CST Mailbag: Starting XI and Nazmi Albadawi

As the FC Cincinnati squad begin their 2018 pre-season this week, Cincinnati Soccer Talk dives into the new season with a CST Mailbag question. We plan on doing several of these features throughout the new year. If you have a question, make sure to email us at

This week’s question comes from Grant I.

How do you think we will lineup on opening day in Charleston? My thought is a 3-4-1-2 with these players:


Secondly, what is the possibility of getting Naz Albadawi? And do we even need him after getting a playmaker such as Ledesma? Would love to hear your opinion on these topics. Thank you for your time.
Grant I.

Bryan Weigel (@BryanWeigel): Hi Grant, Thank you for your questions. The staff of Cincinnati Soccer Talk has been kicking around the starting XI since the first signings began to roll in. I feel like we have put 100 combinations down on paper and can come up with quite a few more before the team lands in Charleston.

I guess the first place to start is how the team would like to attack tactically and that brings up your second question in reference to Nazmi Albadawi.

While Naz and Ledesma are creative players, they play slightly different positions but could occupy similar space depending on the tactics Coach Koch employs. Nazmi should occupy more space in the midfield and drop when required, while Ledesma is more of a second striker/winger.

Last week, Naz was spotted in Cincinnati with several other FCC players. While no announcement has been made of him putting ink to paper, I think you can assume it must be close.

Rob Pierce (@rspeirce): Hi Grant, Thanks for the question. It’s a good one and undoubtedly a popular one.

When Jeff Berding sent Alan Koch across the country and then across the globe, Berding basically gave Koch freedom to find “his” guys and a full offseason to do it. With preseason workouts starting, Koch is now essentially a scientist, trying to get the best formation out of the new signings and holdovers.

The additions should allow Koch to be flexible with formations, and we could see several over the course of the season. Because Nazmi Albadawi’s signing isn’t official yet, I haven’t included him in my lineup projection. But with him being spotted on social media in Cincinnati with current players, it’s a good bet he’ll be wearing orange and blue in Charleston.

My projected XI is a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. For the first time in FC Cincinnati’s brief history, we don’t really know who will be the main shot-stopper. For the opener, I have Spencer Richey. Vancouver wouldn’t have loaned him without the understanding that he’d have a fair chance. However, it’s absolutely possible that Evan Newton could earn the starting spot. My lineup looks like this:


If Albadawi does sign, he’d likely be more of a central attacking midfielder, pushing Welshman to right wing and McLaughlin to the bench. FCC fans are used to seeing McLaughlin as a starter, but he could be quite valuable as a sub with fresh legs late in the game.

Bryan: I agree with Rob seeing our squad in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation.  But I want to explain my rationale more through tactics vs. strict formation. The formation is the “positions” that each player represents when attacking/defending while tactics are the mandates Koch gives to every player. I will also include Albadawi vs. Welshman, because I think he will be with the group.

I chose a 4-2-3-1 formation vs. a 4-4-2 because it will allow Ledesma and Albadawi to be on the pitch in attacking roles at the same time. Ledesma in my view will start on the wing where he or McLaughlin will have the freedom to pinch centrally behind Heinemann depending on the build up. This will also give a second option for the central mids to relieve pressure or to draw a defender of Heinemann. Ledesma, according to reports from NASL writers, is more comfortable playing just off the striker and this set up can still allow him to do so.

I’d also expect the fullback on Ledesma’s side of the pitch to press into the attack more allowing for Albadawi pick his chances ranging forward or distributing to several outlets (McLaughlin, Ledesma, Heineman or fullbacks). It will be on Gibson or Walker to drop into any defensive hole to maintain the integrity of our defensive shape. Having Albadawi means that the other two midfielders won’t always have to vacate their space to continue the attack. This is key to stopping counters which were a huge weakness in 2017.

In terms of Grant’s formation, we could see a 3/5 man backline, but I don’t foresee that being our main plans. You have too many quality pieces in the midfield and the goal for 2018 should be possessing with a purpose. Gibson, Albadawi, and Walker all should help dictate play in 2018 and take pressure off the defense. While we do have what seems to be a decent group of defenders coming in, the best defense is a good offense. I’d expect to see a more traditional four-man backline with the added attack for the new season.

Thanks for the question! I hope our answers make sense, but at the end of the day it is up to Coach Koch to be the “scientist” and find the solution.


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