What FC Cincinnati Needs to Improve for RSL Win

As FC Cincinnati looks to Friday night’s clash versus Real Salt Lake, Alan Koch’s squad understands they must improve a few key aspects…

Image:Joe Craven

As FC Cincinnati looks to Friday night’s clash versus Real Salt Lake, Alan Koch’s squad understands they must improve key aspects of their game in order to take all three points.

Cincinnati (2-3-2) finds themselves hovering mid-table in a balanced Eastern Conference after a defeat to league-leaders Los Angeles Football Club.

“To keep them [LAFC] to 1-0 until the 90th minute was a testament to the defensive work we did out there,” said Victor Ulloa. “It was unfortunate to give up that first goal on a set piece, something that we can control.”

“We created chances,” Ulloa continued. “We created clear chances and you have to put them away. I think we could be talking today about walking away with a point, but we take the positives and we grow.”

The attitude that FCC must acknowledge and move on from last Saturday’s shortcomings is prevalent throughout the team.

“I thought we were very unfortunate not to get a result,” said Kekuta Manneh. “We had our chances and we didn’t take them. It’s something to build on.”

The next game week occurs at a time in which both Cincinnati and Real Salt Lake reside on the fringes of a playoff picture that is just starting to emerge. Real Salt Lake (2-4-1) travels to Nippert Stadium looking for two wins in a row following a home victory against Orlando City SC. The opening run of games has not been kind to RSL overall, as they have fallen to 2019 title-contenders such as Seattle Sounders, D.C. United, and LAFC.

“They’re a tough team that works really hard,” Victor Ulloa said. “They are going to come in here and try to get a result away. So, we have to get back to our winning ways at home and give the fans what they deserve and that’s three points.”

Although not expected to earn a result away to LAFC, arguably the hottest team in MLS, the same cannot be said for the upcoming home matchup against RSL. Alan Koch’s side should attempt to dictate the tempo against a Real Salt Lake side that often concedes possession.

“It’s interesting,” Koch said, “because when I say possess the ball better, people criticize it and say, ‘You’re a transition team. Why are you trying to possess the ball?’ But when we do possess the ball, then it doesn’t give the opposition a chance to try to break us down.”

“Yeah, of course we’re going to focus on transitioning moments because we’re good at those when we attack,” Koch continued. “We want to reinforce being good in attacking transition, but I do think that if we can possess the ball more, it takes away from the team that we play against too.”

Determining the appropriate balance between possession and counterattacking football is essential in ensuring Koch can set up his team to succeed.

From there, it is up to Cincinnati’s attacking threats to be clinical in front of goal.

Deeper Cuts: Point Taken in the Peachtree State

A deeper look at FC Cincinnati 1-1 draw against Atlanta United, including player availability, a compact defense, and a foundation for future success.

Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati

Although we turned our clocks forward an hour yesterday, let’s go back in time. Think about it. Several months ago, weeks ago, or even on Sunday morning, if you had offered the FCC players, technical staff and fans the opportunity to earn a point at Mercedes Benz Stadium, all of us would have taken it in a heartbeat.

The key word is “earned”. FC Cincinnati ventured into the Peachtree State in front of 70,000+ Red and Black feverish fans and witnessed the unfurling of Atlanta United’s 2018 MLS Cup Banner. After the 4-1 drubbing in Seattle a week earlier, no one was giving the Orange & Blue a chance in this game, including me.

Lo and behold, a plucky FC Cincinnati put together a memorable performance yesterday. After allowing an early goal to all-time MLS single-season scoring leader, Josef Martinez, FCC settled into the game. They were able to take the one-goal deficit into halftime and use the remaining time to their advantage.

As the pressure built to a kettle-like boiling point, Alan Koch released his second-half substitutes. Each one made an impact and enabled the Orange & Blue to secure a deserved 86th-minute equalizer. Kenny Saief calmly collected a loose ball, dribbled around his mark and played a scintillating through-pass to the surging Roland Lamah. Lamah sped past everyone inside ‘the Benz’ and slotted a left-footed screamer past Guzan. Here is the historic equalizer.

Atlanta, the Peachtree State, and all of MLS were stunned. The newcomers to the league are the first team since Toronto FC to earn a point in Atlanta which was on August 4, 2018.

