FC Cincinnati had fewer than 48 hours to choose five players from an enticing list of more than 200 who were left unprotected by their Major League Soccer clubs. Once FCC’s technical staff was done salivating over the talent at its disposal, a strategy for Tuesday’s MLS Expansion Draft quickly took shape. “It’s very easy to get caught up on names when you look at who is unprotected,” said coach Alan Koch. “Once you look at the contract situation, their willingness to move, salary cap, how we want to play, there are so many variables that go into it. That list dwindled very quickly and there were only a few players who fit the model.”
A scouting process that had been ongoing for several months took less than 30 minutes to execute on Tuesday when FCC selected forward Darren Mattocks, midfielders Roland Lamah and Eric Alexander, defender Hassan Ndam and forward Kei Kamara, who they promptly traded to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for an international spot that was part of a deal to bring in center back Kendall Waston from Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Also, on Tuesday, FCC drew the ire of Darren Eales, president of MLS Cup champion Atlanta United for announcing the acquisition of defender Greg Garza in a trade before United could. Already winning friends in MLS.
While the Blue & Orange were rolling toward a regular-season championship in their record-setting final year in the USL, the club’s technical staff was scouring the MLS for talent. According to team president and general manager Jeff Berding, the coaches spent the entire season scouting every MLS team. They evaluated talent, reviewed contract situations and ran through some mock scenarios based on the list of players they expected to be released to them on Sunday.
“I don’t think there were too many surprises on the list,” Berding said. “Once the list came out, we had our evaluations and it was a matter of trying to figure out how the pieces on the board made up the full puzzle that would set Cincinnati up for success.”
The first pick on Tuesday was Mattocks, a DC United forward who scored eight of his 10 goals in the first 14 matches before Wayne Rooney became the full-time starter. The 28-year-old Jamaican is expected to provide a one-two attacking punch along with returning striker Fanendo Adi. Combined the pair have 88 career MLS goals, with Mattocks tallying 34 in his 161 career appearances.
“The beauty of both Fanendo and Darren is they’re both completely different profiles,” said Koch, who was coaching in Vancouver while Mattocks was there. “They are players we can play together. They are familiar with each other. We’re excited to bring Darren in, and bringing back Fanendo gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of how we play.”
After Kamara was picked second and subsequently traded to Colorado, FCC chose Lamah, a dynamic 30-year-old midfielder from FC Dallas who scored eight of his 19 career goals last season. Along with Mattocks, Lamah, who spent time on loan with Swansea City in the English Premier League, gives FCC something it sorely needs in MLS – speed.
“There were several guys that we were targeting like Mattocks and Lamah to give us some speed,” said fitness coach Austin Berry. “You need speed in MLS. They’re scoring goals, giving assists, so those are two guys that fill what we needed and what we wanted immediately.”
Alexander, a 30-year-old central midfielder from FC Dallas, was another player that FCC targeted in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s draft. Alexander started 20 of his 21 appearances for Dallas in 2018, scoring one goal with two assists.
“He’s done it every where’s he’s gone,” Berry said. “He’s been the odd man out at times but everyone says he can play.”
Albeit with a hefty contract last season of $250,000, Alexander fits the mold of what FCC is looking for in its players. After spending time with five teams and being traded on four occasions, he’s got something to prove. Berding, Koch, and Berry mentioned it several times on Tuesday – they want players who have a chip on their shoulder.
“You want guys to come in that are hungry and ready to get after it,” said Berry. “That being said, it’s not like (these) guys have been pushed to the side, it’s guys who have proven that they can play and produce in this league. But they still have stuff to prove and they’re ready to do that in Cincinnati.”
One draft pick who has very little to prove to FCC fans is Ndam. The former New York Red Bulls II defender saved one of his best performances for FCC, helping end its season in the USL Cup playoffs last season. Ndam was instrumental in keeping Adi off the score sheet in a 1-0 loss at Nippert Stadium. Ndam also will give incumbent Forrest Lasso some competition on the training ground.
“Probably a lot of Cincy guys don’t like him because of the way he’s played against us,” said Berry, with a smile. “But, he’s a physical force.”
Following the draft, Koch spilled the beans on the move for Garza, which the club made official later Tuesday afternoon. Garza joined FCC in exchange for $200,000 in general allocation money and $250,000 in targeted allocation funds. The 27-year-old spent the past two seasons with Atlanta. He is the first player with U.S. Men’s National Team caps – 10 of them – to join FCC.
“We are thrilled to add someone with Greg’s soccer pedigree to our backline for next season,” Koch said. “He has played at the highest level of soccer in the United States and Mexico and has been a key component of his team at every stop. We look forward to what Greg will bring to our group on and off the pitch next season.”
Koch said he’d prefer to accomplish most of the club’s business by Christmas. In the days leading up to the expansion draft, FCC brought back several of their former USL players.
Rumors of additional acquisitions were swirling Tuesday afternoon when the move for Waston was completed in exchange for $825,000 in allocation and the aforementioned international spot. Waston, who finished third in MLS defender of the year voting in 2017, will occupy a domestic roster spot for FCC.
“Kendall has been one of the best players in MLS since he arrived in this league,” Koch said. “He will be a cornerstone of our club and we couldn’t be happier to have him join our group for our first MLS season.”