FC Cincinnati’s loss to New York Red Bulls II in the USL Eastern Conference Semifinal round on Saturday marked its first defeat since May 26 — three days before MLS announced FCC as an expansion club.
With its stay in the USL over, the club can now focus exclusively on transitioning from USL to MLS. It’s a short runway for FC Cincinnati. Critical dates — such as December’s expansion draft and the combine in January — are on the horizon.
Expect MLS to release the 2019 schedule around the holidays or shortly thereafter. FC Cincinnati’s first MLS match should be in early March.
In his post match press conference, FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch was asked if there will be a sense of relief to focus on just one league now instead of two.
“Not yet, but yes,” Koch said. “I won’t feel that way (Sunday) morning. But in a few days’ time, I’ll go to having one job. This year we’ve had two jobs — try to be as successful as we could this year, try to keep this group together, try to get as much as we can possibly get out of the group — while simultaneously build for next year. So to be quite honest I’m looking forward to moving forward to just having one job. But it doesn’t feel that way just yet.”
Koch’s first task will be a team meeting on Monday to lay out the next steps for players from the USL squad. FC Cincinnati has announced MLS contracts for only three players: Fanendo Adi, Fatai Alashe and Pa Konate. According to a report by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, Emmanuel Ledesma also has an MLS deal in place, but the club has not confirmed that.
Koch and his technical staff will have tough decisions to make on who else comes with the club to MLS. Franchise originals Corben Bone, Jimmy McLaughlin and Kenney Walker. Experienced players like Justin Hoyte, Dekel Keinan and Michael Lahoud. New fan favorites such as Nazmi Albadawi, Paddy Barrett and Forrest Lasso. The fate of these players and others will come in the next days and weeks.
“I’d like to know, but that’s not up to me,” Barrett said. “In the next couple of weeks I’ll chat with Alan and whoever else.
“I’m happy how things went here. I’ve come a long way and getting used to living away so far and playing a different type of football and new teammates. Obviously living so far away from home, it’s difficult to get used to. But as I settled down it got better and better for me. Looking back on the whole season, winning the league is quite surreal. It was unbelievable to be a part of.”
After Monday’s team meeting, Koch and the technical staff will have individual player meetings and exit medicals for everyone.
“We’ll try to give them as much feedback as soon as possible,” Koch said. “I’ve never been one to think it’s fair to drag the process on for players. As soon as we make decisions for each individual, we’ll let them know exactly where they stand and help support them with whatever path that takes them.”
Adi, FC Cincinnati’s first designated player, said he’ll travel to Spain or England for some offseason training.
Managing the roster changes is “a difficult situation” Adi said. But he added the players who leave can do so knowing they were a part of something special this season.
The players who stay will be ready for MLS, he said.
“From what I know, we’re trying to get the little pieces that are going to come in and be very good in the locker room as well as on the pitch,” Adi said. “So we’ll be speaking to the coaches. Everyone that is going to be involved next year is going to be ready, because MLS is totally different from the USL. It’s just a mental state that the whole team and the coaches and everyone needs to be ready for next year.”
As was the case this time last year, Koch said a plane trip for scouting purposes is in his near future. But that will be after a short reflection period on the season that just ended.
“This journey this year has been amazing,” Koch said. “To pull a group like this with so many new players together and bring all those personas together and manage them through the pressures — every single player in that changing room has known all year long exactly where this club is going. To manage the human element of the fighting for the individual futures but also for our collective success has been fun, but it’s been a challenge.”