MLS Weekly, Week 12: History and Storylines (People)

Image: Joe Craven

To start with a little good news/bad news, I found the semi-obvious location to which the MLS app moved the condensed games (under the “Highlights” tab; more information, less life…did I win?). Moving on The Big Picture, Major League Soccer’s 12th week files under “one helluva.” We are getting trend-lines people, momentum(/season?) altering turns of events, some of them with Games of Thrones-esque blood-letting (timely), and with those hitting the mightiest houses, the plot thickens. Elsewhere, picking week 12’s Goal of the Week came one hell of a lot easier than picking the Save of the Week (Candidate 1 and Candidate 2). Some truly trash officiating rounds out the weekend, and what can be more on-brand than that for MLS? VAR doesn’t work and we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

I’ve got one final note for this preamble, and largely because this is an FC Cincinnati-centric site: every game I watched this weekend apart from the…poor display (that’s an aggressive euphemism) between FC Cincinnati and Orlando City SC put that game in sickening relief. To paraphrase an old album by The Cranberries, Everyone’s Competent, So Why Aren’t We? (For more punishment, here are my extended notes on yesterday’s disappointment.) As for what’s below, I came up with three main talking points for the MLS Week 12 – the stuff that seems more relevant or, in one case, historic – but I’ll touch on every game in the past week down below…assuming I don’t forget something. With that, let’s start with the blessed, happy history.

The Ultimate Underdog(s) Go Into the History Books

“…like the clinical finisher he is…in the MLS.”

If you ever needed proof that literally record-breaking success in one arena can never escape the gravity of a failure in another one, there it is. I don’t even know if the announcer intended to conjure the ghost of Chris Wondolowski’s greatest failure, but he qualified that statement, not me.

Where to begin? Yes, I did cry manly tears after every goal Chris Wondolowski scored against the Chicago Fire on his/the San Jose Earthquakes’ way to the 4-1 rout in which he made history. Also, credit Bobby Warshaw and Matt Doyle for giving good background on the scale of Wondo’s unlikeliest of accomplishments. Players beyond counting came into MLS with infinitely more promise of chasing Landon Donovan’s regular-season goal-scoring record, never mind beating it, and that only makes it, for lack of a better word, awesomer. (People who don’t root for underdogs are rightly recognized as terrible human beings.)

Warshaw and Doyle named their own moments for what makes Wondolowski such a special player, but I pulled a different one out of this game – and, fittingly, it’s something I can’t link to. After scoring his first goal and tying the record, another great chance fell to Wondolowski and he got closer to the sideline than the goal with his shot. After that miss, he didn’t slap the turf, or lay on the grass (it’s grass at Avaya, right?) dramatically “contemplating” the miss. He immediately shoved himself off the turf, and got back to it. Three more goals followed, thereby raising the bar that the next challenger to the throne will have to clear.

Each goal he scored showcased an aspect of Wondolowski’s game that it’s worth passing on to the youth. His third came from the (rather attractive) finish that prompted the quote up top, while his second – the one that broke the record – showed what makes a great forward – e.g., following up on every shot. His fourth demonstrates why a forward should never stop looking for an opening, on the grounds that the ball might defy physics and find you. Personally, I’ll always cherish the record-tying goal, and that’s 1,000% down to the fact that Shea Salinas delivered it. That connection – Salinas to Wondolowski – signals to every player who didn’t even make varsity that not all paths to glory take the same route, and to never stop dreaming. In a perfect world, this record will stand forever, or at least for decades, and for that exact reason. And, if MLS really does become a selling league, it should last longer.

One last note on this game: Chicago’s defense has been a wall lately, so it’s significant that the ‘Quakes pulled them apart as badly as they did. There was the rain, I suppose, but Chicago hadn’t allowed a goal in its last three games; hell, they’d only allowed 1.0 goals a game over its last 10 games, and that was only because the Seattle Sounders dropped four on them 11 games before this one. In the end, it took David Ousted enduring a succession of nightmares to make this specific result happen (see the 2nd and 4th goals, especially), on top of the Fire missing shots that few teams do. Don’t sell your Chicago stock yet, because this loss had a freak-ish air to it.

Shots Fired Over the Rockies

First, Diego Polenta should have absolutely seen his second yellow when he stood on the foot of…a player whose identity I can’t recall (but think it was Sam Nicholson) and stopped him from carrying the ball forward and out of the Rapids’ attacking third. Why? I feel alright making that judgment because I saw him staring at the man’s foot as he stood on it, just to make sure he got the placement right. And that’s your first officiating snafu for the weekend…most of which involved LA-based teams. At the same time, I’m glad the Galaxy got away with it because that brushes off any of the asterisks that might have otherwise hung over the Colorado Rapids’ first win of the season.

This has been a long time coming: Colorado has more brave loses in its recent history than most teams see all season. Second, they’ve scored more or as many goals in 2019 (17) than 10 other teams in MLS – some of them in the conversation as credible challengers (e.g., Atlanta United FC (13 goals), New York City FC (15)). The fact that their defense has killed them follows from, but, the Rapids have always had a little something going on. The real surprise, then, is that it took them this long to win. The game primarily featured both teams trading misses – with Colorado’s Kei Kamara leading the boner parade (I got to use the word “boner!”) – but both teams also cleared a ball off the line. It had the feel of an open game too, which means both LA and the Rapids liked their chances enough to go for it. The funny thing is that arrangement worked better for Colorado, who actually out-shot the Galaxy on their home-field.

That said, Colorado made some adjustments before one trading window or another closed (Full Disclosure: I’m terrible at tracking those things), by bringing Lalas Abubakar from Columbus Crew SC and Jonathan Lewis from NYCFC. Both players looked solid, with Lewis causing all kinds of headaches today and Abubakar looking steady and solid. Time will tell if that’s what turned them around, but details aside, but Colorado finally turning a promising performance into a road win officially serves notice to all the even potentially terrible team in MLS. To name some names, time to perk up Orlando, FC Cincinnati, New England Revolution, and maybe even Sporting Kansas City. Your days of muttering “at least we’re not Colorado” could very well be at an end. Speaking of the Galaxy…

Large Houses on Fire

That was the LA Galaxy’s 4th straight loss – and two of those happened in LA’s suburbs, and that means they lost a couple of excuses with this one. Sure, you could chalk up the loss to NYCFC to them finding every one of their feet, but that same sleight of hand doesn’t work with Colorado. The second excuse – e.g., no Zlatan Ibrahimovic – cuts from a different angle, but it’s still concerning. Any team that requires one player to keep it afloat has a margin exactly as wide as said player’s health/capacity to not do stupid sh*t (so they can stay on the field); LA failed the first test, while Zlatan failed the second. The Galaxy might be safe in the standings, they might have plenty of talent, but that’s an official skid in any league, and it’s gone global with this result.