Let’s look at several factors that contributed to the vast improvement for FCC to taking their first MLS point.

Player Availability and Selected 18-man Roster

One of the key differences between the first two matches, and subsequently their results, was the player availability and selection of the 18-man roster. The two obvious additions to yesterday’s game-day roster were USMNT capped players Saief and Greg Garza. FCC’s newest player, and 4-month loanee Saief, made an immediate impact on the match. In 17 minutes as a substitute, Saief accomplished the following in his MLS debut:

  • Sublime through ball setting up Roland Lamah’s 86th-minute strike
  • Nine successful passes in contrast to only two unsuccessful passes – six inside Atlanta’s half and three within the final attacking third
  • Two timely recoveries in FCC’s defensive half
  • A calming and attack-minded presence

Additionally, Koch’s two midfield changes – Costa Rican Allen Cruz and MLS veteran Kekuta Manneh – were significant net adds to the starting XI. Both players brought a tireless work rate, especially defensively, and quicker pace of play to the line-up.

Compact Defensive Effort

Even though FCC’s 4-2-3-1 shape was the same as the opening match, the tactics (and personnel as mentioned above) were vastly different.

Tactically versus Seattle, FC Cincinnati played a dangerous and sometimes careless high defensive line. They also allowed a ton of flexibility for its outside fullbacks to freely venture up the flanks. This lead to an unbalanced team and individual defensive lapses resulting in an onslaught of Seattle attacking pressure. The graphic below illustrates how much Seattle peppered FC Cincinnati’s box with scoring chances. Total shots (24), shots on target (9), and 15 shots inside the 18-yard box, including all four tallies. Game, set, match.

Shots Allowed – Seattle Sounders

In contrast, in Atlanta, the defensive shape was more compact. The outside fullbacks, Alvas Powell in particular, remained more stable and connected to the center backs. Combined with the midfield changes, FCC was able to absorb pressure despite conceding a lot of possession. Lamah, Manneh, and Cruz used their pace and experience to apply more pressure on the ball outside the defensive third. This acted as the first shield of defense in front of the central defensive midfielders and backline.

Not surprisingly, Koch stated post-match that a big part of the game plan was to not give Josef Martinez and others any space. As a result, scoring chances and shots against improved mightily, against one of the most prolific scoring sides in the league. Total shots (10), shots on target (4), and only 5 shots inside the 18-yard box.

Shots Allowed – Atlanta United

Foundation Building

What a difference a week makes. These personnel and tactical changes enabled FCC to nick a valuable away point in Atlanta. Regardless of whether the Five Stripes were suffering from an early fixture load or a shaky start under new manager Frank de Boer, taking a point from the defending champions is a superb result for FC Cincinnati. The result is a foundation of success that they can build upon.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as we prepare you for the 2019 home-opener at Nippert on Sunday.

Spencer Richey, Cinderella, Injuries and #HELLISREAL the Prequel

Match notes from Wednesday’s draw between FC Cincinnat and the Chicago fire including Spencer Richey, Injuries, and #HELLISREAL the Prequel.

FC Cincinnati earned an unlikely draw against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday in their second match of the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston. Despite a lackluster performance for the first 70 minutes, a late Roland Lamah thunderbolt and some epic Spencer Richey goalkeeping earned the Orange and Blue a point from the contest.

Spencer Richey

If there’s one name you should take away from this preseason tie, it’s Spencer Richey. He played a blinder of a match on Wednesday, and while we don’t have official match stats, that had to be close to a 10-save-match for the Washington native. The score line could and would have looked a lot worse without his notable efforts between the posts.

Przemysław Tytoń, with his extensive European pedigree, seems a shoo-in as the regular starter. But if Richey can continue to perform at the level he did on Wednesday, Alan Koch and Jack Stern won’t be able to keep him out of the net for long. That’s a good problem to have for the coaching staff.

Cinderella Transformation

The first unit that took the field for the majority of the match struggled mightily against a Fire side that began the match without many of its regular starters. Alan Koch said the following at the game’s conclusion, when speaking about the troubles they encountered.

“We looked completely disconnected. There was no support. When we tried to get the ball forward, Darren was completely by himself. When guys at the back had the ball, there was no movement . . . It’s not that they aren’t capable of doing it, but it’s the tightness in the way they went out and played. Also give Chicago credit. They pressed, and they did a very good job of it.”

