FC Cincinnati’s First-Month Rollercoaster

As FC Cincinnati concludes their first month of play, let’s take a moment to recognize their accomplishments and “firsts”.

Five games down, twenty-nine to go. As the inaugural month of MLS play concludes for the Orange & Blue, let’s recap what FC Cincinnati has accomplished in the Eastern Conference. A lot has happened in a short amount of time, leaving room for statements like, “If you had told me [insert interesting fact] a few weeks ago, I’d say you’re crazy!” and “Is it too soon to start thinking playoffs?” So, let’s try to make sense of the most exciting month in Cincinnati soccer history to date.

Notable “Firsts”

Look at these notable ‘firsts’:

  • First MLS goal, courtesy of a Leonardo Bertone wonder-strike
  • First MLS point, at Atlanta, the reigning MLS Cup champs no less
  • First-ever MLS win against the Portland Timbers in the home opener

Let’s take a look at that first goal one more time.

Bipolar Narrative

Simply put, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The FC Cincinnati narrative, in the media and public perception, has been bipolar. 

Here’s a team that got soundly defeated by a (we know now) still-undefeated Seattle side, and even the most optimistic fans were worried. Were the pundits correct? Is the roster not constructed well? Are we Minnesota 2.0?

Surprise, surprise, then came 7 points in the next 3 games, momentarily lifting FCC to second place in the table. They did it by grinding out results and effectively using counter-attacks when opportunities allowed. They did it by controlling the tempo at Nippert. And they did it due to Koch’s tactical flexibility against different types of opposition. He utilized multiple 4-back formation variations and entrusted 19 different with playing time in these three matches.

The narrative flipped. A few weeks prior, the Orange and Blue looked defensively unorganized and offensively inept. Now? The defense is stable, the team selection stronger, and the offense balanced with seven different goalscorers. There even appears to be some depth, allowing FCC to survive international breaks.

March of All Marches

The march to the stadium before the Portland game forced even the most skeptical voices to take note of, and appreciate, the incredible soccer culture in the Queen City. Perhaps even more impressive were the supporters who stuck out miserable conditions to watch Philadelphia bring Cincinnati back down to Earth.

Has Koch’s side cemented its place in the Eastern Conference as a threat, or only capitalized off the poor form of recent dominant sides like Atlanta and Portland? Only time will reveal FC Cincinnati’s true level. For now, they rest in 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

Alan Koch summarized it best in his comments in training about the start of the season

“We knew we were going to have some tough moments, and we’ve had them already, and we’re going to continue to have tough moments. Saturday night was one of those moments. But we’ve also had some very positive moments too . . . It’s been a rollercoaster of a start and it’s going to continue to be a rollercoaster as we go through the next few months.”

Awards

Here are the unofficial first month awards as voted on by yours truly.

MVP – Spencer Richey

Richey is the only USL holdover to get significant playing time in the first month of action, primarily due to Tyton’s hamstring tendonitis which has kept the Polish keeper out since the Seattle match. Determined not to be a placeholder, Richey has made the most of his opportunity. He has kept two clean sheets in four starts, and earned MLS Team of the Week honors for his performance against the Timbers in Week 3. Although far from flawless, Richey has been a strong shot-stopper in the net. In my opinion, he picks up this month’s MVP award as he has played more consistently than any of FCC’s field players.

Most Improved – Alvas Powell

After getting slated following a poor inaugural match outing, Koch showed faith in the pacey, attack-minded fullback by giving him two more starts. He may not always prove to be first choice in a system without natural wing backs, but Powell rebounded and has improved considerably.

Most Disappointing – Fanendo Adi

An expansion side is normally reliant on its Designated Players. Adi has a very specific playing-style that some may construe as lazy, slow, and one-dimensional if he’s not producing goals. Once he went down injured during the home opener, Adi has not been part of the 18-man game day squad. Now his future with FCC is in peril due to his own reckless behavior, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens from here.

Most Promising – Greg Garza

The quality is evident any time Garza starts or is subbed on, and when healthy, he instantly makes FC Cincinnati a more threatening team. If he can stay fit, expect some big performances from the MLS veteran.