Toronto FC is the other team in trouble, even if they’re a slightly trickier case. They posted crazy numbers against D.C. United in Toronto at mid-week without ever really managing to look menacing. They created too few chances and too many of those fell to Jordan Hamilton, a player on the bare cusp of MLS-level. Things get worse/weirder when you look at the box score for Toronto’s dispiriting loss to Real Salt Lake in Utah. They’re still (barely) holding the ball and dictating the game…but it keeps winding up in a dead end. RSL, meanwhile, banged three lowprobability goals past the rando TFC starts in net and, crucially, that’s not the first time that’s happened. The problems go deeper than Jozy Altidore not starting, basically. At this point, it looks fundamental – even with Alejandro Pozuelo still looking promising and capable as any team in MLS.

Going the other way, both TFC and the Galaxy remain above the playoff cut-off, and LA is eight points above danger to boot. They have ambitious ownership groups that spend real money on talent…I mean, Zlatan? Pozuelo? At the same time, both teams share a present reality with Sporting KC: talented as all get out on the roster side – and with some upgrades under the hood to boot – but who cares if you own a sports car when it’s on blocks in the front yard? I’ll expand on SKC below, but that’s where those three teams are parked right now: sleeping giants that may never wake up. There’s plenty of season left, of course, but sometimes the car never comes off the blocks.

Those are the three big topics (or mine), so let’s move on to the rest of the results. And, sure, maybe I relegated the main event to the under-card.

Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas played a home-and-home series over Week 12, and LAFC took four points of six. There’s not much with which to quibble in LAFC’s home win, but the return leg in Dallas featured the other reffing boner of the weekend – and this prompts another, where to begin conundrum. It starts with the soft penalty call on Bressan, and ends with the question of why Chris Hedges rightly gets sent off for dragging down Carlos Vela while LAFC’s Tyler Miller doesn’t get sent off for football-holding Jesus Ferreira later in the same game. (Also, to spit in their eye a bit, why the fresh hell is that not in the highlight clip, MLS? I found it (see around 1:50), but kindly stop elevating the brand over truth/reality.) These were strange games and I think you can get several reads out of them. Even if Dallas looked far from helpless playing in LA, there’s a solid case that LAFC deserved three points minimum from this swing. Going the other way, how Dallas managed LAFC raised their stock a little for me.

Elsewhere in Texas, the Houston Dynamo deserve credit for another big week at home. After the Portland Timbers made them sweat midweek (and I’ve got extended notes on that), and with Houston still (allegedly?) needing to stockpile points before they play a lot of the second half of the season on the road, the game against D.C. became the main event for their Week 12. The Dynamo passed the test with richly-detailed flying colors: they had to come from behind to win, and they scored both their goals with neither Alberth Elis (concussion precautions) and Romell Quioto on the field. Memo Rodriguez bagged one D.C. should have stopped and seeing Bill Hamid lose his whole damn mind after Tommy McNamara scored the winner tells you everything you need to know about D.C. They’re a frustrated, stuttering team at the moment, and Paul Arriola’s stupid, hostile sending off reveals a little rot in their confidence.

Like the Galaxy and TFC, D.C. is better than fine. Moreover, there aren’t many teams making noise below them. At the same time, TFC really did play them off the park at midweek, no matter how ineffectually. If you review their results, D.C. really does look more like a part of a pack than a contender lately.

The other big mentionables from Week 12 include two more “big clubs” – Seattle Sounders FC and Atlanta dropping points, at least arguably. To clear up any confusion and/or alleviate any hurt feelings, both teams remain strongly in the hunt. A lot of context, however, surrounds the Sounders in this particular moment: these games – a narrow win over a heavily-rotated Orlando squad and surviving a there-but-for-the-grace-of-Brenden-Aaronson’s-youth-go-I goalless draw at the Philadelphia Union – look at lot different when you consider the three straight draws in their recent past. Like Seattle, Atlanta is the opposite of soft. Until Sunday’s loss to the New York Red Bulls, they’d allowed 0 goals over their last five games (also notable: they’d just scored eight over the same period). They had 55 minutes’ worth of game to take advantage after Tim Parker got sent off, but New York stifled them, then went on to steal the game. Like Seattle, again, Atlanta picked up a fairly soft win midweek, when they beat the Vancouver Whitecaps on the back of a(nother) dodgy penalty. In Atlanta’s defense, or maybe more against the ‘Caps, they kept Vancouver from taking a decent shot all the way until the 84th minute.

That leaves just three games from MLS Week 12, and only one of them really registers. Minnesota United FC is simultaneously unbeaten at home and also not that good at home; beating Columbus in Minnesota really only registers for lifting the Loons to a 2-0-3 home record (meaning they’re under 50% on points at home). To give Minnesota its due, they look to have a solid core around Darwin Quintero, Jr. in Brett Kallman, Osvaldo Alonso and Romain Metanaire – and all those guys (on 1/6th evidence; condensed games have shrunk a bit) played pivotal roles in getting this win – but, as must be noted, Columbus has been bloody awful lately. I’m talking puke-bucket-awful, 1-7-0 in their last eight games, and why would you disgrace the two wins that came before those eight games by association. Worse, they were sloppy in this one and, to float an opinion, signing Gyasi Zardes to a DP contract hints at an issue with the fish rotting from the head with this bunch.

To wrap up with the results that only mattered to each teams’ mothers and respective fans, Ignacio Piatti’s substitution appearance was surely the biggest news out of the Montreal Impact’s goalless home draw against the New England Revolution. (Fun side note: they actually posted a highlight clip for that, but not for potential red cards in the games listed above.) Like Cincinnati and Orlando, those are two teams going nowhere at the moment. Elsewhere, Krisztian Nemeth’s full-spectrum performance defined Sporting KC’s 1-1 home draw against Vancouver. Still, Vancouver’s equalizer came ridiculously late and Nemeth’s celebration of the goal he scored moves that one to a solid second in the running for MLS Week 12’s Goal of the Week.