In the 70th minute, FC Cincinnati ditched their proverbial rags and transformed into something quite different. Alan Koch rotated his squad, changing 9 players. The difference couldn’t have been more stark. They were immediately able to possess the ball and penetrate Chicago’s midfield, leading to quality chances in the final third. Lamah’s slice of finishing brilliance gave the Orange & Blue the unlikely equalizer.

Injuries

Injuries are beginning to loom quite large for the Orange & Blue, particularly in defense. At this late stage of preseason, those injuries seem likely to impact the start of the regular season. Greg Garza and Kendall Waston, arguably the two most valuable and expensive pieces of FC Cincinnati’s defense, still aren’t dressing for games. What is already an EXTREMELY difficult to start to the regular season will become even more difficult without the quality and experience those players provide. It is difficult to see them being match fit by March 2nd, even if they have recovered from their respective injuries.

FC Cincinnati’s depth will, therefore, be tested early. Players will need to step up to the challenge, and the goalkeeping will have to resemble last night’s display if the Orange & Blue are to claim points out of the early-season schedule.

#HELLISREAL, the Prequel

FC Cincinnati will suit up against Columbus Crew SC on Saturday for the first time as an MLS team. In truth, I would prefer that they didn’t play in preseason, to build up anticipation for the August matches. Because this is an exhibition match, there will be lots of caveats regarding fitness, player selection, substitutions, and the like.

However, on the positive side, it will be a first look at what everyone hopes will become one of the best rivalries in MLS. As one of only two playoff teams that FC Cincinnati will face in the preseason, Columbus should provide a stiff test and give an indication of where the team stands one week before the matchup with Seattle. Given the squad rotation against Chicago, we are likely to see a starting eleven that looks similar to what will run out at CenturyLink Field for the MLS opener.

Oh, and of course, FC Cincinnati also has a chance to take the Carolina Challenge Cup with a win. Not that it matters really at all, but another small cup in the trophy cupboard would be nice, and could give them a morsel of extra confidence as they head into the regular season. This team has had a short runway to get ready for the top flight. Whether they are ready or not, March 2nd is almost here.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for move coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

D.C. Match Notes, Injuries, Dally Seizing Opportunity

Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati

The Result

FC Cincinnati drew 1-1 with D.C. United in the third and final game of the Bradenton portion of preseason programming. Now it’s time to play the broken record . . . don’t read too much into preseason results. FCC wasn’t at full strength. D.C. United wasn’t at full strength. There were a lot of substitutions and playing-time was given to players on the fringes of each team’s starting eleven. That being said, the team can take confidence from another positive result against the best team they’ve faced so far.

Thursday’s contest was a tale of two halves. D.C. dominated early when both team’s higher-priced players featured. United probably should have scored more than one goal but Przemysław Tytoń put in an inspired performance. That’s a good sign, becuase the Polish keeper will likely be called upon to keep FCC in the game more than once this season. The Orange & Blue controlled proceedings later in the match with a lineup that featured several USL carryovers and 2019 draftees. Nazmi Albadawi grabbed the 81st-minute equalizer to reward that group’s efforts. That man Manu Ledesma had the assist. It was another good preseason exercise, and that’s all.

Alan Koch had the following to say after the match.

“In the first 45 minutes tonight, if that was a league game, we could’ve been 3-0 down. So, it’s a great reality check to have that with a few weeks to go in our preparation. I said ‘you played three teams in the league, those three teams have been together for a long time, and we didn’t lose to any of them.’ Results don’t mean anything, but that shows a group that’s willing to come together and fight for each other, so we’ve gained a lot from this trip.”

Bradenton’s Been Good to the Orange & Blue

Geoff Tebbetts managed to glean a nice statistic out of yesterday’s contest, even without visuals or any real match data. The Boys in Orange & Blue end their IMG stint with 5 points (1-0-2). While it may only be preseason, FCC has 4 wins and 5 draws in 11 games at IMG over the last four preseasons.

No Major Injuries

Alan Koch starts almost every preseason interview talking about the importance of staying healthy during preseason. The FCC staff has an important challenge ahead to get the group match-ready in a short time-period but also to manage the health of the players. How well they do that will go a long way toward determining whether they can get any points out of three very difficult matches to open the MLS season.

