MLS New Boys, FC Cincinnati
It was only back in 2016 that the Ohio based club entered the USL but a combination of ambitious development plans combined with the fact they’ve smashed several attendance records prove they’ll add something to the top division. During the three seasons in the second tier they’ve had three attendances north of 30,000 and averaged a gate of 24,500 – that puts them above several attendances for teams that compete in the English Premier League, which is widely regarded as the best in the world, and miles ahead of the league average.
At the end of the day, the off the pitch stuff is nice to have but it’s on the field of play where it really matters and FCC measure up pretty strongly there as well. In 2016 and 2017 they qualified for the playoffs with a third and sixth place finish respectively and last season they wrapped up the regular season title finishing ahead of Louisville City, who emerged victorious in the playoffs. On route notched the most goals scored in the year (72), also setting USL records for the longest winning run (10 games) and unbeaten streak (23).
‘Cincy’, who are majority owned by Carl Lindner III, are managed from the dugout by former South African youth player Alan Koch, 43. Koch, who was named USL Coach of the Year for 2018, has managed at some level since the early 2000s with his most noteworthy experience, prior to joining FCC, with Whitecaps 2 in the 2015/16 season when he led them to the Western Conference finals. Koch’s next move was to join Cincy in the USL, initially as an assistant coach, but shortly after arriving he replaced John Harkes to become only the second ever manager of the club.
It’s been a job well done for Koch so far, but the step into the MLS will provide his, and the team’s, biggest challenge to date. On receiving his Coach of the Year award, the former Limerick player was quick to play down individual achievements and to put focus back on the collective and for Cincinnati to be successful in 2019 that’s something he’ll need to maintain throughout.
The MLS has been, and continues to be, home to some enormous names of world soccer, with players who have played in Europe’s top flights and even in the Champions League, like Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, England’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney and recently another former Manchester United player, Nani, has also joined the league. Koch’s side cannot offer any individuals close to that level, so they’ll need to find alternative solutions. The MLS continues to draw an audience from a wider circle and defender Justin Hoyte is perhaps the FCC player most likely to catch the eye; particularly from England where he made appearances for Arsenal and Middlesbrough, amongst others, as well as representing the country at various youth levels before switching allegiance to Trinidad & Tobago.
The step up has been acknowledged by Koch and his backroom staff and squad strengthening has been taking place. As the expansion team, Cincinnati were awarded first pick of the SuperDraft and picked up highly rated, Generation Adidas player, Frankie Amaya. At 18 years old – the youngest player in the draft – he’s certainly not short of confidence labelling himself ‘a very good technical player’ but also referencing the fact that he has an intense ‘work rate’ and he’ll be hoping to utilise his creative skills to feed attacker Fanendo Adi who arrived from Portland Timbers to take up one of the teams designated players spots. The fans will be looking to him for goals as he has a respectable goal ratio to his name.
A second designated player and one to watch is 22-year-old Costa Rican international midfielder Allan Cruz, who has joined from Herediano in his homeland. In addition, the other draft picks followed a similar pattern to Amaya in that Koch and Co and have clearly placed their faith in an approach – targeting youth – that will represent long term value for the club and the inaugural MLS campaign looks sure to be a journey that they, and their record-breaking supporters, will enjoy every step of the way.