt.

“Following an appeal from FC Cincinnati, goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt’s red card from Sunday’s game against the New York Red Bulls II has been rescinded, making him eligible for his team’s game against the Charlotte Independence on Wednesday night.”

FC Cincinnati President and General Manager Jeff Berding issued the following response after the decision.

“We are pleased with the USL for rescinding Mitch Hildebrandt’s red card from Sunday night’s match versus NYRBII and restoring his eligibility to play tomorrow in another key match against Charlotte Independence. While we are happy to get Mitch back for Charlotte, the result of the New York match remains a disappointment to our team, owners, staff and fans. Subjective judgements and mistakes remain a part of the game and we are appreciative that the league office is understanding of that and took steps to correct the situation.”

While it is commendable that the red card was overturned by USL a few things remain troublesome.

First, it’s disappointing that it took a FC Cincinnati appeal to set these events into motion. Perhaps the USL would have taken corrective action on their own, but the appeal is clearly referenced in the statement and it’s uncertain whether any remediation would have taken place without a formal complaint.

Second, more clarity or information about why specifically the red card was rescinded would be helpful.

Third, any confidence or optimism that people watching this match may have had in the use of video replay has to be shaken by the events on the field Sunday night. It’s worth noting that a second penalty was awarded to New York in stoppage time, and the play did not appear to be reviewed by VAR at all. It is certain that the average FC Cincinnati fan thought that second penalty decision was questionable as well, yet there was no review to confirm the referee’s decision.

Most importantly, the red card changed the complexion of the match and heavily influenced the result. There is nothing that can be done to change that now. The match is in the books. The points dropped by FC Cincinnati will likely have a tangible impact on their positioning in this year’s postseason though.

So Mitch will play on Wednesday against Charlotte and FC Cincinnati fans are thankful for it. A partial remedy has been provided, but the officiating decisions on the field Sunday will continue to have an impact both on the points totals in the table and in the minds of the USL’s new FC Cincinnati audience.

The Orange and Blue are back  in action Wednesday, August 31st against the Charlotte Independence in North Carolina. See our matchup segment for more details.

The Crystal Palace Friendly Paradox

How important is the Crystal Palace friendly to FC Cincinnati? To Cincinnati soccer?

Waking up on the Thursday morning before the Crystal Palace friendly, a match being billed as “the highest level soccer match ever to be played in the city of Cincinnati,” I’m feeling anxious, excited and frankly, ready for the work week to be over. I’m also feeling a little confused and here’s why. This match, while it’s monumentally important for the city of Cincinnati as a soccer town, is most likely unimportant as an actual soccer match.

There is a ton of hype around the match, and rightly so. Never has a team with the quality of Crystal Palace set foot in the city of Cincinnati. Never has this town embraced the sport in such great numbers or with such fervor. This is indeed another opportunity to show the world (as the match will be broadcast worldwide via Facebook Live), and anyone at MLS that might care, that Cincinnati is a major league soccer town with passion that can rival any city, anywhere.

This match is, of course, a friendly though. We already know that both teams will give playing time to almost all of the players available (including reserves), with an eye on the experience rather than the result. Crystal Palace has not travelled with its full squad and will be focused on gaining fitness, gaining new fans, and integrating new signings into the team. FC Cincinnati will likely be cautious with its squad, and rightfully so. Starting on Wednesday July 20th, they will embark on a vitally important period of their USL season. Over a stretch of 11 days they will host 3 games against their closest competition for supremacy of the Eastern conference. It’s critical that they go into those matches well rested, at peak fitness and focused on the task at hand.

When I walk into the stadium as a fan of any team I support, my mind is always focused on “How is this going to go?”, “Will we win?”, “What are the key matchups?, “Where is the beer stand?” This match will be different. Aside from the beer, those factors are not really important. This is a normal situation for friendlies. People know that the actual match isn’t that important. But most friendlies aren’t being billed as the most important soccer match in a city’s history.

I’m not trying to be a downer or suggest people shouldn’t get excited and enjoy this match. They absolutely should and I will be right there beside you. The match is going to be a great day in the sun and a great celebration of the game of soccer and its long-awaited success in Cincinnati. Regardless of what happens on the field, that celebration will happen and that’s what matters.

A few other thoughts as we head into the Palace friendly:

We ran a poll earlier this week which asked “Will you follow Crystal Palace FC more closely this Premier League season because of their friendly with FC Cincinnati?”

About two thirds of the respondents said “Yes,” they would in fact follow Crystal Palace more closely. Obviously this is not a large or statistically unbiased sample but it highlights the fact that these friendlies do work from a business perspective. Let’s hope that Crystal Palace FC is the first of many high level clubs we see come through the Queen City.

Crystal Palace opened their US tour on Wednesday with a stop in Pennsylvania at the home of the Philadelphia Union. They played to a rather tepid 0-0 draw in front of a crowd of 12,881 at Talen Energy Stadium.

There’s been a lot speculation on who will start and play for CPFC in Cincinnati and this match gave us some insights into that.

As expected, Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew made several changes in the second half. The following players entered as substitutes: Delaney, Tomkins, Croll, Zaha, Sako, Lee, Wickham, and Campbell.

Further, this is the best press conference quote from Alan Pardew so far on the US tour.

“American audiences are different. They get excited about corners – I love that. We hope to bring out the crowds enthusiasm tomorrow night.”

With all of the fanfare, let’s not forget that a USL season is still being played and last night an important result went in FC Cincinnati’s favor. The Charleston Battery played to a goalless draw with Orlando City B (does anyone actually click on a link called “goalless draw”, methinks no). If 4th place Charleston had won, they would have pulled level on points with FC Cincinnati in the standings. Given the result, they sit 2 points behind FCC having played one more match.

The USL hosted another friendly against Premier League opposition yesterday, when the Charlotte Independence played Swansea City at Ramblewood Soccer Complex. The gulf in class was apparent and Charlotte took a 4-0 battering at the hands of their Welsh guests. Not so friendly. Let’s hope and expect that the boys in Orange and Blue will fare a little better on Saturday. Make no mistake though. The talent of our opposition is, literally, in an different league and this Charlotte result emphasizes that.

Get out for some of the fanfare associated with this match. There is literally a weekend’s worth of activities surrounding Saturday’s game. Check out the following resource by Cincinnati Soccer Talk with a summary of the weekend’s events.

The current forecast is calling for a high of 87 degrees and the chance of a stray shower. It should be cooling by 7pm and let’s hope mother nature is kind to us and that’s as hot as it gets. Otherwise, our friends from England may in fact melt on our artificial turf field. Given the luck FCC has had with weather so far this season, this is a really a forecast to be thankful for.

Overall…enjoy. I’m thinking of this as a mid-season celebration before we return back to the second half of the USL campaign and with any luck, a decent playoff run.