Kendall Waston’s commanding presence on the pitch is matched only by his engaging personality off it. So while FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch had several deserving candidates to don the captain’s armband during this inaugural MLS season, Waston was his choice.
“Kendall is an exemplary leader for our team both on and off the pitch,” Koch said. “When building our roster, we placed a strong emphasis on not only adding quality players, but also somebody who could inspire the players around him. Kendall is someone who is very deserving of the honor of the club’s first-ever MLS captain.”
When Waston was acquired in December from the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for $825,000 and an international slot, FCC knew it was getting a veteran defender and tenacious competitor.
But it wasn’t long before Waston began to influence his new expansion club in other ways. Even while sidelined during the preseason with injury, the center back looked to have an impact on the club’s more inexperienced players.
“When you have young guys, they want to learn,” Waston said at the onset of preseason training. “It’s our responsibility as experienced guys to make a positive way. We have a very united squad. Things on the field are not going to be easy. We need to create a better family. There’s a lot of guys who continued from the USL. It’s a great group.”
Waston served as FCC’s captain during much of the preseason, with Fanendo Adi also assuming the role at times. The Costa Rican international is the third full-time captain in FC Cincinnati history joining Austin Berry (2016 and 2017) and Dekel Keinan (2018) during the USL years.
At 6-foot-5 and a sculpted 195 pounds, Waston is a key component of a rebuilt FCC back line. In his five seasons in MLS with Vancouver (2014-18), Waston made 115 appearances, scored 14 goals, added four assists and logged over 10,000 minutes. He twice was named to the MLS Best XI (2015, 2017) and also earned a spot on the 2016 MLS All-Star roster.
Being in the captain’s chair is nothing new for Waston, who was Vancouver’s captain for two seasons.
“It’s a huge honor for me to be the team captain,” he said. “It’s a big responsibility. I know everything that surrounds it.”
Since making his international debut in 2013, Waston has 30 career caps with the Costa Rican national team. The defender has tallied six goals and added one assist for the Ticos. Waston made his World Cup debut at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and scored Costa Rica’s first goal of the tournament in its group stage match against Switzerland on June 27.
But he is far from satisfied.
“I don’t want to be in a comfort zone,” Waston says. “I want to challenge myself. The World Cup was amazing, but it’s past. I want to think in the present and in the future. And to have a better future, but I have to work hard.”
On the pitch, Waston sheds his “gentle giant” persona. During his five seasons in MLS, Waston has earned five red cards and been booked another 39 times. But over the past two seasons, he’s been sent off just once, a credit to his growth and maturity. Waston also is dangerous in set pieces.
Koch, who got to know the 31-year-old Waston center back during his time in Vancouver and targeted him this offseason, will lean on his experience during a brutal three-match slate to begin the season.
FC Cincinnati’s debut MLS game is Saturday when the team travels to face the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field in a game televised nationally on FS1. FCC then travels to MLS Cup champion Atlanta on March 10 before hosting the Portland Timbers in the historic MLS home opener at Nippert Stadium on March 17.
“We have big expectations,” Waston said. “We’re going to have big challenges, not just those three games but throughout the season. Hopefully, we can start with our right foot. The good thing here is that everybody is fighting for the same goal. We want to lift up MLS Cup. It’s not going to be easy, but with the work of every individual, everything can be possible.”
Spoken like a true leader.