The Thursday night Supporter Salute put a nice bow on what was a great inaugural season for FC Cincinnati. These supporters packed Nippert Stadium time and time again proving that this city may be ready for even greater things. Now the page is beginning to turn toward season two of Fútbol Club Cincinnati and as John Harkes and Jeff Berding stated last night, “we have been the talk of 2016, but you have not seen anything yet.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the UK based website The Telegraph reported on how FC Cincinnati has stood out in our MLS aspirations. In the story, writer Bob Williams and GM/President Jeff Berding discussed the large crowds that FCC is drawing including the Crystal Palace friendly and how the club is going after another big friendly opponent. But what appeared in the third paragraph below surprised me.
FC Cincinnati are also making waves internationally, too, and following the hugely popular friendly with Palace, Berding is coming to England in late October to try to set up another.
“I have some folks setting up some meetings for me, some clubs have expressed an interest in us in doing some things. We’ll see if there’s any opportunities to do things in December-March or coming up to the new season in May or in July as we did with Palace.”
“We’ll consider taking the team on the road. We’ve been an enormous story in the soccer world. We epitomize the growth of soccer in the United States. We’re a city with no real soccer history of any magnitude and out of the blue achieving what we’ve achieved shows the growth of the sport in the US.”
Most FC Cincinnati fans had a small brand awareness about Crystal Palace prior to the friendly and many have speculated that even a larger opponent could be coming in 2017. However, I had not anticipated that FC Cincinnati could go on a preseason tour/training camp over in Europe.
What would that look like? Could FC Cincinnati use some of John Harkes’ contacts abroad and set up a first rate training experience? Would Berding and staff complete the FCC roster sooner than 2016, where signings were coming mid December into early March (Okoli)? Could there be a new partnership/affiliation with a foreign-based club similar to what several teams do with MLS clubs?
These questions are why I believe it could be beneficial for FC Cincinnati to begin with an early camp and travel abroad. MLS camps open around January 20th this season compared with FCC’s Florida camp that began on February 16th of 2016. Upon review of the USL media guide, I did not see where they specified when teams can begin training camps, so an earlier date would allow the team more time to work together prior to the 2017 season.
By traveling abroad to Europe, FC Cincinnati may run into weather similar to at home, but they would most likely be able to take advantage of premium playing spaces if hosted by a high level club. Does Harkes still have connections at some of his prior clubs including Derby County or Sheffield Wednesday of the Championship? Is Berding traveling in October to meet with any English, German, Spanish or French teams to help grow the brand an allow the club to train alongside these “high-level” clubs?
The positives of taking FC Cincinnati abroad could also be two-fold. MLS club Vancouver Whitecaps FC are traveling to Europe in 2017 to gain an edge in their player fitness. “You’re playing against players who are also not (fully) fit and you’re able to maybe coast in games based on them being 60-to-70 per cent fit,” Club manager Carl Robinson said of the usual preseason routine. “I need my players going against players who are 100 percent fit. We need to get up to speed quicker. It’s about gaining a small advantage when we can.”
However the FCC brass evaluate a European preseason, the value of growing the brand along with getting the team ready to play at a high level at the beginning of the season could prove extremely valuable. Starting preseason a week or two earlier could give FCC a leg up over several smaller budget USL squads. Picking up as many points early could set the tone for 2017, getting them a head start on a USL Championship.
Just take Berding’s own words as enough of a need to travel or bring the squad together sooner before the season. “We have to be better at everything we do. We won 16 games, we came in third, but we weren’t good enough and we didn’t get through the play-offs and have a chance of winning the cup.”
There is little doubt that the club has better scouting information, clearer opinions of their current player roster and an outlook on who they may want to add going into 2017. To keep Cincinnati at the forefront of MLS discussions, they will need to play at an even higher level than the wildly successful 2016 squad.
I understand that we are still in a “small-budget” league, and that it is easy for me to spend the owner’s money, but let’s put the extra season ticket revenue to good use and continue to make a presence known on the world stage of soccer. Every day I am more impressed by our club and the group running the day-to-day operations. This seems to be another big-picture opportunity and I hope FCC will take it.