That’s it for this week, see you the next one. Also, just like winter, Gold Cup is coming…

We are getting MLS trend-lines people, momentum(/season?) altering turns of events, some of them with Games of Thrones-esque blood-letting (timely)...

MLS Weekly, Nearly-7: The Rare Occasion It All Finally Makes Sense

With MLS Week Nearly-7 in the books (look, still over half the teams have played six or fewer games), fans finally have a week’s worth of results…

Photo Credit: Stephanie Romero

[Ed. – I’m abandoning the five (5) game-condensed format, and for a couple of reasons – chief among them that watching 2/9th of a game cuts out too much of how the ball gets from Point A to Point B, aka, the soul of the game, and who wants to cut that out? To move forward in a spirit of honesty and kindness (you’re welcome), I will always disclose all the soccer I watched any given weekend. And, for this week, that includes all of FC Cincinnati’s loss to Los Angeles FC, and all of the Portland Timbers (inevitable, but…) loss to FC Dallas. Outside that, I watched condensed games for Minnesota United FC v New York City FC (sad!), the Chicago Fire’s…just whimpering home draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps (maybe even worse), Seattle Sounders 3-2 win over Toronto FC, and Sporting Kansas City’s eye-raising 2-2 draw in KC against the New York Red Bulls. Now, to the action…]

With Major League Soccer Week Nearly-7 in the books (look, still over half the teams have played six or fewer games), fans finally have a week’s worth of results that more or less followed completely legitimate trends and/or properties. As in, holy crap, every result this weekend made sense, and, for people who traffic in the idea that MLS is more predictable than most people seem to believe, that’s like a fist-bump from God. I credit all this obsession for what makes it work; basically, if you track trends closely enough, you’ll be surprised a lot less by MLS, generally, but that’s my weird little gospel. Going the other way, don’t think of anything I say below as obvious. Unless, I guess, I actually write, “this is obvious,” or something a lot like it.

Even if it’s not your first-choice explanation, every game from MLS Week Nearly-7 followed from a plausible explanation. Honestly, name your game and I’m pretty sure I can summon up a (reasonably) factually-based logic to explain it. To cherry-pick the easy ones: maybe FC Cincinnati stresses Los Angeles FC in another world, but in this time-line, LAFC has a bat-poop insane (huh, euphemisms are kinda silly fun) goal differential, and a ton of that is built on allowing just five goals across seven games (just to note it, they are playing a combination of minnows and the unbalanced; see the Form Guide ULTRA for details). Elsewhere, Real Salt Lake is strong enough at home to beat a (sincerely battling; see below…but don’t expect more than a bare question) Orlando City SC team, and the Colorado Rapids are bad enough to lose anywhere, including in Commerce City, and especially against DC United (and these goals are terrible). And that’s what made this an oddly, broadly predictable weekend in a league that, allegedly, defies prediction.

Even within a Week Nearly-7 where everything was as it should be, cracks appeared, and on just about every side of the glass. For instance, as much as you’d expect both Sporting KC and the Sounders to manage a heretofore stumbling New York Red Bulls and even a much stronger Toronto FC, respectively, they didn’t and they did, respectively. These are fun results precisely because they tinker with several narratives, including the most obvious ones. For instance, what does it mean that the Red Bulls looked reasonably like the Red Bulls of 2018 (and from previous seasons) tonight, and against an SKC team that just about everybody rates (even if the support that upholds that rating grows more tenuous by the day)? With Toronto, sure, maybe they didn’t beat Seattle – and, golly, is this as simple as the difference between having solid, predictable defense versus one with an awful tendency to lay out the welcome mat (these are egregious and/or worth your time) – but how many other teams can Toronto beat with their current personnel? I think the answer comes in on the high side, for what it’s worth, so how much do you really care about this result if you’re a TFC fan? As demonstrated by Altidore’s remarkable, almost immediate connection with Alejandro Pozuelo (see their first goal, and this one), TFC can steal a game, and that’s something to watch going forward.

It gets pretty down-market from there, a succession of games that didn’t move any particular needle, whether it’s Montreal’s opportunistic win over Columbus, or the Houston Dynamo following in the foot-steps of every team (except the Portland Timbers) to beat the San Jose Earthquakes. Some results just don’t matter, so why talk about them? (And, even if I don’t link to it, Portland’s loss to Dallas absolutely belongs here.)

The same story continues with Atlanta United FC’s win over the New England Revolution. Based on everything I read or watched, the Dirty South ran all the way over the Revs. The fact that any reasonable person saw this coming is all the commentary anyone should need on New England. Sadly, they join the short list for all the sh*t teams in MLS right now – which, on the plus side, keeps shrinking as the rest of the league shifts into one blurb of quality, and another of striving. In the here and now, though, the cast-outs include: the Revolution, RSL, San Jose, Vancouver, Colorado, and Portland. Depressing as it is, I see upsides for every team in MLS, except those six teams.

Moving on now, let’s talk about the most significant results of the Week Nearly-7.

Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0 Philadelphia Union

It confirmed LA’s home bona fides, as much as it proved Philadelphia’s real-world limitations. At the same time, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored both goals, one from the run of play, one from a penalty, and neither of those feel like a map to 2021, if you know what I mean. If I had to bet on a long-term future for either team…I don’t know which way I’d go. If nothing else, LA has won some trophies, no matter how long ago, while Philadelphia hasn’t. Bottom line: Money versus a plan is a tricky call to make.

Houston Dynamo 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes

In spite of what Tommy Thompson said, San Jose did not fix anything, and the Dynamo have yet to be tested this season, so…(again, consult the Form Guide UTLRA to see what I mean). While both teams exist on the cusp of becoming, I’m way more nervous for the Dynamo. Because they have room to experience disappointment. At the same time, anyone who wants to feel better about Alberth Elis should contrast his weekend with the New York Red Bulls’ Kaku, a man whose greatest visible contribution to the result was a tantrum/richly-deserved red card.

I’m going to close out this post with some things to watch, nearly all of them having to do with what I might have guessed wrong. In no particular order:

Orlando City SC

Are they figuring things out or is losing nobly their fate till further notice?

D.C. United

God’s honest truth, I could be selling them massively short, but I still think they’re the most over-hyped team in MLS, both structurally and based on random factors (e.g., Luciano Acosta maybe leaving).

In Closing…

I have no idea what I’d read into the Eastern Conference standings at time of writing, right now, but the hierarchy in the Western Conference feels depressingly sound. And that’s all for this week. I hope to round it into something more coherent next week, but I’m not sure this isn’t the state of things. Till next time.

