4 Positives In A Difficult Major League Soccer Debut From FC Cincinnati

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.

Roma Defender Chris Smalling Has Been Stellar In Italy

As if he’d not made enough of an impression since joining AS Roma on loan from Manchester United in the summer, defender Chris Smalling really stood out as an exceptional talent on the week of his 30th birthday. 

Hofstra Coach Simon Riddiough Doesn't Need The Power 5 To Define Success

By Jerry Beach

Simon Riddiough, the head coach of the Hofstra women’s soccer team, spent about two minutes of a 21-minute interview Tuesday afternoon discussing why he’s content at the Long Island school and not planning to see if he can replicate his success with a higher-profile Power Five school that would offer the resources and opportunities to make a deep NCAA Tournament run that are generally lacking in the mid-major arena.

Carlo Ancelotti, Aurelio De Laurentiis & Napoli Are In Complete Chaos

It’s hard to believe that only as far back as April 22, 2018, Napoli beat Juventus 1-0 in Turin to move top of the table with only four games remaining. Maurizio Sarri — himself now in charge at Juve — had broken the club record points total in each of the previous two campaigns, and would do so again in 2017-18, but the Naples men ultimately finished second, albeit with yet another unseen total of 91 points.

Canada Has An Opportunity To Prove Their Standing On Friday Against USMNT

This is the moment of truth for Canada's men's national team. 

Concacaf Nations League Returns For Final Group State In November

After nearly a month of waiting for the Concacaf Nations League to kick back into gear, the tournament is finally back this week with the final two matchdays in group play. 

Seattle Sounders & Toronto FC Clash With The MLS Cup On The Line

Just over a week after the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC went on the road and upset the favorites, MLS Cup 2019 is on the horizon as the 24th season in league history comes to a close. CenturyLink Field in Seattle will be the epicenter on Sunday at 3 PM when the two sides face off in the MLS Cup final for the third time in the past four years. 

Paulo Fonseca & The Unlikely Resurgence Of AS Roma In Serie A

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Potential USMNT Contributors From The Nations League Pre-Camp

November 15 could be a day of reckoning for Gregg Berhalter and the United States men's national team. After last month's 2-0 defeat to Canada — the first loss to their neighbors in 35 years — Berhalter needs a win in Orlando to help rectify the USA's position in the first-ever Concacaf Nations League. Anything other than a win would mean that Canada will advance to the semifinals, a shocking result for the U.S.

10 Things In Italy: Mario Balotelli, de Ligt Handballs & Conte's Inter

With the action in Italy heating up both on and off the field, it’s time to get you caught up with what’s been happening in the world of Serie A and, as always, “10 Things” is here to bring you right up to date.

Concaclusions, Ep. 9: Pulisic Strikes Again, Jiménez Haunts Arsenal

Another round of club play is in the books, and several of the region’s top players were in the headlines once again through clutch goals, quality performances, and even uncharacteristic errors.