There are still some minor injuries though. Greg Garza and Darren Mattocks did not play Thursday due to injury. Per our direct communications with FC Cincinnati today, Kendall Waston, Emery Welshman, and Leo Bertone were rested yesterday and didn’t miss the match because of injury. It’s worth noting that Pat Brennan is reporting some minor niggles with a few players in Friday’s training session..

In more positive news, Spencer Richey played his first live-action game minutes of the preseason, entering at halftime and finishing the game with a clean sheet for his portion of the contest.

Lundt to LCFC, Dally Seizing the Opportunity

FCC confirmed Thursday that Ben Lundt is officially headed to Louisville City FC on loan. This loan move was first reported on Tuesday by Kristian Dyer.

A loan has been anticipated since FC Cincinnati drafted two keepers back in January. Teams rarely keep more than three keepers on the roster, and Lundt is an international player. Louisville should be a suitable place for the German to continue his development, even if it will be difficult to see any FCC player in purple.

Another name that demands attention this preseason is Rashawn Dally. The Connecticut native must be doing something right this preseason. He signed an MLS contract with FC Cincinnati earlier this week and started alongside Fanendo Adi on Thursday. Dally has accumulated more playing time (80 minutes) than any other draftee so far.

Dally still might be loaned out, but as the only player FCC drafted in the third or fourth rounds of the 2019 SuperDraft, he’s making the most of his opportunity. If this team is light in any position, it’s on the forward line, so he may have a chance to remain with the MLS team.

The Orange and Blue return from Florida on Saturday and play their next friendly against Indy Eleven in the Indianapolis ‘burbs on Tuesday. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

Photo Credit: FC Cincinnati

From Orientation to Preparation, Eric Alexander, and a D.C. United Mini-Preview

FC Cincinnati heads into the preparation stage of preseason, and get’s ready for their final test in Bradenton against D.C United.

Alan Koch met with the local media on Monday to provide an update on how preseason camp is progressing. Koch claims to be “quite content” with the team’s first week in Bradenton. When asked about his goals for the final few days in the Sunshine State, FC Cincinnati’s head coach had the following to say.

We want to get through the next few days and stay healthy, then get through another good exercise with D.C. United . . . I’m happy with how last week went, but we want to see further growth. I want to see the guys show more unity and see relationships evolving. We’re less than a month away now, so every day is absolutely vital.

“Culture” on Display

Koch said that his biggest takeaway from the past week and the first two friendlies was the “culture” being cultivated by the group at an early stage. “We put a major emphasis on putting the team first here, making sure that we have the right people, . . . guys that are willing to sacrifice and play for something bigger than themselves.”

He also explained that the team is now entering the “preparation” phase of their preseason program. The past two weeks have been spent in the “orientation” phase, building familiarity both on and off the field. Now efforts shift in earnest to preparing through both training and tactics to play their first MLS match in Seattle on March 2nd .

Eric Alexander Nearly “Up to Speed”

Eric Alexander / Image: Ryan Meyer

One name that hasn’t made many headlines yet this preseason is Eric Alexander. The ex-Houston Dynamo midfielder and MLS veteran saw his first action Saturday, playing a half-hour in the second half of FCC’s 1-0 victory over Colorado.

Koch had the following to say about the 30-year-old.

He’s the player that has played the most games in the league on this team, and it shows. He very reliable, good in possession, and he’s highly intelligent. That’s why we picked him in the expansion draft. He’s been a little off the pace from a fitness perspective. But he’s doing some extra work with Austin Berry, and we’re trying to get him up to speed as quickly as possible. I’m excited to see him get more game time in the next few games.

While Alexander isn’t the type of midfielder that produces gaudy year-over-year stats, he does boast a wealth of MLS experience and know-how. He’s been a regular starter in the league since 2010 and has over 30 appearances with five different MLS clubs.

D.C. United Mini Preview

FC Cincinnati’s final test in Florida is against D.C. United on Thursday, February 7th. D.C. United finished fourth in the Eastern Conference last season, a full 20 points behind Supporter’s Shield winners New York Red Bulls. The playoff run that followed was brief for Wayne Rooney and company. Columbus Crew eliminated them in the first round of the postseason in a penalty-kick shootout.