Deeper Cuts: Historic Defeat, Formation, Bertone’s Beauty, and MLS Opta

Putting FC Cincinnati 4-1 defeat in context, more on Bertone’s beauty, and and we take the MLS Opta stats for a test drive.

FC Cincinnati huddles during their game on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. Credit: Noah Riffe.

Editor’s Note: Orange & Blue Press will not write traditional match recaps this season. There are several media outlets, including FC Cincinnati and MLS, who are writing reports that specify all the match details. We will instead focus on interest pieces, images, analysis, and other things we find interesting.

History & the Result

The significance of yesterday’s match is much more about being the beginning of a journey than what people take away from the scoreline. It was obviously a historic match. It was the reward for many people who worked very hard to get FC Cincinnati to this point. FCC fans will do their best to quickly forget about the details of Saturday night and remember it as the beginning of the club’s MLS era.

Give the Sounders credit. They shed the label of “slow starters” and did exactly what they should have done, which was ruthlessly punish a team not yet at their level. In overall talent, and from a playing-as-a-unit standpoint, they are far ahead of FC Cincinnati right now. That’s fine, as long as FCC can begin to make up ground over the course of the season.

Some people are going to panic. I learned in 2016 when I started writing about FC Cincinnati that telling people to relax isn’t effective. Those who think the sky is falling in some ways enjoy it and like to talk about how bad it’s going to be. So let them panic.

Personally, I’m not worried yet, but yesterday was about as brutal as I thought it could be. FCC seems to be built with a defense-first mindset, and that defense looked very porous on Saturday. We knew the team might struggle to create chances, and they did. There are explanations, including injuries, lack of familiarity, and playing players out of position. This team needs time, and we need to see a bigger sample set before we can make sense of the problems.

Return to the 4-2-3-1

A big talking point in this match was a return to the 4-2-3-1. That formation has been used regularly by Alan Koch over the two USL seasons he’s coached FC Cincinnati. After experimenting with permutations of a 3-man back line all preseason, he returned to the tried and true against Seattle. Stuart Holden during the pregame television broadcast commented that the change was made Monday following the Crew defeat in Charleston.

The late change underlines that this is a work in progress and that the technical staff is still working to understand how to best utilize and organize the pieces at their disposal.

Bertone’s Beauty

That was one hell of a first MLS goal. Leo Bertone goes into the record book as the team’s first top-flight scorer, delivering a thunderbolt volley that beat Stefan Frei 13 minutes into the match. We described the right foot of Bertone as noteworthy for set pieces when he signed for FCC. It lived up to the billing against Seattle.

Midfielder Leonardo Bertone (6) Celebrates after scoring FC Cincinnati’s first MLS goal during their match on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.

If you’re into trivia, yesterday’s first MLS goal joins a list that includes Andrew Wiedeman’s strike against Bethlehem Steel on April 3rd, 2016, FCC’s first league goal. The first-ever goal was scored by Cincy native Luke Spencer during preseason against KR Reykjavik on February 20, 2016.

Let’s watch Leo’s strike one more time.

MLS Opta

The MLS version of Opta is a full-service application, and you should give it a test drive if you like the numbers side of the game. There’s a Stats tab, Boxscore tab, and the Audi Index, which is a player scoring system that is a little confusing to the average soccer fan, but one that contains some valuable nuggets.

Most of the stats in this game spell out what people already know, Seattle’s clear domination. The Sounders claimed 64% possession with an 85% passing accuracy. They created 16 non-blocked shots, 9 of which were on target, and 4 of those resulting in goals.

In contrast, FCC clocked in with 36% possession and 73% passing accuracy. They had 4 non-blocked shots, 3 of which were on target. Bertone’s scoring strike stands out as an anomaly on a night that was very short on opportunities (0.34 xG).

The Sounders had 16 total shots in the box compared to just 2 for FC Cincinnati. Dominance.

Here’s a look at the expected goals metric which clearly shows it was the Sounders’ night, but both teams actually outperformed their xG.

Expected Goals – Seattle vs Cincinnati

By taking a look at the Audi Index, you can see that Roland Lamah was one of the few FCC players to have a decent match in terms of numbers. Lamah completed 20 of 23 passes in the opposition half, created two chances (passes that lead to a shot), and delivered the cross from the left that ultimately led to Bertone’s goal.

Roland Lamah’s distribution in the opposition half vs. Sounders

Statistics aren’t quite as fun when they are used to support the specifics of a heavy defeat, so we’ll leave it at that.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 season. Next stop, Mercedez Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

FC Cincinnati huddles during their game on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.

PHOTOS: Seattle Sounders 4 – 1 FC Cincinnati

Images of FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 defeat against the Seattle Sounders in their MLS opener on Saturday, March 2, 2019

Here are images of FC Cincinnati’s 4-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders in their MLS debut on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Leo Bertone gave the Orange & Blue a dream start when he scored the first goal of the match in the 13th minute. However, Seattle stormed back and ultimately won the game easily, benefitting from a Jordan Morris brace.

When browsing the gallery below, for any given image, a high-resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.” All images are courtesy of Noah Riffe. A huge thanks to Noah for stepping in as a guest photographer and capturing amazing images of this historic match.

All images are copyright protected to safeguard the creative rights of our photographers. We’re very open to sharing our work with those who want to show support for FC Cincinnati. We simply request that you ask (via DM on Twitter or email) and give credit where it’s due. Thanks!

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS season.

Nine-Month Sprint to Showcase Cincinnati Culminates with Sounders Match

FC Cincinnati’s match against the Seattle Sounders represents culminates a nine-month sprint to make the minor-league team ready for the top flight.

When asked how difficult it has been to get FC Cincinnati MLS-ready in nine months, Jeff Berding didn’t take the opportunity to feel sorry for himself.

“From the beginning, we planned to be in Major League Soccer in our fourth year,” said Berding. “We wanted to be the 24th team. We knew MLS had an odd number with LAFC coming onboard (last season). We wanted to be the team that, in effect, had a spotlight all to ourselves this year.”

Demonstrating they could handle the short runway was the price of admission for FC Cincinnati, according to Berding. “We did a lot of things to earn the confidence of Major League Soccer that we could make this transition and we did it in record-setting time.”

