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.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program provides an infographic and the fast facts you need to get ready for FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United.

Graphic: CSDIV / Image: Noah Riffe

It’s not as if we weren’t expecting the growing pains, right?

FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 defeat to Seattle last Sunday may have been a historic day for the club, but it also served as a wake-up call to the current players and staff. This isn’t the USL anymore. Gone are the days where Cincinnati can expect to be favorites heading into every match. Perhaps that day will come. Until then, fans may be subjected to ultra-defensive performances and discouraging results at times.

And let’s be honest—this team hasn’t “clicked” yet. We don’t even know the best starting eleven at head coach Alan Koch’s disposal. It’s a difficult job for Koch, and it’s about to get that much harder. FC Cincinnati is set to face reigning MLS Cup champions, Atlanta United, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In another nationally televised game, this time on ESPN, the Orange & Blue hope to earn their first MLS points.

Fast Facts

  • Although they have never met Atlanta United’s MLS squad, FCC battled Atlanta United 2 in the 2018 USL regular season. Cincinnati was victorious 4-2 last May thanks to an Emmanuel Ledesma brace. Two goals from Nazmi Albadawi led FCC to a 5-1 away win in late August.
  • Similar to FCC’s roster overhaul, there’s a “new look” Atlanta United this year. Newcastle’s blockbuster transfer Miguel Almiron and MLS Coach of the Year Gerardo Martino are gone. In their places are big-name signings Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, Eric Remedi, Brek Shea, Florentin Pogba, and head coach Frank de Boer.
  • During Atlanta’s inaugural match of the season versus DC United, 42% of all their attacks came down the left flank (accessible at Whoscored.com). FCC may want to consider changing the right-sided partnership of Alvas Powell and Eric Alexander this Sunday, as it was a clear weakness against Seattle.
  • The original goalkeeping hero for FC Cincinnati, Mitch Hildebrandt, retired this offseason after failing to feature for Atlanta’s first team. After leading the USL in saves for FCC in 2017, Hildebrandt struggled to claim Brad Guzan’s spot in the lineup while also dealing with knee injuries. As far as current connections are concerned, former Atlanta all-star Greg Garza was able to practice with the team on Thursday and should be available on Sunday.
  • Late Wednesday night, Atlanta faced C.F. Monterrey on the road in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The “Five Stripes” subsequently lost 3-0 while being outshot 17 to 5. Pity Martinez was the focus of most of Monterrey’s attention, getting fouled 10 times during the game. Atlanta fielded a strong lineup and could be subject to squad rotation this weekend.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage as Atlanta welcomes FC Cincinnati to their home opener and banner-raising ceremony.

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.

FC Cincinnati’s Greg Garza Selected for USMNT Camp

Newly acquired FC Cincinnati defender Greg Garza was called-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for their annual January Camp.

Image: Stephanie Romero

Newly acquired FC Cincinnati defender Greg Garza was called-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for their annual January Camp. Garza becomes the first player in FC Cincinnati history to earn that honor.

The January camp is held in Chula Vista, California and lasts from January 6 through February 2. That session includes friendlies against Panama on January 27th and Costa Rica on February 2nd.

Newly appointed U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) coach Gregg Berhalter had the following to say about the upcoming camp.

“Being in Chula Vista will help us create a team environment as we start to establish our culture and really be able to work on the details of our style of play. The facilities are outstanding and provide everything we need to accomplish our goals both on and off the field. They are accustomed to hosting elite athletes, so we believe this will be a great place for this group to get started.”

Garza has ten senior caps for the USMNT, including nine friendlies and one 2015 Gold Cup appearance. Most of his appearances occurred in 2014 and 2015. However, he appeared more recently in a 0-0 draw with Serbia in January of 2017.

Full 27-Man U.S. Roster for January Camp

GOALKEEPERS (4): Alex Bono (Toronto FC/CAN; 1/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 5/0), Tyler Miller (LAFC; 0/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)

DEFENDERS (10): Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 2/0), Greg Garza (FC Cincinnati; 10/0), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 2/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 0/0), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 4/1)

MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 23/2), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 17/2), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 142/17), Russell Canouse (D.C. United; 0/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 6/0), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 5/1), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 5/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 11/0)

FORWARDS (3): Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers; 0/0), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 0/0), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 40/6)

The opportunity for Garza is significant. Not only does he have the ability to make an impact during Berhalter’s first January camp, but he can compete to fill the recent void at left fullback for the USMNT.

In other news, MLS announced the schedule for the 2019 home openers today. Have your say on the first three games of FC Cincinnati’s season.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s offseason and MLS roster build.

Image: Stephanie Romero