Saturday evening could very well be the last time we see this group of players in-person for the 2017 season. This collection of guys includes a large holdover from the original 2016 roster, many of which have laid a solid foundation for this club’s future.
Our original captain, Austin Berry, gave immediate credibility to the club upon his arrival. MLS veteran’s Kenney Walker, Corben Bone, Andrew Wiedeman and Jimmy McLaughlin provided max effort and will go down as fan favorites among the club’s supporters. Countless others such as Mitch Hildebrandt, Harrison Delbridge, Djiby Fall, Danni König and Tyler Polak have put in memorable performances that we will tell our kids about.
There have been 44 Players to wear the Blurange over the past two seasons and all of them have made an impact in their own way. It is sad that this could be the last time we see several of OUR players in Nippert as a member of our club. These are the players that we have grown OUR club with, but at some point, the club must grow and continue to improve.
What happens in 2018?
As we all know, Major League Soccer (MLS) could render a decision in December that may greatly affect the future of our club. As you have read in many of our other expansion related articles, FC Cincinnati is applying for an MLS expansion franchise that could begin play in 2020.
For the sake of this article, I wanted to give you an idea of what may happen to our roster if the club is awarded a spot in the first round of MLS expansion.
It is assumed that the Orange & Blue would play in the USL until the 2020 MLS season, but the squad may change substantially in the two-year lead up to MLS. Just as Minnesota United did in 2016 and Orlando City in 2014, FC Cincinnati could look to bring in pieces for an impending elevation to Major League Soccer. Orlando promoted 8 players from their USL roster to their inaugural MLS team with Minnesota United bringing 5.
Can several current FC Cincinnati players last two more seasons with the club and be elevated? Sure, but I do think it may be unlikely except for a select few with the rapid money infusion and improvement of MLS as a whole.
Both of the aforementioned clubs brought in talented youngsters that could grow with the club or gave large contracts to players with the specific intention of bringing them along to MLS. Minnesota more specifically brought in additional players who they wanted to audition for a spot on the MLS roster. Former MLS players Damion Lowe, Ben Speas, Jeb Brovsky, Danny Cruz and Bernardo Anor among others, all spent time with Minnesota last season and did not make the move to MLS. Those players did not come on board cheap and are perhaps with some debate, are of higher quality than a large portion of our current roster.
I would expect if FC Cincinnati were to be awarded a bid, several players in another league abroad or domestic may also take a chance to join the USL version of the club in hopes of winning a spot in MLS over the long term. The caliber of players like a Jack Blake, Stefano Pinho, Joe Cole or Poku could find interest in FC Cincinnati that may not have been there before. That, of course, could mean several members of the squad who got us this far in USL and the US Open Cup could be replaced and will be with a different club in 2018. It is likely that key contributors and fan favorites would be shown the door.
Another thing to take account is the average age of our team. Of the 26 players currently on the roster, the average age of an FC Cincinnati player is 26.8 years old. That would rank FC Cincinnati’s current roster as the 7th oldest in MLS. Atlanta came into the league in 2017 with an average of 25.17 years (3rd youngest) while Minnesota went a different direction at 27.66 years (2nd oldest). The trend in major league soccer has seen the average age of a player drop from 27.94 in 2012 to 25.8 after the 2015 season.
There is no doubt several players on the current roster would fall out of consideration due to age (Djiby, Hoyte McMahon). After evaluating the current roster, the only players contributing weekly at the age of 24 and younger are Jimmy McLaughlin (24), Sem De Wit (22) and Josu (24). Something to think about for the future.
We can speculate at who those signings could be in the future, but we should really give the current crop of players their due on Saturday. Heck, the season isn’t over and this group could absolutely put in an impressive run and contend for the USL Cup.
Now if it was up to me, I would love to bring back the mentioned players and others in a heartbeat, but this is professional sports so I would expect this could be the last chance to see some of those guys.
If you haven’t taken the time to, line up behind the bench after the match and show your appreciation for the boys. Many clubs don’t give fans the access that FC Cincinnati does, so take advantage of it. Get your autographs, your selfies and give the some of the players an incredible experience on Saturday. If you haven’t got your tickets, or are on the fence, jump in! Help the club set a record, but also let the squad know we are behind them in this crazy playoff push.
There is even time for more memories to be made. Look at Tuesday night’s game-tying goal by Jimmy McLaughlin as an example.
These are OUR Boys
In Cincinnati, we have honored many professional players for their achievements on the field and for what they have contributed to our city. Now, I know that the accomplishments of the USL version of FC Cincinnati aren’t at the pinnacle of American Soccer, but they are worthy of our praise nonetheless.
The performances put in by Mitch Hildebrandt vs. Chicago, Austin Berry’s winning goal vs. Charlotte in 2016, or the penalties taken by Josu, Delbridge and McLaughlin will all resonate with us for a lifetime. Those moments along with others belong in a future FC Cincinnati Hall of Fame with the busts of several current players on our first two squads. Their impact on and off the field has helped grow the game to young and old alike.
No matter where some of these guys end up, I will still call them OUR boys. Their efforts have meant much to us and we will continue to follow them and cheer them on from afar. (Except if they end up in Louisville, then you are dead to me.)
We as supporters owe it to the 2017 FC Cincinnati squad to send them off in the last home match with best way we know how. Bring your all to rowdy Nippert on Saturday and let the current roster know that 30,000 of their best friends are there cheering them onto 3 points.
@BryanWeigel for @CincySoccerTalk