Ben Olsen’s squad just completed their first preseason warmup last weekend, a 1-0 victory against Bethlehem Steel FC. Wayne Rooney left the match after just 18 minutes after picking up a minor injury but is expected to be fit for Thursday.

D.C. United made more headlines off the field last week than on it. The team was directly in the spotlight when Paris Saint-Germain tried to land standout forward Luciano Acosta late on European transfer deadline day. The deal fell through in the final hours due to a disagreement over the transfer fee and a lack of support from PSG manager Thomas Tuchel.

Alan Koch didn’t divulge many clues about how the team would set up against D.C. United, but he did say they would use a “slightly different approach.” In the previous two friendlies, FCC featured two separate groups of 10 different outfield players. The second friendly also saw the late match introduction of some of the draftees and Eric Alexander. Koch had the following to say about FCC’s next preseason opponent.

D.C. United are a direct competitor, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they play. They should be further ahead in their preparations than we are, given that they have a big returning group. We’re looking forward to another big challenge.

Darren Mattocks will miss the match against his former club after sustaining a leg injury in training on Monday. Greg Garza is still expected to be out as well. Spencer Richey is now fit enough to play after fully recovering from offseason surgery, and will likely see his first game action per Koch.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

Colorado Takeaways, Cruz’s International, and Open Cup Planning

FC CIncinnati is two-for-two on positive results in preseason, a Rapids debrief, info on Cruz’s 7th international, and a look at the U.S. Open Cup inmpact.

Image: Ryan Meyer

The Result

FC Cincinnati’s second preseason effort of 2019 yielded a slender 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The victory comes with an asterisk, given Kendall Waston’s 21st-minute red card and Colorado’s youth-laden lineup. But the squad is two-for-two on positive results, and more importantly, no injuries were sustained during the contest.

Adding to the positives, Eric Alexander and five of the draftees saw their first in-game action of the preseason. Alexander, the Portage, Michigan native, came into camp with a slight injury and didn’t take part in the first preseason match versus Montréal Impact. Despite being subbed out later on, Alexander logged 30 minutes against the Rapids. Alexander has 212 MLS appearances since 2010, the most on FC Cincinnati’s roster.

Forrest Lasso continued his strong start to the preseason on Saturday, deflecting a header from Hassam Ndam for the only goal. He now has a goal, an assist, and a clean sheet in both of the halves that he’s been on the field.

Alan Koch was especially impressed with the team’s defense against Colorado.

I was impressed with the shape of both groups. We got a shut-out in the first 45 minutes and in the second 45 minutes. When you focus on a lot of defensive work this week, that’s a huge positive.

FCC featured a three-center-back look over the 90 minutes against the Rapids. The team was set up in a 3-5-2 formation, in contrast to the 4-3-3 that FCC ran against Montréal.

Next up is D.C. United on Thursday for a 7 pm kickoff in the last match of FC Cincinnati’s IMG camp.

Cruz’s International

Allan Cruz missed the Colorado friendly in Bradenton and instead played the full 90 minutes in Costa Rica’s 2-0 loss to the United States Men’s National Team. Earning meaningful minutes at the international level at age 22 is impressive, even if a few fans were put off by a perception that the midfielder went down a little too easily at times. That was Cruz’s seventh cap for the Ticos, all of which were earned during 2018 and 2019.

The Greg Berhalter Era of the USMNT is off to a crisp start, despite the first-year coach fielding only MLS-based players. His teams claimed two victories including five goals-for and none against. Hopefully, Greg Garza can get healthy and keep himself on the radar for future national team selection.

U.S. Open Cup Schedule

Last week saw the release of the schedule for the 106th U.S. Open Cup. As expected, FC Cincinnati will enter in the fourth round and play their first match on June 12th. In a scheduling twist, the fifth round will occur just one week later if FC Cincinnati progresses. Those two matches would fill in FC Cincinnati’s only true bye week on the 2019 calendar.

Here is what the June through mid-July match schedule looks like with the addition of the Open Cup matches. This assumes FCC participates in three rounds. If they advance all the way to a semifinal match, that will be played on August 7th.