The work started right away. FCC planned and built enough of their new $30 million training facility to use it for preseason practice. They solidified sponsorship deals that now exceed $10 million, including new agreements with First Financial Bank, Advocare, Heineken, and Mike’s Car Wash. Add to that new TV and radio broadcast deals, a logo refresh, a kit launch, and overcoming stadium-construction hurdles at City Hall. To support these efforts, the front office staff of FC Cincinnati has doubled in size since the May MLS announcement.

More importantly, they had to build an MLS-ready squad. “We were the first USL team to sign a Designated Player. That had never been done before,” said Berding, referring to the acquisition of Fanendo Adi last July. Since then, technical director Luke Sassano has added 21 players to the squad, with one more rumored to be on the way.

“It’s been an enormous amount of work for our staff across the board,” said Berding. “But we felt being the 24th team set us up for success both as a club and for our city. Because the eyes of Major League Soccer this year will be on Cincinnati, and it won’t just be about wins and losses. It will be about the pictures coming out of Cincinnati. It will be about MLS teams and fans coming here and seeing our great city.”

FC Cincinnati’s rebuilt squad travels to Seattle for its first regular-season contest this Saturday at 10 pm ET. The match represents the culmination of a nine-month sprint to make the minor-league team ready to compete in the top flight.

“We didn’t want to share that spotlight with three teams, with Nashville, Miami, or Austin. And because this is so much about promoting Cincinnati on a national and international level, we wanted to be the one.”

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s inaugural MLS match against the Seattle Sounders.

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Seattle Sounders FC

Graphic: CSDIV / Image: Ryan Meyer

The day you never imagined would come is finally almost here. It’s 6:59 AM on Christmas Day, and you’re lined up at the bedroom door to rush out to see what Santa brought you.

The MLS season is about to begin.

FC Cincinnati is ready to play its first-ever MLS match, cobbling together a team only 9 months after the formal welcome into top-tier play. However, the schedule makers have had the last laugh, throwing nine playoff-caliber matchups in the Orange & Blue’s way in the first 10 games.

Their first opponent is “MLS 2.0” powerhouse Seattle, owners of an MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield, and four U.S. Open Cup titles in only ten seasons of Major League Soccer existence. Seattle finished second in the crowded Western Conference, only to stumble in both games against rival Portland in the playoffs. Seattle welcomed LAFC to the league and their home stadium last year, but lost 1-0 in a chippy affair.

No pressure, right?

Fact Facts

  • While FC Cincinnati has only been in existence since 2015, the Sounders have been through three incarnations in the NASL, USL, and MLS. However, since their dawn in 1973, the Sounders have only ever played against one team from the Queen City—the Cincinnati Riverhawks. Between 1998 and 2002, the teams played five times, with Seattle winning three matches.
  • The last match between the Sounders and Riverhawks was on August 4th, 2002—a USL A-League match that ended in a 4-1 win for the Sounders. The Sounders would end up claiming two USL titles before they joined MLS in 2009, while the Riverhawks would disband in 2003.
  • Individually, Cincinnati’s forwards have done decently against the Sounders. Fanendo Adi has scored 8 goals against Seattle as a Portland Timber, while newly-acquired Kekuta Manneh scored a hat trick over Seattle for Vancouver back in 2013.
  • The most dangerous piece in Seattle’s attack is likely Raúl Ruidíaz. Despite playing in only 14 games in 2018, the Peruvian forward scored 10 goals. Only Josef Martinez (0.91) and Zlatan (0.81) scored goals at a higher goal-per-match clip than Ruidíaz last year. With Jordan Morris back from a devastating ACL injury, Seattle’s offense should be vastly improved.
  • Although FCC is the newest team in the league, the average age of their roster (26.9) is one of the oldest. Only D.C. United (27.5) and Minnesota United (27.2) have a higher average age. However, Seattle is no spring chicken, either (26.8). (For the record, FC Dallas is the youngest, around 24 years of age.)
  • Since being traded to Seattle in 2013, goalkeeper Stefan Frei has only missed 6 matches in 5 years. Despite allowing only 7 clean sheets last season, Frei was arguably the team MVP, allowing only 34 goals in 33 games. Only the Red Bulls’ Luis Robles started at least 30 games with a lower goals-per-game average (30 goals in 31 games).

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s maiden voyage into MLS, leading to their home opener on March 17th.

2019 MLS Western Conference Preview: Part 2 – Winners, Winners, Chicken Dinner

A look at last year’s MLS Western Conference playoff teams – how they finished, offseason business, and their 2019 playoff odds.

Having picked through the ruined seasons of the undesirable end of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference last week, let us now turn to the happier end, the West’s Best in 2018. As with the previous, sadder post, I relied on two main sources for this one: the regularly updated Transfer Tracker, which one can find under New, then League News, followed by the Transactions tab. (No, please, check my math.) has another article they pop onto the front page now and again and the added analysis gives people a contextual frame for all the swapping of bodies and talents.

To recap the top of the Western Conference in 2018, it turned out to be less plainly hierarchical than the Eastern Conference; Atlanta United FC and the New York Red Bulls dominated that side of the league, and more or less from start to finish. Sporting Kansas City had the best season in the West, the Seattle Sounders finished very (very, very) strong, and more people cooed over Los Angeles FC than they deserved, but it was the (and my) Portland Timbers that sucker-punched their way to MLS Cup, where they lost narrowly, but deservedly, to Atlanta. Still, that run was enough to make at least one grown man cry (ahem), but it also subtly revised one of the more reliable truisms about MLS. While the playoffs really do give every team that reaches them a clean slate, “peaking” at the right time (timing) ultimately comes second to having a well-built, well-drilled team. The Timbers looked like a strong cup team for most of 2018, and that’s what they turned out to be.

For what it’s worth, I think of MLS Cup less as the league’s championship, and more as a cup tournament tacked onto the end of a “normal” soccer season – and give me the Supporters’ Shield over MLS Cup any day. Draw that distinction to meet your personal needs, but all fans want the same thing: to see their team win trophies. With that, let’s see how the best teams in the Western Conference helped or hurt their chances for 2019.

