FC Cincinnati were one of the stories of the league through the first month of the season, as early results matched the tremendous support in the Queen City. A surprising away draw against defending champions Atlanta United and convincing wins over the Portland Timbers and New England Revolution had the Orange and Blue flying high, and they would have secured the best start of an expansion team in MLS history if not for a loss to the Philadelphia Union in the subsequent match.
Then April came and ever since the team has amassed nine losses in eleven outings. The latest disappointing result came last night in a 5-2 loss to NYC FC, their fourth consecutive defeat to leave them with the lowest points tally in the league at 11. The league’s newest franchise has been searching for answers to turn things around roughly halfway into the season, and they may have just struck gold in the form of a new general manager with an impressive pedigree.
On May 30 the club announced the hiring of Gerard Nijkamp to transform soccer operations from top to bottom. The Dutchman arrives from PEC Zwolle in his home country, where he has served as their technical director since 2012. He will take the next two months to make the transition before joining Cincy in full capacity on August 1.
“We believe Gerard is a fantastic fit for FC Cincinnati, both with his on-field football expertise, but also his off-field demeanor and managerial style,” FC Cincinnati president Jeff Berding said in a club statement. “We have great ambitions for FC Cincinnati and Gerard is stepping into a very large role. We will give him all of the support he needs to make us a successful, winning and community-focused club – from the first team all the way down to our newly established Academy.
Nijkamp began his time at PEC Zwolle as the academy director and later served on the Netherland’s Under-21 staff. He left his home nation for four years and worked as academy director for Qatari outfits Al Ahli (2007-2009) and Al-Rayya (2009-2011, before returning to Zwolle to step in as technical director where he would leave his mark in a major way.
They may not be one of the larger clubs in the Dutch Eredivisie, but Nijkamp helped PEC Zwolle achieve several impressive feats during his tenure. They demolished perennial power AFC Ajax 5-1 to win the Dutch Cup in 2014, their first ever triumph in the competition, and earned a birth in the Europa League as a result. He also helped guide Zwolle to a sixth-place finish in the league, the best result in team history.
His upcoming responsibilities for the Orange and Blue are quite extensive. He has been given full control over roster management and budget, player acquisitions, first-team coaching, sports performance and medical staff member, and the club’s new youth academy. The 49-year-old is eager to make his presence felt in southwestern Ohio.
“I am very happy and proud to be part of the FC Cincinnati family,” Nijkamp said following the club’s announcement. “I would like to thank Carl H. Lindner III and Jeff Berding for their confidence in me and the vision I plan to bring to FCC. I will put all of my knowledge, experience and skills into building a successful club for this wonderful city.”
The first area in which Nijkamp will look to make an immediate impact is in the search for a new head coach. His experience in the coaching ranks and connections will play a key role in what Berding labeled a “worldwide” search for a new tactician, as the club is ready to turn over every stone to find the best man for the job. Yoann Damet has served as the interim manager following Alan Koch’s dismissal on May 7.
Second, Nijkamp will be looking to make a significant impact in identifying and developing young talent, as well as finding established players to build the strongest roster possible. For decades AFC Ajax has been one of the beacons in Europe for their development of young players, but PEC Zwolle garnered their own reputation for finding and grooming budding stars to fit the club’s playing philosophy under Nijkamp’s direction. This aspect was crucial to punching above their weight with a limited budget.
Berding cited a deteriorating culture as one of the reasons for Koch’s dismissal. Nijkamp will have a large say in building the type of culture that the club’s president desires, while seeking to implement an aggressive, possession-based playing style that can help the team compete with the league’s best. Building from the bottom up is the only way for the new GM, something he spoke to in his introductory press conference.
“People, supporters, the business side but also the media can identify with the club with the philosophy and how we want to play on the field,” Nijkamp said concerning what is important in how the organization is run. "How we want to be as human beings who work for this beautiful club."
While the results of late have been less than satisfactory, FC Cincinnati’s new head of soccer operations may just be what helps flip the script now and into the future.