Two days before his first official FC Cincinnati workout, midfielder Nazmi Albadawi made a big first impression off the pitch with a contest giving away a pair of signed shoes. Two weeks later, center back Forrest Lasso followed suit with the exact same offer.
Both FCC newcomers sent out tweets with simple rules of entry — instructions to retweet, then “perform an act of kindness for someone” in Albadawi’s contest and “spread the love” in Lasso’s, and let them know what you did.
Given the chance to bring in the players of his choosing during his first offseason, FCC coach Alan Koch stressed character as much as technical skills, and it’s showing on and off the pitch. Koch was “not surprised at all” to see his new players make a warming entrance in Cincinnati.
“Both those guys are outstanding citizens, human beings,” Koch said. “They’re both a good example of what our entire group is like.”
Lasso became an instant hit on social media among the FCC faithful even before arriving in Cincinnati, posting some workout videos and his blog, faithfamilyfootball.com. Lasso began the blog as a way to stay connected with friends and allow fans the opportunity to peek into a soccer player’s life. The blog’s title comes from his top three priorities.
“When I was a little kid growing up, I didn’t have that opportunity to connect with players,” Lasso said. “I knew who they were — I watched them on TV — but I really didn’t know anything about them besides their name, their number and who they played for. The idea was to offer an inside perspective on the day-to-day life — what we do every day, what goes through my head, whether it’s crazy or not. Also, it’s a reminder that we’re not that superhero. We’re just that average Joe off the street that enjoys playing soccer and happens to be pretty good at it.”
Said Albadawi of starting his contest, “The community here is unbelievable. I’ve only heard great things about the community. I want to be a part of it. I wanted to make a good first impression, but also I love doing that kind of stuff. I love giving away as much as I can — doing little things like that are a huge testament to your character. To see how many people got involved in that contest was very, very cool too. It was very exciting.”
Lasso and Albadawi aren’t alone. Goalkeeper Evan Newton did volunteer work at the children’s hospital in Sacramento and said he’s working on continuing that here in Cincinnati. While FCC can’t cash in contests and volunteer work for points in the USL Eastern Conference table, newcomers and veterans alike agree strong team chemistry is a good indicator for success on the pitch.
“It’s maybe the most important thing,” said midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin, who along with Kenney Walker and Corben Bone are the only three left from FCC’s inaugural season. “We’re a team at the end of the day. You can have one guy who’s the best player in the world, but if he’s not going to work in the system that we want to play, then it’s not going to help us out, and we’re not going to win games. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of people we’ve brought in so far.”
The atmosphere as workouts began in January might have been a little overwhelming, but that feeling dissipated quickly. Some guys knew others by playing against them on former clubs. Time training together helped, as did Cincinnati native and FCC defender Matt Bahner, who introduced them to the city’s food scene, including spots in Over-the-Rhine and a certain local chili chain.
“Some of the guys were asking me about Skyline,” Bahner said. “I absolutely love it. I recommend everybody who comes to Cincinnati at least try it. Some of the guys tried it and actually liked it, which was good. Most of the people that try it — if you’re not from Cincinnati you don’t normally like it, which was refreshing for me.”
After a few weeks together, FCC went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for the third straight year. The club used the trip the same way most people do when traveling to Florida for a couple of weeks — as an escape. It was mostly a business trip, of course. There were plenty of workouts and friendlies against Major League Soccer side New England Revolution and USL rival Tampa Bay. But it also gave everyone time to mix together when they weren’t on the pitch.
“When you’re away for two weeks and you’re all together, you kind of get to know each other quickly,” Newton said. “There’s a lot of good players, but it’s hard to find really talented players with good character that aren’t selfish or aren’t cancers when they’re not playing. So far, it seems like (the technical staff) has done their due diligence and put a lot of time into finding top talent but also top guys. Everyone’s out there supporting each other even though we’re fighting for a spot against each other. A lot of guys are going to play this year. Every guy on our team could start at most any club in this league. You just have to keep working hard and support the guy that’s playing currently.”
FCC’s final preseason friendly is at 4 p.m. Saturday at Nippert Stadium against the Sacramento Republic. Regular season play begins March 17 at the Charleston Battery.