Sporting Kansas City

2018 Finish Line: 1st in the Western Conference (18-8-8), 62 pts. 65 goals for, 40 goals against

They stayed in the Supporters’ Shield race longer than their record would suggest, but that arguably underlines the uncomplicated truth that both the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United FC were better teams in 2018. All the same, a team doesn’t build a +25 goal differential on anything but a good season, and Sporting KC did that. While that was good enough to keep them near or at the top the West through the regular season, they suffered a dip in form and confidence at exactly the wrong point – e.g., the post-season – and there is nothing more MLS than having a great season undone at the end.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: A series of wild stabs in the dark, then, D Ike Opara, F Khiry Shelton, F Diego Rubio

IN: D Rodney Wallace, M Kelyn Rowe, D Botond Barath, D Abdul Rwatubyaye, F Erik Hurtado

By dealing Opara to Minnesota Untied FC, SKC takes a step into the unknown, but with Barath and Rwatubyaye coming in, SKC felt confident enough to take it. They did some high-end scavenging around the league too (wait…it’s “high-end scavenging” here, but “moneyball” when I talk about the bad teams?), with Wallace coming in from New York City FC and, a more exciting stretch, Rowe from the New England Revolution. Hurtado came down from Vancouver as well, but, meh. The important thing is that the West’s best didn’t stand pat for 2019.

2019 Forecast:

Opara is a big hole to fill, no question, but a player with Barath’s pedigree should come through and I’ve heard Rwatubyaye described as a potential sleeper. I keep seeing the name Andreu Fontas pop up, as well, sometimes as a straight replacement for Opara outright, so, barring terrible choices, the depth looks very much in place at centerback. Those are just the additions: who knows what last year’s hope, Felipe Gutierrez, will do after his “adjustment year,” or the size of the step Gianluco Busio takes, or what fresh terrors Johnny Russell has for opposing defenders. They remain the West’s team to beat in my mind.

Seattle Sounders

2018 Finish Line: 2nd in the Western Conference (18-11-5), 59 pts. 52 goals for, 37 goals against

In the previous, depressing portion of these previews, I talked about the idea of “runs,” mostly in the context of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ false signals, but Seattle…they also went on a run. Only theirs burned through all of MLS for the second half of 2018, just teeing up every ass they saw and kicking it. The Los Angeles Galaxy all but patented the “slow start, reanimated monster season” during the mid-2000s, but Seattle has owned it for the past two seasons at least. The Sounders built last year’s model on a fortress of a defense, only to see the floor fall out against the Timbers, of all teams. Holy crap, was that game epic.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: M Lamar Neagle, M Osvaldo Alonso, D Aaron Kovar, D Waylon Francis

IN: D Jonathan Campbell, GK Trey Muse. That’s it.

They didn’t really do one. Apart from bringing in Campbell, a cast-off defender from the Chicago Fire (pause) and calling up a kid named Trey Muse in goal (who sounds like he moonlights in a boy band), Seattle has so far opted to stand pat. Or, probably more accurately, that they’d done enough last season to carry them through to the summer, aka, when Seattle makes its annual major, momentum-altering acquisition – e.g., Raul Ruidiaz last season, Nicolas Lodeiro the season before. Letting go of Alonso was a big deal for the team, though more from a team culture perspective than a playing one. They got value for him when they could.

2019 Forecast:

Seattle has a very sound team, and probably for two more years. Even if Marshall went down, the Sounders are fine between Kim Kee-hee and Roman Torres. And now there’s Campbell. Their roster is a list of players who are not league-best in their position (Kevin Leerdam, Jordan Morris, and Cristian Roldan), and yet other teams would trade large sums and useful bodies to have them. That’s what allows Seattle to flip the script with those mid-summer acquisitions. The real question is how well Jordan Morris reintegrates into the team, against what parts, if any, breakdown, whether by strain or injury. Barring bad luck, the bastards…er, Seattle should be fine.

Los Angeles FC

2018 Finish Line: 3rd in the Western Conference (16-9-9), 57 pts. 68 goals for, 52 goals against

LAFC came out of the gate looking exciting, even exotic. Diego Rossi built a reputation before the season really started and Carlos Vela lived up to his hype. There was that forward-tilting midfield as well – who plays Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen just ahead of the defense? – but that forward tilt left a glass jaw behind it, and that kept LAFC from looking like real contenders. They had the talent to bully weak teams, and that bought them third place, but the league’s better teams reliably reminded them of where they stood. There could be a theory that a team can’t sit at the big kid’s table without some kind of functioning defensive midfield scheme, or I could be making that up. Still, exciting, flashy, and unbalanced: that was LAFC in 2018.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: A lot of who’s that, then M Callum Mallace, F Marco Urena, M Benny Feilhaber, and, why not? (see above), D Aaron Kovar (I don’t make the rules, people)

IN: D Eddie Segura, D Mohamed El-Munir, F Rodolfo Zelaya

Their big drops included Feilhaber and Urena – players more or less expendable – while picking up what strikes me as a nifty throw-back to MLS 1.[X]. Seeing any MLS team sign, Zelaya, one of the best forwards in El Salvador, maybe even all Central America, took me all the way back to Raul Diaz Arce. Some high profile Salvadorans have passed through MLS since him (e.g., Ronald Cerritos and Mauricio Cienfuegos), but the other end of the talent pipeline feeding MLS has by and large shifted to South America in recent seasons. In less retro news, LAFC also added Segura from Colombia and El-Munir from Orlando City SC.

2019 Forecast:

LAFC has some interesting-to-great parts, but there is something really wrong with its player acquisition process. Mark Anthony-Kaye appears to be the only true defensive midfielder on their roster…and so they add two defenders (one 22 years old, the other, an escapee from the horrors of Orlando City SC’s 2018), and a forward? Excited as I am about the latter (clearly, see above), I’m struggling to see a better 2019 for LAFC until they add players where they need them. At the same time, there’s no reason last season’s formula of having the talent to bully weak teams won’t hold up this season, and that’s good enough for the playoffs.

FC Dallas

2018 Finish Line: 4th in the Western Conference (16-9-9), 57 pts. 52 goals for, 44 goals against

Dallas started 2018 strong enough to top the Western Conference (off and on) till the end of July. And then, as if it’s etched onto this team’s motherboard, they fell apart down the stretch, losing the last three regular season games – including a loss in Dallas against Sporting KC that all but announced they would never make MLS Cup, not these guys. Sure, enough, it was the Portland Timbers, in Dallas, just one game later with a 2-1 win. They had the opposite problem of LAFC: a solid defense, but no reliable way to score. The decision to play Maxmiliano Urruti as a No. 10 gives at least one of the reasons.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: M Roland Lamah (hello, Cincy!), F Tesho Akindele, F Maxi Urruti, D Chris Richards, M Victor Ulloa (hello, Cincy!)

