Orlando City’s already slim playoff hopes took yet another hit with New England’s comeback draw with Portland on Wednesday. While making the postseason is almost certainly no longer a reasonable achievement for the Lions, the team still needs to take care of business.
This week their business is FC Cincinnati, which means I once again spoke to Bill Wolf of Cincinnati Soccer Talk. He was kind to catch us up on how Cincy’s season has gone since these two teams last met.
It’s been a rough debut MLS season for FC Cincinnati, with the team’s 22 points the lowest number in the league. Does the team’s record and point total tell the whole story or has the season been better than the sometimes harsh data suggests?
Bill Wolf: Yep, we won the wooden spoon. Hardware our first season in MLS. Woohoo! Seriously though, the team, collectively, is obviously not good. I don’t think that is the whole story, but clinching the bottom of the table with games in hand, there isn’t much else to say.
Are the individuals on this roster better than the record shows? I think absolutely. Should they have done better this season? I think absolutely. That said, I think the roster build was not done well. FCC ended up with like 50% midfielders, most of who would be labeled as eights. They had almost no wings. A few of the players are comfortable in the six spot, but none of them are that real enforcer last line of defense type. They have a few players who can step into the 10 spot but don’t have that creative player who can unlock a defense. FCC improved a bit in the summer transfer window. They brought a couple of wings in and have been playing with essentially two eights and a six, who at times tends to struggle.
If you look at what this team has gone through, it has been a hell year off the pitch as well. There were clashes with head coach Alan Koch that spilled out into the media — Koch blaming the results on his players and the players coming out with displays of solidarity. Ultimately, the club was forced to choose between letting their coach go or letting all of the players go. Obviously only one choice to make there. But that isn’t the end of it because change brings uncertainty. How do you get along with the new coach? Do you fit into their vision and style? So they began a period of time with interim head coach Yoann Damet. Change. Uncertainty. The club decided it needed to get its GM hired. It had put that off this season to focus on the front office, the stadium and the training facility, but it was obvious that more oversight and direction was required on the technical side. Gerard Nikamp is hired. More change. More uncertainty. Finally, the hunt is over and the club brings on our new coach, Ron Jans. Even more change. Even more uncertainty.
Injuries have also killed Cincinnati this season. Their DP striker spent most of the season injured and only scored a single goal. They’re not expecting him back at this point this season. Spencer Richey, the starting keeper, tweaked his back and is out for the season most likely. Darren Mattocks, who has been the choice for striker, is now out for the remainder of the season. Allan Cruz, the leading scorer, is out with a concussion. They also lost Greg Garza for an extended period this season, throwing the back line into a mess. Lots of other smaller injuries of key players for two or three games throughout.
During the period under Damet, the team moved to a 4-3-3 formation and started playing a traditional Dutch style of press soccer. This seems to be the direction that Nikamp wants to take the team. However, the existing roster struggled with that. They couldn’t seem to figure out how to press and then break up the counter. They started bleeding goals: two games they gave up four goals, three games they gave up five goals and against Minnesota...seven goals. The team’s morale was crushed and they didn’t have the mentality to come back into a game and once the scoring started...
The last three games, FCC has completely changed direction. Jans has implemented a much more defensive style of play. In the last three games, the have a record of 1-1-1, losing only to Atlanta United. They’ve earned two clean sheets. As I said, I think this roster is better than the stats show and under a coach they are motivated by, they are starting to see some results at the end of the season.
Long answer, sorry. Here’s the TLDR: Collectively they aren’t well formed and they’ve had a rough time off the pitch. They aren’t great but should be doing better.
Last time we spoke we talked a little bit about Frankie Amaya. How has the rest of his season been? Is he continuing to develop?
BW: Frankie is a fan favorite. Everyone loves his drive and energy. If you look at the stats this season, such as successful passes, successful dribbles, interceptions, chances created, etc., you’ll find teammates who beat him in some stats, but overall he’s better than most. And at 18 years of age, he’s a top player on the team, playing with seasoned veterans. What he’s lacking is goal-scoring production, so we hope to see that change as he grows and matures as a player.
He did take a knock in July and was on and off the pitch for a bit, ultimately sitting out most of August to recover. It’s been great to have him back in the lineup.
I’m hoping with the experience and the playing time he’s getting that he’ll start to fit into the plans for USMNT in the future. Missing the U-20 World Cup had to be a huge disappointment. Tab Ramos specifically mentioned him as a tough one to leave off, but at the time, he was not playing regularly for his club versus other players.
Heading into the off-season, what do you believe the biggest need is for the team? What area does it need to strengthen?
BW: I do think they’ll move back to a Dutch pressing style next season, so the team needs to make changes to support that. For me, that feels like a real solid six. They need someone sitting deeper in the midfield ahead of the back line who can break up counter attacks and tuck in and close gaps when the backs go forward. They need to be able to intercept or take the ball and they need to be able to distribute it to restart the press.
Are there any injuries, suspensions, or call-ups that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
BW: LOL. Sometimes we are asking who is available versus who isn’t? Mattocks is out for the season. Richey and Fanendo Adi are close to recovered but probably not able to be fit enough to play this season. Cruz has a concussion. Not sure of his status, but done for season wouldn’t surprise me. Kekuta Manneh is also injured and out for the season. Beyond that, Kendall Waston picked up his eighth yellow card versus Chicago so he is suspended. Interestingly, Nemanja Nikolic was fined post match for embellishment for that play, but at least at this point, I haven’t heard anything about rescinding the card.
For my lineup.
Przemysław Tyton; Mathieu Deplagne, Maikel van der Werff, Nick Hagglund, Greg Garza; Frankie Amaya, Caleb Stanko, Leonardo Bertone; Derrick Etienne, Emmanuel Ledesma, Joe Gyau.
I’m going to predict a 1-0 victory for FCC. In their last three games, if we ignore Atlanta and Josef Martinez, they have two shutouts and one win against teams in a similar position in the table as Orlando. Your scoring is not consistent and I’m hoping with the more defensive style FCC has been playing and the home crowd support, that the team will hold strong.
Big thanks to Bill for a great in-depth look at FC Cincinnati.