6/1 at Colorado Rapids
6/6 at NYCFC (Thursday)
6/12 – USOC 4th Round (Wednesday)
6/18 to 6/23 – USOC 5th Round (likely Wednesday 6/19)
6/22 – LA Galaxy
6/29 – at Minnesota United
7/6 – Houston Dynamo
7/10 – USOC Quarterfinal
7/13 – at Chicago Fire
7/18 – D.C. United (Thursday)

The early rounds usually offer some fairy-tale regional stories and kick off May 7-8. Those consist of 19 first-round games featuring 84 teams from all levels. FC Cincinnati’s first U.S. Open Cup match in June could produce an intriguing regional match with an old USL foe like Indy Eleven, who is carrying several players from FCC’s 2018 roster.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

Preseason Draw, Mattocks, and Red-Hot Transfers

Brief takeaways from FC Cincinnati’s first preseason match against the Montreal Impact and a look at the red-hot end of January transfer market.

The Result

Results don’t matter in preseason, especially in the first game, but a draw in the first outing should give the team a little confidence if nothing else. Many of these players just met each other for the first time less than 10 days ago. So a 1-1 draw against an established MLS club, combined with no apparent injuries and our first goal makes for a decent first outing.

Koch gave us a list of desired outcomes pre-match, which included no injuries, gaining match fitness, developing relationships, seeing some players exceed expectations, and making mistakes. You can check most if not all of those boxes.

Darren Mattocks

It took Darren Mattocks less than 5 minutes of play in an FC Cincinnati jersey (or training top rather) to score a goal, and maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. Rooney’s arrival last season made him expendable at D.C. United, but Mattocks scored 10 goals in 25 appearances last year, 11 of which were as a substitute. His 2018 strike rate was 0.71 goals per 90 minutes, the best of his career.

Koch sang a familiar hymn post-match, that he’ll take goals any way he can get them. While it’s nice to play the beautiful game, that’s not realistic at this point. “If it’s a long ball and Darren uses his speed and ability to score a goal, it’s just as important as a goal with 25 passes. It takes a lot of cohesiveness and chemistry to score goals like that.” Koch said. Also, Forrest Lasso delivered a great ball for the assist, it must be said.

OK, that’s that. . .we weren’t in Bradenton, so there’s only so much to say about a match most people didn’t actually see. Next up, the Colorado Rapids face FC Cincinnati at 10:30 am on Saturday, February 2.

Hot Late-January Transfer Market

As the month of January comes to a close, the MLS transfer market is red hot. Plenty of moves involving big players and marquee clubs are unfolding. FC Cincinnati is entering the American first division at a time when the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been in terms of talent coming and going.

The sale of Miguel Almiron to Newcastle United for a fee believed to be $27M is today’s headline-maker.

Sebastian Giovinco, who is 32 and was approaching the end of his contract with Toronto, heads to Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia. In another move that is close but not done, D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta appears to be on his way to Paris Saint-Germain for a sum near $10M. The New England Revolution signed Carles Gil, a Spanish attacker once valued at over $7M. Out West, the Whitecaps land South Korean In-beom Hwang after a standout performance at the Asian Cup, in a transfer near the $2M mark. FC Cincinnati’s transfer business looks to be complete until the next transfer window, but could there be one more surprise left in Sassano’s bag of tricks?

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

Preseason Kickoff: Take Advantage of the Opportunity and “Make Some Mistakes”

After four days of training at IMG Academy, Alan Koch shares his thoughts before FC Cincinnati embarks on its preseason schedule against Impact de Montréal.

Image: Ryan Meyer

After four days of training at IMG Academy, FC Cincinnati embarks on its seven-game preseason schedule on Wednesday against Impact de Montréal. FC Cincinnati does not currently have plans to stream the 7pm kickoff, so social media will be the only outlet to keep up with the action. In a press conference on Tuesday, Alan Koch stressed the importance of “taking advantage of each one of the opportunities” that these preseason games offer.

Overload of Information

MLS mandated a January 21st date for the start of preseason camps, so FCC’s camp started later than last year. In addition, the MLS season starts earlier than USL. The short story is that the coaching staff doesn’t have the luxury of time in 2019. Koch said he’s spent the past four days “overloading” his players with information about how they want to play. “We wanted to give them a lot of information. Sometimes it clarifies things, and sometimes it confuses them, but regardless it’s part of the process.”

Game One Strategy

Alan Koch shared his roster plans for the tomorrow’s match. The strategy is similar to how the technical staff approached last year’s early preseason games in terms of full-squad rotation.

