Since FC Cincinnati’s founding in 2015, there has only been one goal for the club, Major League Soccer. It may have seemed like a longshot but over the past three years the club has ignited the passion and captured the love of a fan base. 2016 saw game after game of record breaking attendance, 2017 recorded the first victories over MLS clubs as the Orange and Blue made it to the semi-finals of the US Open Cup, and 2018 was the storybook year where a dream team roster earned the title of USL regular season champions.
Head coach Alan Koch is FC Cincinnati’s second head coach and has been with the team since 2016. Before joining FCC he spent two years with the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 where he helped scout and develop MLS players like Tim Parker and Alphonse Davies. However, most MLS fans are likely more familiar with Koch’s approach to MLS team building because FC Cincinnati’s approach to building its first MLS team has been met with mixed reviews. The team is overflowing with defensive players, has retained many of its USL veterans, and is using TAM & GAM as a bargaining chip instead of the more traditional approach of paying down salaries.
Still, fans and the front office are committed to the vision and have high hopes for an exciting 2019 season but three questions still remain: 1) Can their defense hold out long enough to carry them into the playoffs, 2) Do they have enough money to grab a key playmaker in the summer window, and 3) Will they have time to replicate the midseason offensive DP signing success of teams like Seattle and DC United?
Tactics & Key Players
In 2018, FC Cincinnati cracked open the vault and spent. It capitalized on the collapse of NASL and the promise of MLS to cherry pick some of the best talent available and built its dream team. With a well-stocked midfield and defense, FC Cincinnati was able to deploy Fanendo Adi as their target man and keep its focus on offense. In 2018, they primarily utilized the 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 diamond formations.
For MLS, I expect the primary formation to change as the focus is now on a defensive counterattacking team. Koch tried several formations during preseason but in the end, I expect to see a 3-5-2 (which might look like a 5-3-2 at times) or a compact 4-4-2.
Goalkeeper: This is the easiest position to predict as Przemyslaw Tyton is the clear starter and has made some great saves against MLS starters during preseason.
Defenders: Greg Garza and Kendall Waston are the only two players who have a sure starting spot at this time, but Garza may rest some at the start of the season to make sure his USMNT camp injury is OK. The remaining center and right-back spot will likely see rotations between Mathieu Deplagne, Nick Hagglund, and Forrest Lasso. Alvas Powell’s speed makes him the likely starting right-back option but Blake Smith has seen a lot of the field in preseason and could challenge for minutes as could Deplagne who is the most versatile of the defenders.
Defensive Midfields: There is A LOT of flexibility in the FC Cincinnati midfield with most players having the bulk of their experience as a D-mid or a central player. Victor Ulloa, Leonardo Bertone, Allan Cruz and Fatai Alashe are all in the running for the 3 central spots (Caleb Stanko a likely backup) and will likely rotate throughout the ear. Bertone and Cruz also are not pure defensive players, so expect them to play more advanced midfield roles. Nazmi Albadawi will likely function as a sub for this position but he could his way into the starting XI as he was one of FC Cincinnati’s key playmakers in 2018.
Wingers: Roland Lamah, Kekuta Manneh, and USL MVP Emmanuel Ledesma are the pure winger options and will be relied upon to create many of the offensive opportunities in the early part of the season until anther DP can be added. Ledesma is the former USL player with the best chance to make the opening day starting XI, but the recent signing of Manneh could change that if he’s not deployed as a forward. Corben Bone and Eric Alexander are also options for these positions, but expect them to primarily be used as subs.
Forwards: OK so this is another easy one, Fanendo Adi and Darren Mattocks starting up top. Adi will be the tip of the sword and continue to function as a target man, but will also be a key holdup player at time when the opportunity presents itself to take advantage of Mattocks’ speed. Manneh could also see time at this position, if he does not displace Mattocks entirely, and would be the likely first choice switch over Emery Welshman.
FC BARGAN CITY! That’s right, as an expansion team with many USL players expect to find a lot of low cost players on the FCC roster. Ledesma will likely be the most expensive former USL player and I’d expect players like Adi, Waston, and Manneh to have higher prices as they have proven MLS performances to justify the cost. Tyton performed well in preseason and could be the best overall value if he earns bonus points, but also keep an eye out for defenders if their defense hold solid.
I have my fingers crossed that some of the players can outperform their initial price, but it’s likely that most FC Cincinnati players will be used as bench fodder to help free up money for the starting XI. Just be sure to NOT use them as swtcheroo options as they appear the only team without a bye this year.
Potential Starting XI
I feel pretty good about the defensive setup here, but I’m still not sure abut the Middle three. Expect a revisit after the CLB preseason game.