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What looked to be a picturesque maiden voyage for FC Cincinnati quickly ran aground. The Orange and Blue have produced a solitary victory in the 12 matches since their bright 2-1-1 start and find themselves looking up at the rest of the league with 11 points. As the Gold Cup break provides a brief opportunity to reboot and prepare for a grueling summer and fall, it’s time to have a look at the top storylines from the first half of Cincinnati’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer.
1. Building the right culture
Cincinnati were one of three clubs to dismiss their head coach early in the season. Alan Koch joined New England’s Brad Friedel and Colorado’s Anthony Hudson in receiving marching orders at the beginning of May, and Cincy president Jeff Berding’s concerns were far more extensive than simply poor results.
“After a series of recent issues and a team culture that had deteriorated, we determined that it’s time to make a change to return a club-centered focus to the team,” said Berding regarding Koch’s dismissal.
Berding took a massive step toward building the type of culture he wishes to see with the recent hiring of Gerard Nijkamp as general manager. The Dutchman will look to tap into his vast experience in Europe to transform operations from top to bottom, including team management and budget, player acquisitions, first-team coaching, sports performance and medical staff, and the club’s new youth academy.
Nijkamp’s first task as he continues to transition from his role in the Netherlands is to find the right coach to take over and maximize the potential of the current roster. He will officially assume all of his duties on Aug. 1.
2. The search for an offensive identity continues
While the defense has been nothing to write home about with 33 goals conceded, a lack of ideas and execution going forward has largely kept Cincy from being a more competitive side. Koch was content to sit back, absorb pressure, and punch on the counter-attack, while interim coach Yoann Damet has sought to instill a more possession-based brand of play.
Through the first few weeks of play it appeared the team would be able to produce goals and could spread the love in doing so, as eight different players got on the score sheet. However, the fact that Darren Mattocks, Kekutah Manneh, and Allan Cruz are joint-top scorers at this point with two tallies apiece tells all you need to know about the team’s impotence in the final third.
The club signed Fanendo Adi in the summer of 2018 in the hopes that he could recreate the type of production and electrifying play that made him a crowd favorite in Portland. However, his time in Ohio was derailed early on when he was booked for speeding and Operating a Vehicle While Impaired and subsequently entered the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (SABH) Program. He has since returned to action, but he has yet to find the back of the net through six starts and eight total appearances
The news that the Kenny Saief experiment had run its course was the latest disappointment for a team searching for an offensive identity. Saief’s opening performances appeared to have him primed to carry the playmaking torch and maybe even secure a long-term deal to keep him in Ohio, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. Damet’s team selections and nagging injury concerns have limited Saief to just two appearances since the start of May.
3. Home support a constant
While results on the field have been less than ideal, there’s simply no questioning the undying passion for the game and the Orange and Blue in southwestern Ohio. From the outset, supporters have showed up and showed out despite nasty weather on several occasions and just two home victories to date.
As the Gold Cup break provides a chance to catch their collective breath, Nippert Stadium shows no signs of becoming empty anytime soon. The club just announced more than 30,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s return to MLS action against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s LA Galaxy. More positive news followed on Friday as the club’s new $250 million stadium cleared the latest hurdle for construction.
4. High hopes for more Open Cup magic
Cincy danced their way into the hearts of thousands with the Cinderella story of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. They punched above their weight with a pair of victories against MLS outfits Columbus and Chicago, and nearly secured a spot in the final if not for an improbable 3-2 comeback win by the New York Red Bulls.
Fans will be hoping their side can produce a bit of cup magic once again in 2019, and the Orange and Blue took the first step toward doing so last week in the fourth round with a 2-1 victory over former USL rivals Louisville City. They were fortunate to avoid an MLS opponent in their fifth-round draw but face no slouches in Saint Louis FC, who recently kicked the Fire out of the tournament. Another cup win on Wednesday just might reinvigorate the side and send them on their way to a better second half of 2019.