IN: F Zdenek Ondrasek, D Bressan, D…sure, John Nelson

After nearly five years of stalling in the same general time and place, FC Dallas parted ways with long-time head coach Oscar Pareja. In a move that underscores Dallas’ investment in its academy, they promoted FC Dallas Academy Director/U-16 Academy team head coach, Luchi Gonzalez to head coach. They like to keep teachers and students together down in Dallas.

Dallas very quietly cut some losses after 2018 – e.g., your Urrutis, your Lamahs, your Akindeles – but otherwise kept faith in what they have on hand. For the past several years – maybe even for the length of its frustrated existence – Dallas has produced sound, well-constructed team after sound, well-constructed team. Last year was no different, but it was always a matter of when they would die, not if. Dallas has made MLS Cup just once, and the universe showed its sense humor by having them lose to the Colorado Rapids. (Colorado was not favored.) So far, all they’ve done to change that was sign the three players named above.

2019 Forecast:

Of all their pick-ups, Ondrasek, a forward from Poland, has plausible potential to change that. Dallas hasn’t had a forward since Blas Perez, and Ondrasek has the scoring history (1 goal every three games, or thereabouts), and in multiple countries that says he can do the same in MLS. It’s not like the Brazilian, Bressan, will hurt them, but a central defender won’t help them fix their biggest weakness – i.e., a permanent failure to find a higher gear. They’ve relied on players like Mauro Diaz to do that, and his replacement has yet to materialize. If there’s a worry, it’s that Ondrasek doesn’t make up for everything Dallas’s F.O. subtracted.

Portland Timbers

2018 Finish Line: 5th in the Western Conference (15-10-9), 54 pts, 54 goals for, 48 goals against

To speak as someone who watched from the front row, taking notes all the while, Portland’s 2018 shouldn’t have felt like a credit card binge, but it still does. The team rode The Holy Trinity – Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Diego Chara – and thin margins all the way to MLS Cup. They enjoyed two great runs – a 15-game unbeaten streak from April through July, then a methodical march through the Western Conference playoffs (steely dans, to the last man) – and without a reliable option at forward and back-stopped by a defense that looked more suspect than it was. If the Timbers have a strength – across two coaches now – it’s what Dallas lacks: a knack for finding a higher gear.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Alvas Powell (hello, Cincy!), D Liam Ridgewell, M Lawrence Olum, GK Jake Gleeson

IN: GK Aljaz Ivacic, D Claude Dielna. M Marvin Loria, M Renzo Zambrano, D Jorge Moreira

The Timbers let a couple anchors float away – e.g., Liam Ridgewell for sure, but maybe even Alvas Powell and Lawrence Olum (not the best, but a supreme known quantity). Portland brought in Claude Dielna from the New England Revolution to deal with the loss of Ridgewell. The ambition finally showed up in the most recent acquisitions, attempted and otherwise. It looks like Portland will acquire Paraguayan right back Moreira, thereby filling the hole left by Powell. They’ve also made a very expensive approach toward Eduardo Vargas, a forward currently signed to Tigres in Mexico. They also signed Slovenian ‘keeper Ivacic on top of calling up Loria and Zambrano from Timbers2.

2019 Forecast:

If all those signings land, Portland should be very competitive next year, if not in 2020. Dielna looks like the key signing at time of writing, but the Timbers will be a very different team with a 15+ goals per year forward – which obviously assumes the team can land Vargas and that he can hit that number. If the Timbers can just work the same defense in 2019 as they did in 2018 – something that relies depressingly heavily on a healthy Diego Chara – that’ll be enough to keep them in the mix on its own. As noted above, this is my first team, so I know more about them than any team in the league, and they have some potential that could come good as well – I mean beyond Loria (who I’ve seen, and not bad) and Zambrano. The list starts with Lucas Melano, but he’s got a lot of company, especially in central midfield.

Real Salt Lake

2018 Finish Line: 6th in the Western Conference (14-13-7), 49 pts, 55 goals for, 58 goals against

Speaking of the Timbers, they really should have ended RSL’s 2018 early by dropping two losses in a late season home-and-home series that saw RSL outscored 1-7; that they gave up four goals at home, where they’d been great all season, twisted the knife. They ultimately backed into the playoffs on the back of the Galaxy’s baffling Decision Day choke against the Houston Dynamo. While RSL has the talent to beat anyone, it took that gift to get them to the post-season.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Demar Phillips, D David Horst, M Sunday “Sunny” Stephen, F Luis Silva

IN: F Sam Johnson, M Everton Luiz, D Danny Toia, and a literal handful of homegrown players

To give positions to that clutch of homegrowns, they include Julian Vazquez (F), David Ochoa (GK), Luis Arriaga (M), Tate Schmitt (F), and Erik Holt (D), but RSL did two smart things besides that. First, they brought in Everton Luiz to (perhaps permanently) spell all-around legend Kyle Beckerman, but they also signed Liberian international Sam Johnson at forward. Those were enormous positions of need for this team.

2019 Forecast:

RSL has a decent history with homegrown players, even as Aaron Maund and Justen Glad have become something close to cautionary tales; I think Maund just got cut loose by Vancouver, but Glad’s still with RSL, but neither is exactly thriving in the moment. Based on that, I present the list above as (again) a handful of unknowns, a list of names waiting on context (that may never come). The thing with RSL is that a good forward can carry them a long way. They’re one of you more pure academy teams in MLS and, as such, it might take a while to see how far their foundation carries them. That said, I’d expect another marginal season in 2019.

And, between the two articles, that’s everyone in MLS’s Western Conference. Now, if I were a betting man (I am, and I lose frequently), I’d name RSL, FC Dallas and maybe LAFC as the teams likeliest to fall out of this, the Winner’s Bracket. At the same time, I’ll be damned if I can figure out which teams from last year’s wrong end of the West takes however many places become available. The Galaxy feels like a good bet, maybe the Vancouver Whitecaps, but after that…yeah, it’s gonna be a weird one out west. Buckle up, buttercups.

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

FC Cincinnati 2019 Schedule – Beyond the Basics

We picked through the finer details to give you key insights beyond the basics of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS schedule.

Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati announced its full 2019 schedule on Monday, and fans can finally plan for the big games against new and existing rivals. We picked through the finer details to give you a few insights beyond the basics.

Toughest Run

You’ve probably already heard about FC Cincinnati’s exceptionally difficult start to the season. The first three games are away to Seattle and Atlanta, then home to the Portland Timbers. That’s a brutal early gauntlet. Things don’t get much easier thereafter, as six of their next seven opponents were also 2018 playoff teams. The only non-playoff opposition in FCC’s first 10 can be found on March 24th away to the New England Revolution.

