FC Cincinnati did not get into its current situation by accident. Majority owner Carl Lindner III, president and general manager Jeff Berding, and coach Alan Koch have worked day and night to position the club to where it currently stands. Its rise to MLS in three seasons was carefully coordinated and perfectly executed, allowing it to take what was once just a vision and turn it into a roaring success both on and off the pitch.
During FC Cincinnati’s rise to the highest level of soccer in North America, the club has shaped a culture within its roster that has resonated with fans throughout the city. The players work hard, create lasting relationships with fans and represent Cincinnati in a manner that allows its citizens to be proud. As FCC approaches its first season in MLS, it is important to keep building on the foundation established up to this point.
Most teams moving up from the USL to MLS do not retain the number of players that FC Cincinnati is rumored to promote to the next level. In addition to Corben Bone, Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe already being confirmed for FC Cincinnati’s MLS roster in 2019, there are multiple reports that Emmanuel Ledesma, Forrest Lasso, and Jimmy McLaughlin will also join the club in 2019.
This means FC Cincinnati already has six players from its USL squad to play in MLS next season. Berding has also mentioned he expects around 10 players from its USL squad to make the transition with the club to MLS, making it likely that more players from 2018 will be signed before it’s all over.
So why is FC Cincinnati going off script and signing so many of its USL players to compete in MLS?
First, this is not your normal USL team. FC Cincinnati had a record-setting year in the USL, looking unstoppable at times during its 25-match unbeaten streak, and racking up a lot of awards to top it all off.
FC Cincinnati is able to sign more players off of its USL roster than other clubs that have made the transition from USL to MLS in the past because the level of quality within its roster is higher.
Second, all of the players from the USL squad rumored to return to the club next year understand FC Cincinnati’s club culture, especially McLaughlin and Bone. While you can make the case there is a notable skill gap between the players FCC is bringing up from the USL and players currently in MLS, they arguably still bring more value to the table. These players understand what this club means to Cincinnati and why it is important to carry this culture over to MLS.
These players will help the new, incoming players understand what FC Cincinnati is all about. They can say, “This is FC Cincinnati, this is how we represent our city, this is how we do things around here.” Having players that can get this message across to the new guys allows the club to maintain the identity that has made them wildly popular among fans the past three years — something that is important.
Last, the returning players will also make it easier for the new signings to adjust to playing for a new club and living in a new city.
The players from the USL squad will help incoming players better understand Koch’s style and expectations, as well as what it is like to play in Nippert Stadium in front of 30,000 fans. Also, they can help incoming players assimilate into life in Cincinnati, giving them advice on where to live, what to do outside of soccer and how to become involved in the local community. Ultimately, this should allow the team to build chemistry on and off the pitch, which will help it immensely during its inaugural season in MLS.
Sometimes picking the right man for the job goes deeper than a player’s talent level. In this case, it is just as important to bring back players that can pass on the club identity to new, incoming players than it is to have someone who can put the ball in the back of the net. The current group of returning players will allow the club an identity its fans have come to know and love. It will help to continue growth as the club moves on to bigger adventures in 2019 and beyond, while also showcasing what it can achieve on the pitch.