“We’re going to play 2 groups for 45 minutes. So 20 players, if everyone is healthy, will get 45 minutes each. There will be a few guys who won’t be able to get minutes tomorrow, and we’ll do some extra work with them to compensate for that. We plan on playing Tyton for 90 minutes in the game in goal.”

He noted that Spencer Richey is “not at 100% yet” and that goalkeeper Ben Lundt, drafted 37th overall by FC Cincinnati, has a minor injury which will keep him out. Therefore, Jimmy Hague, also drafted in the SuperDraft, will be the backup goalkeeper against Montréal. Koch commented that Hague has done very well so far during preseason,

Greg Garza is still out with a quadriceps strain, but he trained for the first time with a ball Tuesday. “It’s not too far away until he’s fully integrated into training,” Koch said.

Heavy Physical Workload

Continuing on the theme of making the most of preseason time, Koch confirmed that they would need to push the team physically over the next four-and-a-half weeks before the Seattle season opener.

“We’ll push them more than we did last year because we have less time to get ready. Many players had heavy legs and were a little stiff and fatigued today, and that’s expected. If we were in-season, there’s no way we would push them this hard right before a game. Part of it is getting yourself fit and getting ready. Last year we extended our preseason…we didn’t have to push them as much. This year we have to maximize every day.”

So what is the technical staff looking to see tomorrow? Koch gave us a list, which included no injuries, gaining match fitness, developing relationships, seeing some players exceed expectations, and mistakes. That’s right. “We want to see some mistakes. It’s ok to make mistakes at this stage” said Koch.

MLS Kit Fever

Back in Cincinnati, FC Cincinnati fans have been screaming for new kits since the brand-reveal last November, and news finally came on Tuesday. The team’s inaugural uniforms will be unveiled at Cincinnati’s Music Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 11. The event will be ticketed with all proceeds going to the newly-launched FC Cincinnati Foundation. The tickets are on pre-sale now to Season Ticket Members, and a select number will be available to the general public starting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, January 30th.

The new FCC kit will also be available for pre-sale purchase at the event and online at the MLS Store later that evening. Those who attend will receive a 10 percent discount on merch, including pre-ordered kits. See the linked article for official details.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

Training Week 1 – Top Quotes & Hagglund’s First Session

Quotes, images, and audio from FC Cincinnati’s first week of training at Sheakley Athletics Center, including Nick Hagglund’s first session and interview.

Image: Ryan Meyer

FC Cincinnati’s first week of training concluded with local product Nick Hagglund joining the squad. The Orange & Blue’s latest defensive signing participated in practice on Friday and addressed the local media after the session. He and the team will now head to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for one of two trips south this preseason.

After four days of preparation in the Sunshine State, Alan Koch’s men will face the Montreal Impact, Colorado Rapids, and DC United over a span of nine days starting January 30th. Here is our collection of quotes, images, and audio from FC Cincinnati’s first week of training.

Nick Hagglund

Nick Hagglund on the opportunity to come back to Cincinnati.

“It was first on the top of my list and when the opportunity came, I knew I wanted to be here and have an opportunity to be here from the beginning and be a part of the growth of this team in the coming years.”

Hagglund on telling his parents after learning the news that he was returning to Cincinnati.

“They were just ecstatic. My Mom couldn’t stop smiling and my Dad was just giddy. My sister went overseas and came back to Cincinnati. I went to Canada and now I’m here. So for all of us to be back is really special.”

Full interview below.

Fanendo Adi

Adi on what FC Cincinnati fans should expect from defender Alvas Powell, who was acquired in December. Powell and Adi played together in Portland for four seasons.

“He’s a great player. We know how fast he is and how he can get forwards and backwards. We have to use him to the best of his abilities. He has a lot to add to the team, to help us on the back line and to help us attack. For me personally, he’s a guy that can give me a lot of goals, so I’m looking forward to his service. But he’s going to be very helpful to the team.”

Full interview below.

Leo Bertone

Leo Bertone on what he tries to focus on during preseason.

“I try to get confidence and take responsibility, and get into (my) role as fast as possible. . . more (focus on) mentally than in terms of playing style. “

Leo on the transition from living in Europe to Cincinnati.

It was easy really because in Switzerland the weather is a little bit like this, and the people are open and they give a warm welcome, which makes it easy to start.