The schedule gets more manageable thereafter. However, there is another tough-looking run in August when the Orange & Blue face the Crew, home and away, with NYCFC sandwiched in between. They’re then off to Frisco, Texas to face FC Dallas before returning home to duel with Toronto FC.

Father’s Day Break & Sundays

Most of the weekends from March and October are now dedicated to supporting the Orange & Blue. There is just a single weekend where the FCC doesn’t have a match once things kick off in March. That is Father’s Day weekend, June 15-16th. That slot could accommodate a US Open Cup match, but those are typically played midweek. This weekend might not feature matches, as it is caught between a FIFA international window and the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

MLS’s new condensed schedule features more midweek games, as there are a total of four Wednesday or Thursday matches this season. That isn’t a change for FCC fans accustomed to the USL calendar. However, fans will have to get used to quite a few more Sunday games, with nine total during the regular season.

Day of Week Breakdown

Friday: 1
Saturday: 20
Sunday: 9
Wednesday: 2
Thursday: 2

U.S. Open Cup

FC Cincinnati’s involvement in everyone’s favorite cup competition should begin in early June. That will serve up a dose of schedule congestion similar to year’s past. Here are the possible dates in June and July if FCC progresses to play in three USOC games.

6/1 at Colorado Rapids
6/6 at NYCFC (Thursday)
6/12 – USOC 4th Round
6/22 – LA Galaxy
6/26 – USOC 5th Round
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 NYCFC and D.C. United games are both on Thursday which limits the weeks that FCC can participate in a midweek USOC game. These scheduling wrinkles could cause the fourth round to get moved up to late May, but then the earlier USOC rounds would have to move even earlier. The big change, of course, is that MLS teams enter later in the tournament, expectedly in the fourth round.

Schedule Symmetry & Home Finish

The MLS schedule will look a little more balanced in 2019 than it has in seasons past. FC Cincinnati will play every other team in the Eastern Conference twice – once home and once away. Furthermore, they will play each team in the Western Conference one time, either home or away. Every team’s schedule is now organized in this fashion and has a more “fair” look, or at least that was the goal.

One really pleasant change from season’s past is FC Cincinnati’s end-of-season calendar. Alan Koch and company could be scrapping for a playoff spot come September, and Orange & Blue will get to play three of his last four games at Nippert Stadium.

Five Best Road Trips

The FC Cincinnati faithful will look to build on their reputation as good travelers in the first MLS season. With new regional rivals, there are a lot of travel dates to choose from on the 2019 calendar. Here are our top 5 road-trip recommendations.

#5 – June 29th at Minnesota United – It’s a quick flight and a Saturday game. You can check out the new Allianz Field in Saint Paul while watching the Orange & Blue claim revenge for the 2018 USOC penalty-kick defeat.

#4 – May 19 at Orlando City – It will probably still be drizzling in Cincy in May, so head south to Florida and heckle James O’Connor in his new home while taking in some sunshine.

#3 – March 10th at Atlanta United – It’s right after the big MLS opener, but if you can’t make it to Seattle, you must make it Atlanta and see what 70+ thousand screaming MLS fans look like in a plush Mercedes Benz Stadium.

#2 – March 2nd at Seattle Sounders – Washington is on the other side of the country, but it’s FC Cincinnati’s first-ever MLS game, and it comes equipped with one of the best environments that MLS has to offer. We’re sure you can find a way.

#1 – August 10th at Columbus Crew – We have to wait until August (*sigh*), but the Crew are saved and the rivalry renews at MAPFRE. This is a historic derby match that you cannot miss.

Lots of big dates and interesting twists ahead. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the MLS SuperDraft and FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

FC Cincinnati Bolsters Squad at Forward, Midfielder, and Hair

FC Cincinnati announced three new additions to its 2017 squad on Friday, forward Andy Craven and midfielders Aaron Walker and Marco Dominguez.

Photo Credit: Seattle Sounders 2

On Friday, FC Cincinnati announced the signing of three new players for the 2017 season, forward Andy Craven and midfielders Aaron Walker and Marco Dominguez.

Aaron Walker made FC Cincinnati’s roster via the December open tryouts and will add depth in midfield. Recall that Omar Mohamed made the 2016 roster via the same route and saw a respectable amount of playing time. Let’s hope Walker, a Woodstock, GA native, can make a similar contribution this season. Walker has a personal highlight reel published on Youtube so you can see him in action. The highlights are taken from his 2015 spell with BÍ/Bolungarvik in the Icelandic 1st Division.

It’s interesting to note that FC Cincinnati now has two players with the surname Walker on their roster, which is more Walkers than any other USL club. This is a good move. It could be the first step in a strategy of stockpiling Walkers that sees the second year club accumulate as many as five by 2020.

Marco Dominguez is also a central midfielder and comes to Cincinnati from USL’s recently dissolved FC Montréal. He is a product of the Montréal Impact academy and has represented Canada at the U17 and U20 level. He’s has a physical presence and based on this 2015 academy video, has the ability to strike from range.

The 20 year old Quebec native started half of FC Montréal’s 2016 matches and contributed two assists. FC Cincinnati needed to reinforce their defensive midfield with a player that can deal with USL’s physicality, but still play the team’s passing and possession based style. Dominguez appears to fit the bill.

The race for the best hair on the 2017 FC Cincinnati roster is clearly heating up.

Andy Craven joins FC Cincinnati from USL’s OKC Energy, after spending time in the Seattle Sounders organization. In 2015, Craven made history in a two different ways. Craven has the distinction of being the first ever goal scorer in Seattle Sounders 2 history.

Craven also became the first ever player to be added to the Seattle Sounders’ MLS roster from USL’s Seattle Sounders 2. He split time between the Sounders 2 and OKC in 2016, scored three times, and brings flowing locks that can balance out Pat McMahon’s man bun on the back line. Andrew Wiedeman will be difficult to knock off his lofty perch at the top the FCC hair pyramid, but he’ll have fend off more long-haired competition this year to retain his crown.

Will any of these three will break into FC Cincinnati’s first eleven, or the will they simply provide depth to the squad. Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

Who remembers FC Cincinnati’s first ever goalscorer? Comment with the right answer and follow this blog. One person who does will be randomly selected to win a FC Cincinnati winter cap.