In just over three weeks, FC Cincinnati will line up for their first regular season USL match at MUSC Health stadium in Charleston, SC to face the Charleston Battery. Which 11 names will be inscribed on the team sheet for that game and therefore on the first page of the club’s history book?
Last week’s preseason tournament at the IMG Suncoast Classic provided some clues. Here’s a glimpse of what that lineup might look like.
The team has featured several formations in its early matches including a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 and a 4-4-1-1. Harkes is clearly still experimenting but I prefer the 4-4-1-1 for both tactical fit to personnel and because they looked most comfortable in that formation during their 4-0 victory vs. HB Koge. The front men also didn’t look threatening in the 4-4-2 or the 4-3-3.
Mitch Hildebrandt seems to be the clear number one, starting all three matches at the IMG preseason tournament. Xavier product #30 Dallas Jaye made a good showing when he entered as a substitute in the match against KR (Reykjavik), but didn’t see any action thereafter.
There was a fair amount of consistency in the defensive back four during the preseason tournament. Cincinnati native, center back and captain #22 Austin Berry has been the club’s poster boy and will likely be the first name on the team sheet. Towering Australian center back #4 Harrison Delbridge has impressed in preseason with his positional awareness, long range passing and he scored the winner against NYCFC. At left back, I expect to see #3 Tyler Polak and on the right #15 Pat McMahon, both of whom started games and were consistent performers in Bradenton.
Corben Bone, Kenney Walker, Omar Mohammed, and Jimmy McLaughlin
The midfield is more controversial and the final formation Harkes chooses will drive some of the decisions here. In the heart of midfield we’ve seen a lot of #6 Kenney Walker, #19 Corben Bone and #5 Ross Tomaselli. I suspect we may see some rotation between these three throughout the season. I think Corben Bone is in, and Harkes is looking for him to be his central midfield playmaker. He will also take most of FC Cincinnati’s set pieces. Walker and Tomaselli have more defensive tendencies than Bone and have also looked solid in preseason. I don’t think we’ve seen enough to say. I’m picking Walker because he has MLS pedigree (LA Galaxy) and an amazing last name (I should know).
As for the wide-men in midfield, I’d like to see #18 Omar Mohammed and #20 Jimmy McLaughlin start. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know I’m an Omar Mohammed super-fan. He’s young and inexperienced, but he’s dynamic with great speed, close dribbling control, and the ability to draw defenders to him while retaining possession, opening up space for others. McLaughlin only started in the third preseason game, but he was lively on the left as a substitute and produced a very well taken goal against HB Koge to put FC Cincinnati up 2-0.
If Harkes opts for a 4-3-3, the midfield will rely mostly on the Walker, Tomaselli, Bone threesome and one or both of the wide players will either sit or play as part of the front line.
Sean Okoli, Omar Cummings
Scoring goals is the hardest part of course and although we saw 8 goals in the first 3 games, only 3 came through forwards from open play. Andrew Wiedeman’s 5-hole blast against HB Koge was the standout. Luke Spencer scored a very good scrappy goal against KR Reykjavik. The other forward goal was a tap in by Spencer from a goalkeeping error. The starting forwards didn’t stand out for me against KR or NYCFC. I think the positions up front are still very much up for grabs.
#9 Sean Okoli, a Seattle Sounders academy product, has looked good in his two starts without scoring a goal. He was fouled for the penalty and subsequent goalkeeper ejection that opened up the HB Koge match. His youthful legs can stretch the opposition as the front forward while #14 Omar Cummings can provide experience and create behind him. Cummings, a Jamaican international, spent 6 years in MLS with the Colorado Rapids and another year with Houston Dynamo. He’s getting to the end of the professional age curve and has been injured in preseason, but he’s a seasoned veteran with pedigree, talent and proven goal scoring ability. He should be a key contributor this year on the field and in the locker room. If he’s fit, I think he plays on March 26th.
It will be very interesting to see how the picture changes as we work through the final two preseason matches at NASL side Indy Eleven on March 12 and against the Xavier University Men’s team on March 18.
There are a lot of very good players left out of this starting eleven, and that’s maybe the best news of all for FC Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati’s payroll has been reported to be in the $2 million dollar range, which is at the top end of the USL pay scale. That means there is well paid talent on the bench, an asset they will need over a long USL season.
Who are the best of the rest?
#23 Andrew Wiedeman, #29 Antoine Hoppenot and #7 Luke Spencer will all have a say in the forward conversation. Andrew Wiedeman did not make a huge mark on the first two games, but came good against HB Koge with a brace and therefore warrants consideration. The French striker Hoppenot started all 3 preseason matches, so Harkes clearly sees talent there. Xavier product and local man Luke Spencer has proven opportunistic and is scoring goals. He’s making it hard for Harkes not to give him minutes. I think it will most likely be as a substitute though.
#5 Ross Tomaselli missed out on my first eleven but I think he’ll see starts and a significant amount of playing time. In defense, #24 Derek Luke started against KR at left back and appeared as a substitute in the following games. He could see the start rather than Tyler Polak.
What do you think? Who will make history? Tell us who I missed in the starting eleven. Leave us comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll read your email on the pod.