Full interview below.

Images: First Day of MLS Training for FC Cincinnati

Greg Garza

Garza is currently on a “day-to-day” timeline for return from a quadriceps strain. Greg commented on the injury sustained while with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

“It was something very minor. I sat down with Greg Berhalter and George Chiampas, the national team doctor. We decided that it would probably be better (for me) to come to the new club . . . Especially for my career and starting this new project with Cincinnati, it was better to start here instead of force something that could lead to something worse.

Full interview below.

Alan Koch

On whether last year’s approach to building a team is a blueprint for success this season.

“Because we had so much change, last year was a great learning experience for us. But doing it in the first tier is completely different. The goal is the same but now we are playing at a much higher level . . .We go into the season clearly as underdogs this year BUT, internally we have a lot of confidence in this group. We just need the time, . . I’m sure we’ll go through some difficult times to start the season, but we’ll stay true to the process. I feel confident that eventually we’ll get where we need to get.”

Full interview below.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

TRANSFER: Stanko Brings Bundesliga, National Team Experience to FC Cincinnati

Michigan native Caleb Stanko returns to the United States, joining FC Cincinnati on a transfer after six years in the German Bundesliga.

Image: Ryan Meyer

Caleb Stanko
Age: 25
Position: Defensive Midfielder
From: Holly, Michigan
Former team:  SC Freiburg, currently 13th in Bundesliga (Germany)
Market Value: $455K
Deal: International transfer – terms not disclosed
Tranfermarkt Profile

Having climbed the rungs within the German leagues, defensive midfielder Caleb Stanko signed with FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, joining for the 2019 season. The 25-year-old spent most of his career with Bundesliga club SC Freiburg’s reserve squad, starting the climb in 2011 and producing 3 goals and 8 assists in 100 total appearances.

While Stanko only appeared 13 times with the parent squad, he was with SC Freiburg during their banner 2015-16 championship year in the second tier of the German league. Freiburg then loaned Stanko to FC Vaduz for the 2016-17 season, where he tallied 21 starts and 7 substitutions for the Liechtenstein club. However, a meniscus injury in his right knee sidelined Stanko for much of 2018. His only official minutes after the injury came in a game with the SC Freiburg II team in December.

Stanko was present at FC Cincinnati’s first training session at Sheakley on Tuesday but was limited to fitness and footwork drills. This was not due to injury, but solely because his paperwork and transfer documents were not yet complete. He is fully fit per the FC Cincinnati front office and is a full participant in Wednesday’s training session.

Listen to Stanko talk about his move to the Germany at the age of 18.

U.S. National Team

Stanko’s work rate as a teenager got him called into several camps with the U.S. youth national team. Then, his move to Freiburg at age 18 caught the attention of then-U-23 coach Caleb Porter before the 2012 Olympic qualifiers. He didn’t make Porter’s team but he did impress U-20 coach Tab Ramos. Stanko, playing as a central defender, helped the U-20 squad qualify for the U-20 World Cup in 2013. Stanko captained that team. His only appearance with the full men’s national team was as a substitute in a September 2016 World Cup qualifier, a 4-0 win versus Trinidad & Tobago. He came on for Sasha Kljestan in the 73rd minute.

While much of his work has been in a defensive role (3 goals and 10 assists in all 141 professional matches), Stanko should bring knowledge of national and international systems to stabilize the defensive midfield. Ives Galarcep at Goal.com believes that he could be inserted alongside Fatai Alashe or Victor Ulloa in the middle, which could free up newly-acquired Allan Cruz to play a more offensive role. While he’s not the coveted #10 that FCC wanted in Matias Fernandez, he is a capable #6, and is a comparable target to Ozzie Alonso, who moved to Minnesota United.

Alan Koch spoke about Stanko’s signing and his new home with FC Cincinnati.

“I’m happy to add Caleb to our roster. We look for versatility in our central midfielders and we feel he can fill a number of roles depending on the personnel we have on the pitch. We look forward to Caleb competing immediately within our group.”

Fun Fact: Caleb Stanko and Fatai Alashe, both 25-year-old Michigan natives, played together at US Development Academy club Vardar Academy. Here’s a match report from the 2010 USDA Finals Week.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FC Cincinnati’s squad takes shape for their first MLS season.