All three of FC Cincinnati’s MLS signees have finally hit the pitch. Fanendo Adi has made three appearances as a sub. Fatai Alashe scored his first goal on Wednesday against Atlanta United 2, and Pa Konate made his first start. But that doesn’t mean the transition is quite complete.
“We just have to keep training together,” Adi said after Monday’s training session at Nippert Stadium. “It’s a process. It’s not something that’s going to be automatic. I’ve played at different levels with different guys. Wherever you go, it takes you some time to acclimatize to the society, to the players you’re playing with. The understanding is going to be automatic at some point, but it’s just a process you go through.”
Adi knows a thing or two about adapting to different environments. The Nigerian native played in Slovakia, Ukraine and Denmark before joining MLS side Portland Timbers. He came to Cincinnati during the summer transfer window and is FCC’s first Designated Player as the club transitions to MLS next season.
Alashe and Konate are also MLS signees. But as the three find their footing with the current USL squad, it would be a mistake to suggest they’re guaranteed spots on the inaugural MLS roster. They’ll have to earn their way on board, just like the rest of the club, FCC coach Alan Koch said.
“There’s no guarantees in this business,” Koch said on Monday. “So even though players may be on MLS deals, they’re in the exact same position as everybody else, because everybody fights for the job every single day. If you don’t show that you can do the business, that’s the reality of the business we live in. Everybody comes together and fights, and that group has come together since the beginning of the season. The new guys have to come in and fight too. Fatai had his start the other night — I was very happy with how he played. We haven’t given Adi a start yet. He hasn’t been at the fitness level that we need him to be at just yet. Pa is getting very, very close. We expect the same of those three players as we expect of everybody else — be willing to fight and die for the club.”
As a starter in FCC’s last two matches, Alashe has helped spark an attack-minded midfield. He’s passing with 80.8 percent accuracy on 73 passes. Only six of his passes have been backward. Konate logged 62 minutes in his first start at left back on Wednesday. He had three clearances and three tackles and was often in the attacking third.
Adi wasn’t in the 18-man roster on Wednesday but has logged 47 minutes in three appearances with three shots on target. When asked Monday about the hardest part of his transition, his answer was the pitch.
“Training on the turf — I think I spoke a lot about that,” Adi said, referencing a story last week on WCPO’s website. “I play 20 minutes, but I go (after the game), and my back is hurting. My whole body’s hurting. That’s just something we need to figure out a way to manage it. If we’re training on grass and playing on turf it’s a little bit different. But training on turf and playing on turf — for me is the hardest part. And sometimes I’m very discouraged. But that’s where we are as a club, and we just have to accept that as a reality and manage it.”
What hasn’t been as challenging for Adi is fitting in with his new teammates. Adi credits captain Dekel Keinan, Michael Lahoud and Nazmi Albadawi among those who have reached out to him. The welcome is unique to FCC, Adi said.
“Here it’s different because the guys invite you out,” Adi said. “When you go to some of these other teams, nobody cares about that. It’s more professionalism. You’re a professional and this is your job. All the guys (here) have in one way to another contributed to (the transition).”
Extending a hand is critical for team chemistry, Keinan said.
“This is one of my jobs as the captain and our job as a successful team,” he said. “One thing that’s stronger than anything else is the togetherness — a good locker room. We have to make sure the new guys have a warm welcome. We have to give them all the environment they need to succeed and to keep the locker room strong and together.”
FCC plays the Tampa Bay Rowdies at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.