Do you agree with these awards? What do you make of the season so far?

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all of your 2019 FC Cincinnati coverage.

TRADE: “Tricky” Alvas Powell Brings Experience and Potential to the Queen City

Alvas Powell brings deep first team MLS experience to FC Cincinnati’s squad at right back at the tender age of 24. Can he live up to his full Portland potential in Cincinnati?

Photo Credit: Ytoyoda License

Age: 24
Position: Defender -Right Back
From: Danvers Pen, Saint Thomas, Jamaica (domestic player, holds green card)
Former team: Portland Timbers
Value: $905K
Deal: Traded to FC Cincinnati for $250K in General Allocation Money (GAM). The Timbers also retain a sell-on fee of 25%.
Tranfermarkt Profile

Saint Thomas, Jamaica native Alvas Powell joins FC Cincinnati as a 24-year-old with significant MLS and international experience. The right-sided defender has racked up 122 MLS appearances with the Portland Timbers since 2013. He also has 35 senior caps for the Reggae Boyz, including appeances in 12 World Cup qualifying matches.

Orange & Blue Press checked in with Jeff Bull, our writer and correspondent in Portland who is also a Cincinnati native and pens the Timbers blog Conifers and Citrus. He served up some vital details on Powell for our readers. Bull describes himself as a “full-time, modern-era Timbers fan (i.e., no NASL)” who speaks highly of Powell’s talents but also describes him as a “tricky” player. Here’s why.

Bull says that Powell “defends well because his speed contains the overwhelming majority of his mistakes. When he directs that speed toward the opposition goal, the emotions you feel will be complicated.” Here’s a look at the kind of damage Powell can do going forward.

Bull noted the highs and lows of Powell’s play. “Powell can weave his way through an entire damn defense and score a goal. Three weeks later, though, I’m slipping this parenthetical into a match report: (How many times can one man make the wrong pass to the same wrong spot?)”

Powell’s talents have been evident since he burst on to the scene in Portland in 2013. However, some Timbers fans feel he hasn’t realized his full potential in the American first division. He was perhaps suffering under the weight of the fan’s expectations after six seasons in the Rose City. Bull says “I don’t know how many Timbers fans have accepted Powell as he is at this point. What I do strongly suspect, is that Powell will drop that baggage if and when he moves to Cincinnati.”

Powell made strong bonds during his six years, but the evolution of the Western Conference champion’s defense meant the end of Powell’s time in Portland. Two weeks ago, several Oregon news outlets reported an emotional meeting between Powell, head coach Giovanni Savarese, and Timbers General Manager Gavin Wilkinson. At that meeting, the trio sat down to discuss a potential trade dealing the Jamaican away from Oregon. Wilkinson shared the following sentiments after the meet-up.

It was very upsetting, and I think everyone walked away from it just realizing how special Alvas is as a person and how much he means to the group in the locker room, and it’s probably one of the hardest meetings I’ve ever had to be a part of. [Stumptown Footy]

Powell perhaps became expendable after the arrival of left fullback Jorge Villafaña from Mexican side Santos Laguna in August. That acquisition precipitated the shift of defender Zarek Valentin to a right-back role, where he started for most of the latter part of the Timbers 2018 season.

It’s clear that Powell has the experience and skill set to be an asset to FC Cincinnati’s inaugural MLS campaign. He also appears to be a character guy that made some strong bonds with the squad in Portland. He’ll, of course, now be reunited with former Timber Fanendo Adi in Cincinnati. The question now is whether Powell can realize his full potential under Alan Koch’s guidance in the Queen City.

Another interesting aspect of this trade is what it means positionally for Mathieu Deplagne, who also plays at right back. Taylor Twellman speculated on Twitter on Christmas that the move means the Frenchman may be converted to a center back.

A big thanks to Jeff Bull for his time and insights. Look for more contributions from Jeff in the near future on Orange & Blue Press, and check out his blog at Conifers and Citrus. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s MLS roster build. 

Photo Credit: Ytoyoda License